Five things to watch this weekend – 13-15 December

Including a witchy occult thriller and one of cinema’s great weepies.

Samuel Wigley

Aquarela (2018)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

A big screen experience if ever there was one, Aquarela is Victor Kossakovsky’s colossal ode to the power of water. Filmed across the globe in locations including frozen Siberia, Venezuela’s Angel Falls and Miami in hurricane season, it’s a film that inspires awe in the face of its elemental imagery, all scored to a grinding symphony of instrumental metal by Finnish cellist Eicca Toppinen. There’s no narration or evolving narrative to lead us through; the Russian director simply presents us with one staggering, sensorially overwhelming natural scene after another: icebergs crumbling into the sea, Florida palms bent double in almighty winds, the surface of the ocean shifting in slow motion over immense depths. We’re left to draw our own conclusions about man’s impact on these environments, and to wonder how Kossakovsky’s crew captured such majesty – filmed at 96 frames per second in images that have had even Emmanuel Lubezki agog.

Night of the Eagle (1962)

Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Friday, 10pm

Night of the Eagle (1962)

It may be less well known than the similarly titled Night of the Demon (1957), but this properly unsettling drama from 1962 deserves an adjacent place in the annals of witchy British cinema. Given the startling release title Burn, Witch, Burn! over in the States, it stars Peter Wyngarde (in his pre-Jason King days) as a rationalist college professor specialising in belief and superstition who discovers that his own wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), is practising obeah, a voodoo-like spiritualism that she encountered in the West Indies. Although Wyngarde’s skeptic orders her to destroy all the magic aids she’s hidden around the house to help further his career, things inevitably begin to get beyond the couple’s control. Director Sidney Hayers steadily summons an atmosphere of creeping dread that’s all the more effective for being situated in a recognisably ordinary English suburbia.

Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho (2015)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

No relation to Night of the Eagle, Voice of the Eagle is Liam Barker’s recent documentary portrait of outsider folk musician Robbie Basho. It’s only had festival screenings in the UK so far but is now out on Blu-ray. Generally the second name to trip off the tongue after John Fahey whenever American primitive guitarists are discussed, the enigmatic Basho – called Daniel Robinson until he changed his name in honour of the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho – remains a marginal, under-celebrated figure, having had nothing like the rehabilitation that the comparably private music of Nick Drake has had. Very little of his raga-influenced, wilderness-inspired acoustic output is available for streaming; instead the legend depends on vinyl reissues, intrepid listeners and, now, Barker’s invaluable film. Talking heads including Pete Townshend and neo-primitivists like Glenn Jones and C. Joynes add insights into a troubled life story and the unique soul behind Basho’s ragged, big-skied sound.

Now, Voyager (1942)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Now, Voyager (1942)

Emerging from Warner Bros in the same year as their Casablanca, this prime slice of teary-eyed melodrama stars a frumped-over Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale, the shrinking-violet daughter of a domineering mother who begins to bloom when she gets some space to herself during a Caribbean cruise. Along with Warners’ Mildred Pierce (1945), starring Davis’s rival Joan Crawford, Now, Voyager is the most famous of all 1940s ‘women’s films’, in which the piffling plot is carried into immortality via the commitment in the performances and the glossy refinement of the Hollywood studio system in its heyday. With his famous routine of lighting two cigarettes at once and passing her one, Paul Henreid plays the continental suitor who notices Charlotte, while the avuncular Claude Rains is film history’s kindliest psychiatrist.

Warners’ house composer Max Steiner won an Oscar for the score that sweeps us along to that magnificent final scene at the window: one of the great last lines in cinema, then the camera tilting upwards to a starry sky. It’s out on Criterion Blu-ray now and returning to the big screen in 2020 as part of our Bette Davis season.

Eden (2014)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

Among the latest batch of titles added for BFI Player subscribers are the Matt Dillon-starring Charles Bukowski adaptation Factotum (2005), the Lapland folk horror oddity The White Reindeer (1952) and this dance music epic from Mia Hansen-Løve. Inspired by her brother’s DJing exploits during the height of the French house scene, Eden is lifted well above most other attempts to portray dance culture on film by Hansen-Løve’s characteristic emphasis on the passing of time, in which we sense an era rising and then receding, and with it the aspirations of Félix de Givry’s jobbing DJ Paul. This is the time of Daft Punk, who we see trialling ‘Da Funk’ on an unsuspecting house-party crowd, but what makes Eden special is how it tackles more middling talent and the challenges in staying aloft as a scene tapers away. Eden doesn’t stint on euphoria, but it’s the rear-view-mirror melancholia that lingers.

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