Five things to watch this weekend – 21-23 February

Medieval masterpieces, Kubrickian sci-fi and sadomasochism among the desert dunes – what are you watching this weekend?

Samuel Wigley

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Where’s it on? Film4, Sunday, 11.55pm

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Film4 continues its drip-feed of late-night Tarkovsky with one of the director’s unassailable titles: his 1966 middle-ages masterpiece Andrei Rublev. The film follows the anguished perambulations of the eponymous 15th-century icon painter as he makes his way through a medieval mudscape defined by violence, superstition and the absence of faith. Russia is in chaos, rocked by Tartar invasions, and Tarkovsky’s film charts the spiritual crisis of an artist who is shocked into years of silence by the horrors and inhumanity that surround him.

At three hours and 20 mins in its fullest version (the film met predictable state consternation and its Soviet release was first delayed then censored), this visionary epic of the dark ages is Tarkovsky’s longest feature. But it’s also one of his most accessible, unfurling a succession of unforgettable episodes in magisterial black and white before a final, glorious explosion of colour.

End of the Century (2019)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide/BFI Player

This Argentine film should appeal to fans of Weekend (2011), Columbus (2017) or anything along the lines of Richard Linklater’s walking-and-talking ‘Before trilogy’ romances. But there’s also something gently cryptic and puzzling about its set-up: two men hook up while visiting Barcelona, only for it to dawn on them that they met there before, some 20 years prior.

So End of the Century is rather like a Last Year at Marienbad (1961) for the Airbnb era, except that debut director Lucio Castro doesn’t especially lean into the enigma. His film flashes back to this first encounter, at the turn of the millennium, but as the actors look and dress about the same, and the change between eras is never signposted, the two flings might almost be occurring at once – as if Castro has been more inspired by the imperceptible time slips favoured by Thai auteurs Anocha Suwichakornpong and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. One of the two lovers mentions that he feels like his childhood happened seconds ago, and in Castro’s becalmed but slippery not-so-brief-encounter drama, perhaps that’s true too.

The Essential Jacques Demy

Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)

This Criterion box collects that immaculate first run of films made by French New Wave dreamer Jacques Demy, together with his equally fantastic but less well known later musical Une chambre en ville from 1982. His two all-sung jewels, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967), are both here, but we also get first-time Blu-ray issues of his immortal debut, Lola (1961), and his casino fable La Baie des Anges (1963).

With the exception of the picture-book fairytale Donkey Skin (1970), the six features included are all tales of yearning romance, set in French coastal towns and brushed along by lyrical scores mostly by Michel Legrand. The likes of Catherine Deneuve, Anouk Aimée and Jeanne Moreau play lovers whose fates always seem one chance encounter or missed rendez-vous away from contentment. In these films, Demy makes us feel the wheels of fortune turning, complicating hopes and dreams. They are cinema’s great pie-in-the-sky romances. 

The Son of the Sheik (1926)

Where’s it on? Eureka Blu-ray

Here’s a welcome dusting down of the last picture that silent-era megastar Rudolph Valentino made before his tragic death at 31 in 1926, shortly after the film’s premiere. It’s a sequel of sorts to Valentino’s big 1921 hit The Sheik, though as much a parody of the original as a true follow-up. Based on a novel by Edith Maude Hull, it’s an Orientalist adventure set in an exoticised Hollywood never-neverland where the dunes of Arizona stand in for Arabia and set designer William Cameron Menzies serves up a fantasia of minarets and markets. Playing the title role (as well as the sheik himself), the silent screen’s greatest lover is duped into a trap by an alluring dancer and a band of thieves, later to escape and unleash revenge on his seductress in a notorious moment of sadomasochistic passion. Director George Fitzmaurice keeps the 68-minute running time at galloping pace, while serving up such juicy intertitles as “The night was young at the Cafe Maure. Not a knife had been thrown – so far.”

Little Joe (2019)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Austrian auteur Jessica Hausner’s first English language project is a fascinatingly eerie and provocative excursion into clinical sci-fi. Emily Beecham plays the plant breeder who creates a new strain of flower with a scent that induces human happiness. She names it ‘Little Joe’ after her son, but soon finds that the flower seems to be causing erratic behaviour in all who breathe in its pollen. Going for anxious ambiguity over outright horror, Hausner cross-pollinates the plant-takeover nightmares of things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with a cerebral Kubrickian style, making ominous use of creeping camera movements that edge the characters out of frame. The percussive music of Japanese avant-gardist Teiji Ito adds another infusion of hothouse strangeness to this wry and enigmatic marvel.

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