Five things to watch this weekend – 1-3 May

Japanese ghost stories, Brits abroad and a seven-hour epic – what are you watching this weekend?

Samuel Wigley

The Assistant (2019)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

After a festival run taking in Telluride, Sundance and Berlin, this very of-the-moment fiction debut from documentary director Kitty Green had its cinema release abandoned amid the coronavirus crisis but now arrives as a digital release across several platforms, including BFI Player. It’s being touted as a defining film of the #MeToo era, particularly relating to the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, tackling as it does the topic of an abusive film mogul and the complicit silence that entrenches as habit among his staff. Ozark’s Julia Garner plays the young new assistant in the man’s New York office, slowly uncovering a breadcrumb trail of abuses and their toxic spread into the office climate. Green’s film is distinctively low on dialogue, instead foregrounding the low, corporate hubbub of office life and the offhand remarks that rise above its air-conditioned fug. 

Kwaidan (1964)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

High up in the pantheon of horror anthology films is this epic compendium of Japanese ghost stories – a rare scary movie that’s as visually resplendent as it is unnerving. On a winning streak following his mammoth Human Condition trilogy (1959-61) and samurai suspenser Harakiri (1962), director Masaki Kobayashi turned to the 19th-century writings of Lafcadio Hearn, the Greek-born collector of Japanese folk tales. Over three hours long in its complete version (one section was chopped out for its initial UK release), Kwaidan comprises four fables in which woebegotten swordsmen, woodcutters and a temple musician take their turns in meeting imaginatively chilling fates. Hand-painted sets and anti-realistic backdrops give Kobayashi’s film a storybook timelessness, and the colours pop in this new Blu-ray collectors’ edition from Eureka, which also includes a 100-page book. You’ll find the film on BFI Player too.

A Room with a View (1985)

Where’s it on? Film4, Sunday, 4.40pm

A Room with a View (1985)

Film4 has a Sunday teatime slot for this always welcome offering from the Merchant Ivory stable; the film that helped bring household familiarity to their brand of well-upholstered period dramas. The first in their trio of E.M. Forster adaptations, A Room with a View puts us in company with the likes of Judi Dench, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliott playing Edwardian Brits on holiday in Florence. The headiness of the Mediterranean mood has a destabilising effect, and Bonham Carter’s English rose Lucy Honeychurch will have a scandalous clinch with Julian Sands’ dashing philosophiser before a return to Surrey and engagement to Daniel Day-Lewis’s priggish Cecil Vyse. Despite the Merchant Ivory reputation for starch and propriety, this one delivers plenty by way of sensual pleasures. It’s one that anyone who loved the much later, Ivory-scripted Italian romance Call Me by Your Name (2017) should circle back to.

Tristana (1970)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Academy Cinema poster for Tristana (1970)

Three of Luis Buñuel’s great, late films have been added for BFI Player subscribers this week. Belle de jour (1967) is the one with Catherine Deneuve as a well-heeled Parisian who seeks excitement by taking secret work in a brothel, while The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is his Oscar-winning satire about a group of chattering-class friends who are repeatedly, surreally frustrated in their efforts to dine. Coming between them, Tristana is less famous and perhaps the odd one out in being one of the only films this Spaniard ever made in Spain, but it’s no less essential and just as unmistakably Buñuelian. Set in 1930s Toledo, it brings together the stars of those two sandwiching films – Deneuve and Fernando Rey – for a typically teasing fable about a lascivious nobleman who is undone by his desire for the young woman left in his charge. 

Sátántangó (1994)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

This is the week that sees Béla Tarr’s legendary Hungarian epic Sátántangó come in out of the cold. Finally released in a restored version on Blu-ray and to stream at Curzon Home Cinema, it comes down to us wrapped in an aura of untouchability. Voted the 35th best film ever made in the most recent Sight & Sound critics’ poll, yet undeniably forbidding at seven hours long, it’s one every cinephile should make time for. If descriptions of a plot set in a collapsed collective farm in a godforsaken village sound crushingly bleak then they’ve done their work, but the majesty of Sátántangó is in the hallucinatory long-take style and mordant humour with which Tarr evokes this world and its inhabitants. It might sound perverse to pitch this as escapism, but the mud, despair and lowering skies of Sátántangó offer total atmospheric immersion like little else.

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