Cairo Station (1958)
Where’s it on? Netflix
Netflix is notoriously limited when it comes to film history’s back catalogue, so the surprise touchdown of a dozen films by the most internationally celebrated of Egyptian filmmakers, Youssef Chahine, is a bolt from the blue. These films have proved difficult to see anywhere, generally aren’t even on DVD in the UK, yet now turn up in crisp HD, waiting to be stumbled upon on the world’s biggest film platform.
Egypt has one of the biggest and most productive film industries on the planet, but Chahine is the director whose work most regularly travelled on the international film circuit. His 77-minute wonder Cairo Station is a neorealism-infused melodrama evocatively set amid the bustle of the eponymous interchange, where a disabled newspaper peddler falls obsessively in love with a cold drinks vendor. It’s perhaps the most famous film of a career that spanned the 1950s to the 2000s, yet only the tip of the iceberg of the Netflix selection that also includes 1954’s The Blazing Sun, which made a star of Omar Sharif; his classic rural drama The Land (1969); and the self-reflexive An Egyptian Story (1982) in which an Egyptian auteur travels to London for surgery.
The Ground Beneath My Feet (2019)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Getting a digital release this week having played the festival circuit in 2019, The Ground Beneath My Feet is a glassy psychodrama set within a corporate world where pulling a 48-hour shift shows the ultimate in workaholic dedication. Valerie Pachner (also seen this year in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life) plays the high-flying business consultant who tries to keep the untidy fact of her sister’s paranoid schizophrenia compartmentalised from work, only for her secret to begin to impinge upon her own mental state as she starts receiving disturbing phone calls. Marie Kreutzer’s film bears comparison with Maren Ade’s much-admired Toni Erdmann (2016) in its focus on a career-fixated businesswoman whose well-ordered life becomes disrupted by a chaotic family member. But where Ade’s film was played for comedy, Kreutzer’s skirts thriller territory before arriving at a piercingly sad study of modern loneliness.
Where’s it on? BBC2, Friday, 11.20pm
Ava DuVernay’s trenchant 2016 doc 13th has been seeing a fresh burst of attention in recent weeks, Netflix having made it free to view on YouTube in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Now here’s a chance to catch up on or revisit her major dramatic feature to date, which BBC2 are airing on Friday night. Selma saw DuVernay become the first black female director to have her film nominated for best picture – an honour tempered by the fact that she was ignored in the directing category. It’s a handsome and impassioned historical drama set at the time of the Alabama marches for African-American voting rights, with a notable dependence on Brits to play the American political players at this crunch point of US history. David Oyelowo gives a commanding portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr, with Tom Wilkinson playing President Johnson, Tim Roth as Alabama governor George Wallace and Carmen Ojogo as civil rights leader Coretta Scott King.
Tokyo Story (1953)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Making a graceful swim into the 4K Blu-ray market this week is an upgrade of this hallowed Japanese drama from Yasujiro Ozu – 67 years old but with its reputation showing no signs of flagging. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of critics to determine the best films of all time, it came third – and it’s no stranger to such lofty rankings elsewhere. For the uninitiated, Tokyo Story is only circumstantially a story of Tokyo: more essentially, it’s a story of family and the generations, centring on the neglect two grandparents feel when they visit their grown-up children, who are preoccupied with work and their own busy lives. It’s partially inspired by the 1937 Hollywood heartbreaker Make Way for Tomorrow – a fact that’s often forgotten when critics fixate on Ozu’s essential Japaneseness. This disc also includes his 1941 domestic drama Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, in many ways a forerunner of Tokyo Story, sharing several of its themes.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Where’s it on? BBC1, Friday, 10.45pm
With two transcendent movies about aliens visiting Earth to his name by 1982, Steven Spielberg left extraterrestrials to their own devices for more than 20 years until he turned to a new big-screen version of H.G. Wells’ classic invasion story The War of the Worlds. This 2005 film – getting a late Friday night broadcast on BBC1 – found the director in a much darker mood. Gone were the optimistic first encounters with benign beings familiar from Close Encounters (1977) and E.T. (1982). Gone, too, was the comfy suburban Californian setting of the original 1953 adaptation. Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is grungy and unrelenting, unravelling against a grainy, lived-in depiction of working-class New Jersey neighbourhoods that bring the film a traumatic immediacy. It’s widely been seen as his post-9/11 film, its impact closer to the rolling catastrophes of 24hr news than his more typical Spielbergian thrill rides.