Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Materialising on Blu-ray just in time for Halloween, this 58-minute dose of Freudian weirdness is a real discovery. Wordlessly plunging us into one troubled woman’s vivid bad dream, John Parker’s film was banned on release in New York for its presentation of female violence. It found an unlikely fan in screwball director Preston Sturges (whose words of praise are featured on screen ahead of the credits), but otherwise was doomed to obscurity for decades. Watched today, it plays like the kind of semi-conscious panic attack you might have if you fell asleep late at night watching film noir – an unrepeatable hybrid of mystery, horror and the avant-garde, with traces of influence from the sleepwalking surrealism of Maya Deren or Dalí’s dream sequence for Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945). Sleaziness and pretension are all part of the mix in one of those illicit and uncategorisable off-Hollywood artefacts in which you can’t quite tell if you’re in the gutter or the gallery.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Where’s it on? Film4, Sunday, 22:45
You have to wonder if David Lynch saw Dementia at an impressionable age, as it provides an obvious template for the kind of skid-row surreality he was channelling in Eraserhead (1977) and beyond. It’s not too difficult to imagine a scene in Parker’s film in which his anxious heroine might come upon a severed ear lying in the grass, as college student Jeffrey Beaumount (Kyle Maclachlan) does in the opening scenes of Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Crawling with ants, the ear is a gesture back to the ant-covered hand in Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s classic short Un chien andalou (1929) – the wellspring of cinematic surrealism. Excepting obscure aberrations like Dementia, Lynch is the American filmmaker who, above all, has taken up the baton for Freudian dream logic from those early beginnings. Film4’s Halloween weekend broadcast is an apt moment to revisit or discover Blue Velvet’s lethally seductive joyride into the subconscious of suburban America. Watch it alongside almost any more conventional horror film this weekend and it’s obvious what the truly scary stuff is.
African Apocalypse (2020)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide and BFI Player
A nightmare of a different order is the catalyst for this road-movie documentary from British filmmaker Rob Lemkin. African Apocalypse sees British-Nigerian poet and activist Femi Nylander travel to Niger to follow in the grim footsteps of the French colonial officer Paul Voulet, who in 1898 was sent to conquer the Chad Basin, conducting a brutal offensive against the native population before going rogue in the style of Colonel Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s contemporaneous novella Heart of Darkness. Nylander and Lemkin take the similarities between the fictional Kurtz and the real-life Voulet as their jumping-off point for an investigation into the long-lasting scars left by colonialism on the people of Niger today. The anger felt towards Voulet and his kind is still palpable among the Nigeriens that Nylander meets many generations later, and Lemkin’s film stitches together a fascinating thesis tying these Victorian-era atrocities with both Conrad’s text and today’s statue wars and the Black Lives Matter movement. The results are chewy and provocative.
Our Little Sister (2015)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday/Sunday, 01:00
If the heavy horror quotient on TV this Halloween weekend gets a bit much, BBC2 has some excellent counter-programming in this exquisitely calm sisterhood drama from Hirokazu Koreeda. There are some seasonally-appropriate fireworks in one scene, but otherwise 2 hours pass without so much as a bang or a boo. Instead, in the becalmed style Koreeda is known for, we spend the time in the company of 3 twentysomething sisters and the younger half-sister they take under their wing after their mutual father dies. Our Little Sister is set in the coastal town of Kamakura and is full of the small pleasures that fans of Japanese domestic dramas come to treasure: the family mealtimes, countryside meanders and delicate exchanges. If the music occasionally tips Koreeda’s film into sentimentality, it’s a tiny price to pay for the thoughtful and beautifully acted depiction of bonds forming, time passing and lives being lived.
Mogul Mowgli (2020)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Riz Ahmed stars as Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper on the cusp of big things and a major tour. In the calm before the hoped-for storm, he travels back from New York to his native London to reconnect with his parents, but after he collapses and is taken to hospital, he’s diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. His life and career are put on standstill while he attempts to grapple with what this means for him, and Bassam Tariq’s film brings us up close with Zed in this moment of shock and disbelief, as his sense of his own future swerves wildly. Tariq made his name with a series of documentary projects focusing on Muslim life in the west, particularly in a post-9/11 context. His first dramatic feature, Mogul Mowgli is another piece in that puzzle, with Zed’s flow riffing on issues of British identity, selfhood and Islam that in turn course through the film. Tariq’s style here is both woozily impressionistic and bracingly muscular, with Ahmed dazzling as a man in freefall.