5 things to watch this weekend – 8 to 10 September

Two childhood friends try to keep the flame alive across continents and decades, while a documentary takes us into the heart of Uganda’s DIY action movie industry.

8 September 2023

By Sam Wigley

Past Lives (2023)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide, including BFI Southbank

Ecstatic reviews have greeted this melancholic romance since it premiered at Sundance in January. The directorial debut of theatre director Celine Song, it’s the tremulously emotional story of two childhood friends from Seoul – Nora and Hae Sung – who are separated when Nora’s family emigrate to New York. Years later they meet again online, and later still, in person, as over the span of 24 years Song traces the stop-start-stop, frustrated connection between souls who seem to belong together, except that distance and connections with others mean the stars never quite seem to align. Gorgeously restrained and delicate, in the manner of In the Mood for Love (2000), this film about time, displacement and the migrant experience aches with longing.

La Ronde (1950)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

La Ronde (1950)

In Max Ophüls’ dizzying, decadent, circular drama, a chain of amorous encounters gives us the measure of Viennese society in the year 1900. A prostitute meets a soldier. The soldier meets a chambermaid. The chambermaid is seduced by her boss’s son. He begins an affair with an older woman. And so on, until things come full circle. Ophüls’ deliciously ironic confection is adapted from an Arthur Schnitzler play, but the great director gives things a brilliant cinematic twist in having the events ‘conducted’ by a master of ceremonies (the wonderful Anton Walbrook), who keeps the carousel turning, makes cameos in the action, breaks the fourth wall and even interrupts a sex scene to splice the offending celluloid with scissors. Back in cinemas nationwide as part of the Save Curzon Mayfair campaign, it’s one of the essential films.

Once upon a Time in Uganda (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Isaac Nabwana, or Nabwana I.G.G., is the Ugandan brickmaker turned maverick filmmaker who started a cottage industry making DIY action films inspired by the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris. Alan Hofmanis is the New York programmer who packed in everything to travel to Uganda to get involved. This entertaining documentary charts the evolving friendship and later friction between the two, as Hofmanis attempts to help take the ‘Wakaliwood’ phenomenon onto the world stage. But Nabwana’s micro-budget creations don’t fit the mould of the internationally exportable African film: films like Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010) gleefully eschew poverty and politics in favour of frenetic bullet-play, exploding heads and geysers of blood.

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

The Wages of Fear (1953)

There’s growing momentum for the idea that Sorcerer (1977), the late William Friedkin’s slick remake of this nail-biting French thriller, leaves the original in its tracks. Not for this viewer. The sense of squalid desperation and existential absurdism in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s version is matchless. Clouzot stretches the long opening in a dead-end Latin American town to boredom-point, until we want to get out almost as much as our washed-up anti-heroes. Then they seize upon a dangerous opportunity to earn some cash and a means of escape: by transporting a dangerous load of highly volatile nitroglycerine by truck through the jungle to an out-of-control oil-field fire. Once the wheels are turning, Clouzot sets a high bar for screen suspense.

School of Rock (2003)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

The School of Rock (2003)

Here’s a well-timed 20th anniversary release for back-to-school week. Richard Linklater’s joyous 2003 comedy sees Jack Black on outrageous form playing the out-of-work band member who tricks his way into a job as a substitute teacher at a private New York school. Impressed by his class’s musical abilities, he proceeds to secretly put rock’n’roll on the curriculum, schooling them in the confidence-building power of performance, and harnessing their enthusiasm to put a group together for a local Battle of the Bands. Coming between Linklater’s camcorder-filmed chamber piece Tape (2001) and his garrulous romantic sequel Before Sunset (2004), School of Rock lost nothing for aiming for big laughs and wide appeal. It’s still one of his most irresistible offerings.

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