Night of the Kings (2020)

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

Night of the Kings takes place in a prison in the middle of the jungle in Côte d’Ivoire: the infamous MACA. It’s a world unto itself, with its own rules and its own lack of them. The prisoners are in charge, but they have their own systems of hierarchy, their own mythologies. Philippe Lacôte’s boldly original film joins a new arrival as he tries to find his place in the madhouse. Like Scheherazade, he finds himself tasked with telling a story to keep himself from harm – a story that gets bigger and wilder, the film slipping the bounds of the present to detour through the pre-colonial past. Denis Lavant is among the inmates, triggering a connection with Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (1999), another visionary Africa-set film with a focus on male bodies and rituals.

The Damned (1963)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

The Damned (1963)

Not to be confused with the 1960s Luchino Visconti film of the same name, The Damned is one of Hammer’s most intriguing offerings. Not a horror film, it’s more sci-fi, though it starts off like a coastal Clockwork Orange. Oliver Reed heads up the biker gang of tearaways who terrorise an American tourist with the luring help of Reed’s girlfriend Joan (Shirley Anne Field). Joan switches sides and escapes with the yank on his yacht, around the coast from Weymouth. But it’s when they seek refuge in a network of caves on the Jurassic coast that things take a much stranger turn. Nine children are living in the caves. All aged 11. And their skin is cold to the touch.

Adoption (1975)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray, BFI Player, Mubi

Adoption (1975)

Although Adoption won the Golden Bear at Berlin back in 1975, for decades it languished in semi-obscurity along with the rest of the work of its Hungarian director, Márta Mészáros. That’s all been changing of late, with a season of her work at BFI Southbank, streaming retrospectives and now a Blu-ray of Adoption from her long-time champions at Second Run. Filmed in black and white, it’s a fascinating, enigmatic character study examining the slippery bond between a 40-something woman who’s desperate to have a child and a teenage boarding-school runaway who turns up at her house one day. 

Girlfriends (1978)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Girlfriends (1978)

Here’s another 1970s rediscovery that’s been part of the same rush to reclaim and reappraise neglected films by women with movie cameras. It was Lena Dunham who helped rescue this one, bringing it back into the light when she programmed it at BAM, New York in 2011 (though Stanley Kubrick had gone on record as a fan as early as 1980). Here, more than 30 years before the likes of HBO’s Girls or Frances Ha (2012), was their cool grandma: a sprightly, penetrating study of female friendship in New York, and the sense of loss that kicks in when your roomie moves out. Claudia Weill’s film was made completely independently of Hollywood, and it took time as a result. But, selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2019 and added to the Criterion Collection in 2020, it’s taken its rightful place in the canon now.

Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Where’s it on?

Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

With the Tokyo Olympics finally getting out of the starting blocks this weekend, it’d be amiss of us at the BFI if we didn’t point out that you can stream Kon Ichikawa’s great film of the 1964 Tokyo games in full on the Olympics website. Ichikawa is the great Japanese director behind classics like The Burmese Harp (1956), Fires on the Plain (1959) and An Actor’s Revenge (1963). Commissioned to make the official film of the games, he annoyed the government of the time by making a movie that was more about the atmosphere and Olympian striving of the event than who won what. But with its panoply of stylistic effects and technological innovations, he lit a torch that showed what modern sports documentaries could achieve.