Mademoiselle (1966)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray

Tony Richardson was the toast of the British New Wave by the mid-1960s, having gone all the way to the top of the film establishment by winning the Oscars for best picture and best director for his period romp Tom Jones (1963). With 1966’s Mademoiselle, he set his sights on the more cerebral trappings of the European arthouse boom, decamping to rural France for the production and casting continental auteur favourite Jeanne Moreau in the central role of a repressed schoolteacher who secretly enacts acts of destruction against her farming community, from unleashing floods to setting barns alight. Marguerite Duras helped to adapt the original Jean Genet novel, while British cinematography ace David Watkin brings the Bergmanesque mood. The results are odd but compelling, a tale of insidious rural violence that should appeal to fans of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009).

Made in Hong Kong (1997)

Where’s it on?  Blu-ray

Lovers of Hong Kong cinema will be rejoicing in Eureka’s new Blu-ray release of this landmark indie from 1997. The first film to come out of Hong Kong after the handover, Fruit Chan’s urban tale of disaffected youth has been difficult to see in watchable quality in recent times – in part because of the materials available. Chan shot his debut on the cheap using reels of leftover film, and it’s thanks to the restoration efforts of the Far East Film Festival that all of that vivid grain now looks so immediate again. Made in Hong Kong is set within and around the city’s high-density apartment blocks, where a school dropout known as Mid-Autumn (Sam Lee) earns his keep collecting triad debts. Life has already become a trap for him, and the suicide of a local girl adds to the prevailing tone of youthful desperation and ennui. We see posters for mid-90s benchmarks like Leon (1994) and Natural Born Killers (1994) on the bedroom walls of Mid-Autumn and his friends, though thankfully Chan keeps the flashiness of those influences in check. Instead, his film is richly specific in its vision of a city at a moment, seen through a prism of generational melancholy.

Monsoon (2019)

Where’s it on?  Selected cinemas nationwide and BFI Player

The scene changes from Hong Kong to Saigon for this second feature from Chinese-British director Hong Khaou. Khaou’s first film was the Ben Whishaw drama Lilting (2014), and anyone who saw that will recognise the same softly spoken, carefully calibrated approach here. Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding plays the British-Vietnamese man who has arrived back in Vietnam for the first time since his childhood, to a country and culture he barely remembers or recognises. He’s there to scatter the ashes of his parents, who’d left their home country as ‘boat refugees’ after the Vietnam war, and his task takes him from Saigon to Hanoi at the same time as he’s taken back to his roots and towards a greater understanding of the scars the country still bears. He also hooks up with an American entrepreneur (Parker Sawyers) with his own family ties to the war, and the pair begin a tentative affair. Monsoon is a gentle, searching exploration of identity, family heritage and the ties that bind. It’s lucidly shot by Benjamin Kracun, known for Beast (2017) and Beats (2019), whose work evocatively conveys the switch between air-conditioned hotel rooms and the limpid tropical air outside.

Sapphire (1959)

Where’s it on?  Talking Pictures TV, Saturday, 11.10pm

The veteran Bermudian actor Earl Cameron, who died this year aged 102 and enjoyed a long career in British film and TV, had one of his key roles in this 1959 murder mystery from director Basil Dearden. Sapphire is the name of a young student whose body is discovered on Hampstead Heath. The police investigation sees superintendent Nigel Patrick and a bigoted inspector played by Michael Craig moving amid London’s West Indian neighbourhoods and encountering the prejudices and rivalries experienced by immigrant communities in a capital facing rapid change. Dearden had worked with Cameron before on the dockland noir Pool of London (1951) and was attracted to socially conscious tales of the city. Sapphire won the BAFTA for best film and remains an enthralling mix of whodunnit, local atmosphere and progressive themes, despite several dated aspects. There are plenty of familiar faces to look out for in bit parts too, including Fenella Fielding, Lloyd Reckord, Barbara Steele and Desmond Llewelyn, the Welsh actor who was soon to become famous as the head of Q branch in the Bond series.

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)

Where’s it on?  BFI Player

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The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962)

Our choices this week may have taken us to Vietnam, Hong Kong and the French countryside, but that’s nothing compared with the ground covered in a typical example of one of Baron Munchausen’s tall tales. The exploits of the fictional 18th-century adventurer took him around the world and to the moon and back – that’s if he’s to be believed. Rudolf Erich Raspe’s character has inspired several films, including Terry Gilliam’s mammoth 1988 version, but this Czechoslovak production from Karel Zeman is surely definitive. Mixing live action with stylised animation that looks back to Lotte Reiniger’s cut-out fairytales and forward to Gilliam’s Monty Python work, it’s a film of such exuberant fun and visual invention that you might catch your heart skipping a beat while watching it. Zeman has the boastful baron bringing a spaceman back to Earth to introduce him to a sultan’s court during the Ottoman Empire. We can thank the folk at Second Run DVD for helping to bring this treasure back into the light with a Blu-ray release a couple of years back, and it’s now added to BFI Player.

Originally published: 25 September 2020