76 Days (2020)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

This Saturday marks a grim anniversary: it’ll be exactly a year since Wuhan went into lockdown – the first domino to drop in a now seemingly endless chain of lockdowns around the world. The measures remained in place for 76 days, and Weixi Chen’s intimate documentary attends the efforts of hospital staff to cope with the huge influx of emergency patients. These are dispatches from the frontline of the coronavirus crisis, revealing both the human cost of the disease and the extraordinary resilience with which healthcare workers were battling its impact long before a pandemic was declared. Chen’s camera documents eerily empty streets, but mostly confines itself to the hospital wards where nursing staff grapple with the sombre business of finding beds, managing patients and delivering sad news to family members. When quarantine is lifted, nearly 4,000 people having lost their lives, the city sounds an air raid siren to mark the event and the effect is like a primal scream of civic pain. 

Joint Security Area (2000)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray/Arrow channel

Any Parasite fans inspired to catch up on the cream of modern South Korean genre cinema should consider Joint Security Area an essential pitstop. Providing an early role for Parasite star Song Kang-ho, this gripping political thriller was the breakout release for Park Chan-wook, a huge domestic hit before the likes of Oldboy (2003) and The Handmaiden (2016) made him international royalty. Set in the heavily fortified DMZ – the military zone on the border between North and South Korea – it’s a murder mystery in which the 2 opposing governments agree to allow an investigation by the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee into the local shooting of a pair of North Korean soldiers. As 2 Swiss investigators arrive to dig into the detail, Park slowly unravels the mystery via elaborate flashbacks that provide early proof of his polished ability to weave a good story. No doubt feeling this narrative dexterity close to heart, Quentin Tarantino once listed Joint Security Area as one of his 20 favourite modern films.

The Tin Drum (1979)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray

The Tin Drum (1979)

Joining the UK rollout of the Criterion Collection this week is this epic bildungsroman based on the classic 1959 novel by Günter Grass. Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, it proved something of a highwater-mark for the 1970s renaissance in German cinema, winning both the Palme d’Or at Cannes (an award it shared with Apocalypse Now) and the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Set at the time of the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany, the film follows the life of a young boy who – in defiance of his parents – decides to stop growing on his third birthday. He matures mentally, but remains stuck in the body of a blonde-haired toddler. Possessing the ability to shatter glass when he shrieks, Oskar (unforgettably incarnated by 11-year-old Swiss actor David Bennent) is an extraordinary character – a supernaturally gifted miniature tyrant, infuriatingly beating his toy drum as he bears wide-eyed witness to the endemic toxicity of German society during the prelude to war. The Guardian has called Grass’s book “the great novel of the 20th century”, and in finding cinematic means to approximate its ungraspable blend of allegory, social history and fantasy, Schlöndorff’s film must rank among the century’s great adaptations too.

Calamity Jane (1953)

Where’s it on?  BBC iPlayer

Calamity Jane (1953)

If you’re looking for something a little lighter this weekend, consider this your public service announcement that Calamity Jane is leaving iPlayer on Monday, part of a cull of the classic musicals that filled out the Beeb’s Christmas schedules. As bright and bendy as a cartoon character, Doris Day plays the eponymous Wild West heroine, who’s happier blazing her six shooters or riding shotgun on a stagecoach than keeping the home fires burning. David Butler’s ebullient film imagines her entangling romantically with Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) in the Dakotan town of Deadwood, although these days Calamity Jane is much more celebrated for its coded depiction of lesbian romance, with Calamity being tamed into domesticity by wannabe saloon singer Katie Brown (Allyn McLerie). The Oscar-winning song ‘Secret Love’ is the only nudge-nudge you’ll need, though for rambunctious fun it’s difficult to top opener ‘The Deadwood Stage’, delivered from the top of a stagecoach as Calamity rides into town. 


Where’s it on? window-swap.com

View from Henry’s window in Bergen, Norway on window-swap.com
© window-swap.com

No doubt I’m very late in discovering this invaluable service, but now I can’t stop looking at it. Conceived by a Singapore-based couple as a response to the stasis of lockdown, window-swap.com comprises crowd-sourced views out of windows around the world. People film a short, fixed-frame video of the view from their window and send it in for upload to the site – the idea being that what’s one person’s overfamiliar outlook becomes another’s meditative escapism. Right now, I’m looking out of a high-rise apartment block over Hong Kong harbour, but then I click to the next one and there’s snow coming down over a courtyard in Bialystok, Poland. Click again and there’s a Labradoodle lying on a sunlit balcony somewhere in Virginia. The stillness and ambient sounds give these scenes the becalming quality familiar to fans of slow cinema or slow TV. Now I’m watching a cargo ship edge slowly across the horizon from a window in Melbourne, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.