Parallel Mothers (2021)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Penélope Cruz won best actress in Venice for this, her seventh collaboration with Pedro Almodóvar. It’s a magnificent performance, perhaps her finest to date, in a film that brings a newfound element to the great Spanish filmmaker’s primary-coloured arsenal. Almodóvar’s cinema has always been political, but Parallel Mothers is the first of his features to confront Spain’s historical trauma in such explicit terms. The film is bookended with an enquiry into the unmarked mass graves of those murdered by Francoists during the civil war. Almodóvar threads his thematic needle in the opening scenes, before diverging into a full-blooded changeling melodrama as vividly moving and preposterously plotted as anything in his filmography. When the film circles back to its historical narrative, everything that went before suddenly sharpens into focus, as the melodrama is lent the weight of direct political address. It’s an emotional gut punch from a master filmmaker operating at the top of his game.
Gemini Man (2019)
Where’s it on? Saturday, 9.30pm, Channel 4
This kinetic blockbuster from director Ang Lee hardly set the world on fire on its cinema release a few years back, but it deserves a closer look. The high-concept pitch is a doozy: Will Smith plays a hitman facing off against a genetically-engineered version of himself. It’s a shame that a TV viewing means having to forgo Lee’s stunning experiments in high frame rate presentation (you’ll need the 4K Blu-ray for that), but there’s plenty of thematic meat to chew on between the thrilling set-pieces, which include a motorbike chase for the ages. There’s a fascinating meeting of form and content in a film about physical and technological obsolescence. Smith’s character is about to be made redundant by a younger, faster copy of himself – an uncanny facsimile made possible through advances in digital technology. Thus Gemini Man hints at the existential horrors of a youth-fixated cinematic future in which the pixel replaces the person, and the ageing actor finds himself as redundant as his character.
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1919)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Following its premiere at BFI IMAX this week, this magisterial document of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica in 1914 to 1916 is back on the big screen. One of the first documentary feature films, South is an astonishing tale of adventure, and a fascinating study in constructed realities. Expedition photographer Frank Hurley captured startling images as Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in the ice, but had to abandon his camera before the ensuing rescue mission. When news of the team’s survival broke, Hurley was sent back to gather more footage – notably the extraordinary wildlife sequences – in order to complete a film. As an early case study in documentary fabrication, South is a remarkable artefact, one which turned an ill-fated expedition into a heroic portrait of optimism and survival. On the big screen, the digitally restored images are breathtaking, lending the appropriate scale for one of the greatest stories in the history of exploration.
The Sun Shines Bright (1953)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
“My most beautiful pictures are not westerns,” said John Ford, “they’re little stories without big stars about communities of very simple people.” It’s been a long time coming, but one of the finest films from the American master finally arrives on UK Blu-ray this week, and there’s not a gun or a cowboy hat in sight. Resurrecting the title character of his 1934 film Judge Priest, The Sun Shines Bright is a portrait of a small southern town in the years following the civil war. As personified by the paternalistic Charles Winniger, Judge Priest is the ultimate Fordian hero: at once a realist and an idealist, tasked with forging a mediated path through community tensions. It’s an indictment of intolerance told with humour and tenderness, a film marked by the rituals and noble designations that best exemplify the Fordian worldview. “It’s really my favourite,” said Ford. “At Republic, [the studio head] didn’t know what to do with it… His kind of picture had to have plenty of sex or violence. This one had neither, it was just a good picture.”
Ashes of Time Redux (2008)
Where’s it on? MUBI from Sunday
Ashes of Time boasts some serious credentials. Directed by Wong Kar Wai and shot by his regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle, it’s an impressionistic ode to the wuxia genre with fight sequences choreographed by the great Sammo Hung. Production on the film was endless, going on for so long that Wong even had time to churn out a masterpiece in the form of Chungking Express (1994) during a break in filming. This Redux cut came a dozen years later, and represents a tightened reshaping of the oblique and elliptical epic. It’s Wong’s most ambitious feature: a fragmented vision of lost love and clashing swords refracted through the director’s singularly romantic vision. The swoon-worthy cast includes Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, all playing solitary genre archetypes seemingly born of movement and gesture. With eyeball-melting images courtesy of Doyle, this is hyper-sensory, elemental cinema.