Saint Maud (2019)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

This psychological horror from debut British director Rose Glass swept through last autumn’s festival season on a gathering storm of buzz, looking to go big in the States after getting picked up by A24 for distribution. Sadly, the pandemic put paid to the planned original release dates on both sides of the Atlantic, but it’s now getting a delayed launch on these shores, sizing up as just the kind of Halloween warm-up viewing to tempt audiences back out to cinemas. Welsh actor Morfydd Clark gives a fearsomely intense performance as the eponymous young nurse, a recent convert to Catholicism who’s sent to care for an ailing dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). At close quarters in the latter’s gloomy seaside home, Amanda’s worldly hedonism clashes with Maud’s religious devotion, setting Maud on a mission to save her soul that careers into dangerous obsession. Scarborough locations provide the setting for a spiritual battleground as Maud’s grip on reality goes south, leading to a fiery finale that you won’t quickly forget.

Shirley (2020)

Where’s it on?  BFI Player from Friday at 18:30, BFI Southbank and selected cinemas nationwide, as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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Shirley (2020)

There’s a cloistered clash of temperaments in this new film from Josephine Dekker too. Elisabeth Moss plays writer Shirley Jackson, best known for The Haunting of Hill House. She’s stuck on her new novel, but her creative juices begin to flow again after a newlywed couple come to stay at her and her husband’s Vermont home. So begins a febrile dynamic in which the couple’s youthful naivety is all but eaten for breakfast by the aggressively sharp and spiky Jackson and her intellectually imperious other half – an exacting academic played by Michael Stulhbarg. There’s something of Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock in the bullying superiority of these 2 terrifying literary thoroughbreds, both Moss and Stuhlbarg giving performances of lethal charm and callousness. Although Shirley has the respectable cut of a prestige biopic, fans of Dekker’s free-form psychodramas Butter on the Latch (2013) and Madeline’s Madeline (2018) will find her idiosyncratic fingerprints all over this wider canvas.

Chess of the Wind (1976)

Where’s it on?  BFI Player from Saturday at 15:00, as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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Chess of the Wind (Shatranj-e Baad, 1976)

Film discoveries don’t come much more alluring than this pre-revolutionary Iranian drama from 1976. Considered lost for decades after being suppressed during the Ayatollah Khomeini years, a print was found (by the director’s own son) in a junk shop in 2014. Smuggled out of Iran, where it was still effectively banned, Chess of the Wind has been restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation and, astonishingly, the now immaculate-looking film more than lives up to its myth. Inspired by the opulent, end-of-the-aristocracy period films of Luchino Visconti, director Mohammad Reza Aslani introduces us to a perfumed world where a wrangle for the inheritance left by a dead patriarch unravels amid the rugs, incense, candlelight, mirrors and coloured glass that furnish the family’s Tehran mansion. It’s a world of golds and reds, poisoned by an atmosphere of greed that leads to murder. Comparisons have been made to everything from Tennessee Williams to Robert Bresson, although the film it most reminded me of is Alfred Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn (1949), another tale of gaslit hysteria set on a rambling estate.

Siberia (2020)

Where’s it on?  BFI Player, Saturday, 20:30, as part of the BFI London Festival

Here’s another one set in the mouth of madness, a film way off the chart even by Abel Ferrara’s extreme standards. Fearless Ferrara regular Willem Dafoe stars as the mystery man running a remote bar in the snowy wilds of Siberia. We don’t know how he got there, but Ferrara invites us to look for clues in the memories, dreams, fantasies and nightmare visions that unfurl as the director takes us on a snow safari through Dafoe’s innermost anxieties. Siberia doesn’t tell a linear story, or even piece together Dafoe’s character in any knowable sense. One freaky episode simply follows another, rather like a David Lynch reboot of Wild Strawberries (1957). There’s a hallucinatory, WTF logic to it all that will either infuriate or intoxicate. Ferrara has said that he wanted “to see if we can really film dreams”, and the fragmentary flow of Siberia gets as close as anyone has, while offering up proof – if it were needed – that the recesses of a man’s mind aren’t always a pretty place to be.

Rio Bravo (1959)

Where’s it on?  BBC2, Sunday, 14:00

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Rio Bravo (1959)

Howard Hawks’ 1959 cowboy movie was initially conceived in answer to High Noon (1952), Hawks being affronted that Gary Cooper’s sheriff in that movie should have to call on the townspeople for help against the revenge-seeking outlaws rather than getting the job done himself. But if Rio Bravo is a riposte then it’s an incredibly leisurely one – nearly an hour longer than High Noon and swapping out that film’s tense against-the-clock mechanics for a languid hang-out vibe in which John Wayne’s sheriff John T. Chance still comes to depend on a ragtag bunch – the drunk (Dean Martin), the pensioner (Walter Brennan) and the cocky youth (Ricky Nelson) – to help him defend the town jail against attempts to spring the brother of a powerful rancher. Friendship, professionalism and facing up to responsibility emerge as Hawks’ real thematic interests, over 141 peerless minutes that find plenty of time for impromptu jailhouse singalongs, saloon romance and the best dialogue a western ever had.