The Colour of Pomegranates (1969)
Where’s it on? kinoklassikafoundation.org
The new year hasn’t been knocking us flat with good news, but the announcement this week that the Kino Klassika Foundation is launching a new streaming service in February is something film fans will want to put their arms around. The current streaming landscape isn’t hot on Russian cinema, but Klassiki promises to offer UK audiences a permanent library of 60 titles from Russia and the Caucasus, including both classics and more obscure gems. The initiative has come about because of the large audiences that have been drawn to the free weekly films being posted on the foundation’s website during lockdown. Those are still happening, so you can get a taste of the kind of thing Klassiki will be hosting by viewing this week’s offering, which just happens to be one of the great Soviet-era films: Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates. Not that this poetic and stylised account of the life of the 19th-century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova is really like anything else out there. Martin Scorsese described watching it as like “opening a door and walking into another dimension, where time has stopped and beauty has been unleashed”.
Black Narcissus (1947)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 1.15pm
Following the BBC’s new adaptation of Black Narcissus over Christmas, here’s a chance to compare it with the classic 1947 original. Legendary filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had already explored the strange impact of places on people in A Canterbury Tale (1944) and “I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945), where the Kent countryside and the Scottish islands respectively have quasi-mystical atmospheres. In adapting Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel about a mission of nuns struggling in their post in a rundown palace in the Himalayas, the pair made the unusual decision not to film on location but to recreate the mountainous setting in the studio. All the better to calibrate the hothoused atmosphere of sexual repression and cultural isolation that Deborah Kerr’s Sister Clodagh and her companions – not least Kathleen Byron’s rebellious, tightly wound Sister Ruth – are duty-bound to endure. Scorsese has a soundbite for this one too, calling it “one of the first truly erotic films”.
The Hill (1965)
Where’s it on? BBC iPlayer
You’ve got till midnight on Monday to catch this intense prison drama from Sidney Lumet before it disappears from BBC iPlayer. That might not seem so urgent but for the fact that, oddly, The Hill has never emerged on DVD or Blu-ray in this country – a bizarre fate for a movie that contains one of Sean Connery’s very best performances. If Black Narcissus is a tale of cloistered women coming undone in foreign climes, then The Hill is something like a male equivalent. It’s set in a British military prison in North Africa during the Second World War, where insubordinates, deserters and other wrongdoers find themselves under the yoke of Harry Andrews’ ball-breaking sergeant-major, who sees it as his job to break men in order to build them back up again as obedient soldiers. Chief among his tools is the eponymous ‘hill’, a man-made construction that prisoners are forced to scramble up and down in the blazing desert heat to the point of exhaustion. Lumet’s film – the first of a number of fertile collaborations with Connery – attends the jockeying struggle for supremacy between the inmates and the camp’s various authority figures. It’s an intense experience, but also a starkly beautiful one, thanks to Oswald Morris’s BAFTA-winning cinematography.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 9.30pm
A month after we lost John Le Carré, here’s an opportunity to revisit one of the finer adaptations of his work on screen – albeit a feature film that feels necessarily compressed alongside the Beeb’s own earlier TV miniseries starring Alec Guinness. Here Le Carré’s Cold War spy George Smiley is essayed by Gary Oldman, at the stern of a likely bunch of British actors including Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones and John Hurt. The plot follows Smiley’s attempt to uncover a Soviet double agent at large in 1970s London, and the wonderful surprise of the film is the sense of dank verisimilitude with which this clandestine world is recreated by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, then hot from Let the Right One In (2008). It’s the perfect labyrinth to lose yourself in on a cold Saturday evening.
The Brilliant Biograph (2020)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Produced in collaboration between Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum and the BFI, this archive compilation brings together some of the world’s earliest moving images of Europe. It’s an invitation to sample the world as it was 120 years ago, comprising footage shot around the continent by pioneer filmmakers using large 68mm film, which was introduced by Biograph company inventor William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson. This means images of exceptional clarity, but it was also a format that became unsupported, which left the resulting films languishing in obscurity for decades. They’ve now been restored in 8k digital, so in pinprick detail we can be transported back to scenes of life, leisure and travel captured everywhere from Southampton to Venice. Train journeys, tram rides, streetlife, beach scenes, road trips, military exercises, funerals, dances – the turn of the last century is brought in front of our eyes with astonishing immediacy. It’s free to watch on BFI Player.