The Hand of God (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

With The Hand of God, Paolo Sorrentino joins the roll call of established filmmakers – from Alfonso Cuáron to Joanna Hogg – who’ve lately been mining their own rites of passage for screen drama. Sorrentino’s sensuous evocation of the 1980s Naples of his youth – a city in the grip of Maradona fever – dials down some of the stylistic excess of his previous work to tell the sadder, private story of an adolescence marked by family tragedy. As so often in Sorrentino’s work, the influence of that consummate autobiographical director Federico Fellini looms large – especially Fellini’s own magical coming-of-age saga Amarcord (1973), from which The Hand of God borrows at least a couple of moments. But there’s a depth of feeling and flair here that transcends mere homage.

The Great Silence (1968)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

The Great Silence (1968)

If Sorrentino’s Mediterranean marvel feels all too summery for December, here’s an Italian classic piled high with snow. Bucking the trend of shooting Italian westerns in Spain, Django director Sergio Corbucci took his crew up into the Dolomites to recreate Utah during the Great Blizzard of 1899. A band of bounty hunters led by Klaus Kinski are taking brutal advantage of the snowbound turmoil, which has forced many among the community to turn to looting in order to survive. Jean-Louis Trintignant is the scar-throated Silence of the title, a mute gunslinger who puts himself in harm’s way to defend the outlaws. With a melancholy score by Ennio Morricone, The Great Silence has some claim to being the finest of the non-Leone spaghetti westerns. This handsome Blu-ray package from Eureka does it justice.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

There’s a snowy corner of Budapest (or Hollywood’s version of it) that’s always worth returning to when December rolls around. Infused with warm nostalgia for an old Europe which by 1940 was being torn apart by war, The Shop Around the Corner is Ernst Lubitsch’s perennial Christmas classic set in a snowglobe world where that grim reality will never enter. Two lonely-heart shopworkers – James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan – can’t abide each other, but don’t realise they’ve been slowly falling in love as anonymous pen pals. This simple concept had its basis in a Hungarian play and would later inspire You’ve Got Mail (1998), in which Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan gave an internet-era spin on the epistolary romance. Nobody did this kind of thing better than Lubitsch though – this Berlin-born Hollywood legend all but invented the romantic comedy.

Out of the Blue (1980)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Out of the Blue (1980)

Two years after she made her unforgettable turn as the itinerant young narrator of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978), Linda Manz made a harrowing return as the Elvis- and Sex Pistols-obsessed teen at the centre of this explosive drama from Dennis Hopper. A Canadian postscript to the great New Hollywood films of the 1970s, Out of the Blue goes harder and darker than even many of that decade’s more jaded offerings. Hopper himself plays the father, just out of prison after serving time for drunkenly driving his truck into a school bus. He’s a washed-up figure of the hippie generation that Manz’s teen now rails against (“Disco sucks! Kill all hippies!”), but – in the film’s disturbing later stretches – also a premonition of Hopper’s deranged Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986). The new Blu-ray is another step in this astonishing film’s rising reputation.

An Angel at My Table (1990)

Where’s it on? Netflix

An Angel at My Table (1990)

Joining the same director’s The Piano and The Power of the Dog on Netflix, this two-and-a-half hour biographical drama was Jane Campion’s early critical breakthrough and, for many, still her finest film. Drawn from three memoirs by New Zealand poet Janet Frame, the film follows Frame from childhood through to her first steps as a writer via harrowing passages in which she was placed in a mental institution. She’s played indelibly by three different actors, including Kerry Fox in adulthood, and the results launched Campion as a director. Claire Denis was watching, and later wrote: “This film changed my life as a woman, not simply as a filmmaker. Nobody had made images of girls and landscapes that beautiful before, with such a vibrating intuition for life.” 

Originally published: 3 December 2021