Charulata (1964)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Charulata (1964)

Although Bengali director Satyajit Ray’s most famous films remain his years-spanning, saga-like Apu trilogy of the 1950s, Ray himself later came to the conclusion that cinema was better suited to a more focused time frame. Films should be less like novels, in other words, and more like short stories. Charulata, from 1964, is a pristine example. Derived from a novella by Rabindranath Tagore, it’s the finest of Ray’s many masterpieces. Shot exquisitely in the light and shade of a house and its grounds in Calcutta in the 1880s, it centres the desires and creative awakening of a bored wife (Madhabi Mukherjee) who occupies her time reading, relaxing and spying on passers-by through her field glasses, while her wealthy husband busies himself running his own newspaper. Ray regular Soumitra Chatterjee, who died late last year, plays her husband’s cousin, whose visit prompts the possibility of infidelity.

A Common Crime (2020)

Where’s it on?  Digital platforms including BFI Player

A couple of weeks ago in this series I recommended the Argentinian medical thriller The Dose. Now comes an even more assured and disquieting psychological drama from that country, one very clearly influenced by Lucrecia Martel’s modern classic The Headless Woman (2008). Like Martel’s film, A Common Crime centres on a middle-class woman with a guilty secret, her actions – or inaction – one rainy night having had a tragic impact. Elisa Carricajo, an actress familiar to fans of Argentinian cinema from the likes of Viola (2012) and La flor (2018), plays the sociology professor and mother of one who is haunted by the possibility that she might have saved her maid’s teenage son from death at the hands of the police. Fraught and exactingly directed, Francisco Márquez’s film is a close-up character study that also exposes the faultlines of a nation’s class divide and the open secret of state violence against the poor. Michael Haneke’s Hidden (2005) is another obvious touchstone.

Silent Action (1975)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Responding to both rising national crime rates and the Dirty Harry era of violent American cop movies, Italy turned out police thrillers by the dozen during the 1970s. They became known as poliziotteschi – the alternative ‘spaghetti crime film’ never caught on in the same way. Sergio Martino’s Silent Action, which now arrives on Blu-ray, is a textbook example, if not among the more famous ones. Ripped from the headlines, it packs a breathless amount of plot and action into just over 90 minutes – we see three assassinations before five minutes are up. The unfortunates are high-ranking military officials, and Silent Action finds a cop duo wading deep into political conspiracy as they investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths. Martino keeps things rattling along at whiplash-inducing pace, incorporating car chases, a helicopter raid and a sense of gangrenous corruption going all the way to the top.

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Babette’s Feast (1987)

A couple of years after the writings of Karen Blixen inspired best picture winner Out of Africa (1985), this adaptation of a Blixen short story (written under her pen name Isak Dinesen) became the first ever Danish winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film. Babette’s Feast is typically one of the first titles to trip off a film critic’s tongue whenever scrumptious depictions of food on film come under discussion. Gabriel Axel’s film is set in a remote coastal part of Jutland in the 19th century, where the arrival of a Parisian housekeeper fleeing bloodshed in France leads to her preparing a feast for the 100th birthday of the local pastor. The pious religious setting calls to mind Carl Dreyer’s classic Ordet (1955), but Axel trades miracles for the mother of all mouthwatering meals, as Stéphane Audran’s foodie brings a reviving gust of earthly pleasure to the austere community. Many of Dreyer’s stock company of actors are featured in the cast, but Dreyer never served a menu like this.

Catch Us if You Can (1965)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms

Catch Us if You Can (1965)
© StudioCanal

The breezy swinging 60s pop of the Dave Clark Five hasn’t endured in anything like the same way, but at the time the Tottenham combo were considered Beatles rivals. John Boorman was working in documentary for the BBC when he was plucked to direct this big-screen venture for the band. Dave Clark plays a stuntman called Steve who flees the shoot of a new meat commercial in the company of its young star, heading out from the swinging capital to an island off the coast of Devon (“It smells of dead holidays,” the starlet quips on arrival). Boorman’s debut mixes in raucous musical numbers, out-in-the-streets spontaneity, new wave razzle-dazzle and much thumbing of noses at the squares – the exact recipe of the Beatles’ own landmark film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), in other words, though lacking the same zing. Catch Us if You Can offers plenty of time-capsule pleasures, though it must be admitted that the leap from this to Boorman’s subsequent Hollywood debut, Point Blank (1967), was stratospheric.