Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
The 2020s aren’t going to have been anybody’s favourite decade so far, but there are even more sea changes imminent if we’re to believe the predictions of this milestone anime release from 1995. Set in a 2029 where transhuman modifications have blurred the line between technology and our own bodies, Mamoru Oshii’s modern classic hinges on the terrifying new potential for master hackers to steal into our minds and nervous systems, not just our laptops. Ghost in the Shell tracks the hunt for one such hacker through a gleaming dystopian Tokyo, in an attempt to halt a virus that’s been infecting government officials. Oshii’s 2004 sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, became another cyberpunk landmark, and both these films have been added to BFI Player this week as part of a handful of anime titles that also includes three of Mamoru Hosoda’s earthbound fantasies: The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009) and Wolf Children (2012).
Story of a Love Affair (1950)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
For cinephiles, one of the especially poignant losses to coronavirus must be Lucia Bosè, the veteran Milanese actress who died in March this year. In her time she worked with Fellini, Buñuel, Jean Cocteau and Marguerite Duras, but she will perhaps be best remembered for the classic Spanish drama Death of a Cyclist (1955) and for her early star-making turns in two films for the young Michelangelo Antonioni: his noirish debut Story of a Love Affair (1950) and the movie-industry melodrama The Lady without Camelias (1953). The first of these is released on Blu-ray this week by Cult Films, a label with an expanding catalogue of great Italian cinema. It saw Antonioni breaking with the postwar trend for neorealism by focusing on an upper-class world of fur-coated women and their wealthy husbands. It’s a sleek infidelity drama that begins in the mode of detective mystery, with a jealous industrialist hiring an agency to investigate his beautiful wife’s past.
Make Up (2019)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide/Curzon Home Cinema
Good luck trying to get out to a Cornish campground this August. Months of enforced cabin fever have caused a rush on bookings. The closest the less organised among us may get is this engimatic debut feature from director Claire Oakley, moodily set out west in an out-of-season holiday park. Eighteen-year-old Ruth (a remarkable Molly Windsor) has arrived overnight at the caravan park to join her boyfriend, a worker there. But happiness turns to suspicion and she soon finds herself following a breadcrumb trail of evidence suggesting he’s being unfaithful to her. Oakley’s film is an interesting confluence of tropes from the coming-of-age movie and a certain kind of fractured psychodrama, wherein it’s a crisis of emerging identity that provides the real mystery. She makes evocative use of the windswept location to mirror Ruth’s increasingly unsettled state of mind, the sound design and camerawork wrapping us up in the teenager’s introspective turmoil.
Where’s it on? BBC1, Friday, 10.45pm
The idea of malevolent ghosts entering the homes of suburban America via their TV sets is as chilling as it is inspired, and this unlikely meeting of minds between director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and producer Steven Spielberg is still incredibly freaky nearly 40 years on. Released the week before E.T., the contract for which prevented Spielberg himself from directing this too, it shares a similarly comfortable Californian domestic setting – and in fact E.T. too has some supernatural business with a television. In Poltergeist, however, the situation is played for abject terror, this all-American family being visited not by a friendly alien but by violent spirits who abduct their daughter and cause unholy mayhem about the house. It’s getting a TV outing on BBC1 late on Friday evening, and for once the small screen might actually be the most effective place to watch this one.
Last and First Men (2017)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Last but not least is this wildcard option: a transmission from a human civilisation many billions of years into the future. Last and First Men is the first and last feature directed by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, known for his scores for Denis Villeneuve movies as well as his own series of minimalist orchestral releases. Jóhannsson died tragically in 2018 at the age of 48, leaving this compellingly strange slice of experimental sci-fi as his last testament. It’s based on a noted work of speculative fiction by Olaf Stapledon from 1930, with Tilda Swinton leaning into her woman-who-fell-to-earth persona as the narrator with an important message from the distant future. No actors appear on screen; instead, the black-and-white camerawork roams hypnotically around monolithic otherworldly structures (actually a brutalist site in the former Yugoslavia) that suggest the deserted dwellings of a doomed master race.
Originally published: 31 July 2020