Five things to watch this weekend – 23-26 August

We’re cruising for a bruising long weekend with a dark quartet from across the globe, followed by one of the year’s best documentaries.

Matthew Thrift

Klute (1971)

Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray

Klute (1971)

Klute (1971)

Any amount of superlatives couldn’t possibly pay service to Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Alan J. Pakula’s Klute. A film seemingly damned to wallow in the murky, low-resolution hell of previous home video formats, this restoration finally does the kind of justice to Gordon Willis’s photography that only a still-wet print could provide. The disc is a revelation, not just in illuminating the notoriously dark corners of Willis’s (and Pakula’s ) frames, but in drawing every pixel out of Jane Fonda’s career-best performance as the high-class escort drawn in to private dick John Klute’s (Donald Sutherland) investigation into a pal’s disappearance. Of Pakula’s Paranoia Trilogy – which includes The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976) – Klute, the first, offers the most returnable riches, with this disc likely to prove its definitive home video release.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

Where’s it on? Eureka Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

Adapted from the novel by Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s Ark), The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was the second feature from Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi (Six Degrees of Separation, 1993). One of the most expensive domestic productions of its time, the film became instantly notorious for its depictions of racial violence. It’s a war cry as far as political statements go, dressed down in exploitation civvies. The titular Jimmie (Tommy Lewis) is a mixed-race Indigenous Australian, set on integration with his white employers. An endless stream of insults and humiliations push Jimmie over – way over – the brink, leading to a centrepiece act of violence that’s… let’s just say it’s a tough watch. A far cry from the likes of Walkabout’s studies in ‘civilisation’, it may get a little caught up in its own myth-making the further it progresses, but there’s no denying the power of this relentlessly confrontational provocation.

Cruising (1980)

Where’s it on? Arrow Video Blu-ray

Cruising (1980)

Cruising (1980)

In one of the two archival extras included on Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of Cruising, director William Friedkin explains how he never intended the film – in which Al Pacino’s undercover cop hunts for a serial killer in New York’s underground leather bars – to be seen as representative of the gay community. It wasn’t much of a defence for a major studio picture at the nexus of the 70s and 80s, and the film was pilloried on release for its perceived homophobia. Almost 40 years after the fact, Cruising still struggles to justify the equations of its editing schemes, even as its sound design dazzles. Many have read the film as a prescient Aids metaphor, but Cruising proves more fascinating in the ambiguities of Pacino’s performance than any of those apparent in the narrative’s non-disclosure.

The Third Wife (2018)

Where’s it on? Montage Pictures dual-format Blu-ray and DVD; BFI Player

The Third Wife (2018)

The Third Wife (2018)

It’s been almost two decades since Tran Anh Hung made a film in his native Vietnam, his last three pictures being either English- or French-language projects shot abroad. Anyone missing the shimmering likes of The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) ought to make a beeline for this beautifully assured debut feature by Ash Mayfair, on which Tran served as artistic advisor (and in which his wife and regular actress Tran Nu Yen-Khe stars). A richly realised critique of patriarchalism in 19th-century Vietnam, told from the perspective of a 14-year-old girl married off to a wealthy landowner, The Third Wife sees Mayfair – a sound designer by trade – fashion a woozy, naturally-lit elegance with cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj. For all the formal allure, though, the film finally belongs to Nguyen Phuong Tra My as the young May, her performance charting a heartbreaking course from naive expectancy to mature disillusionment.

American Factory (2019)

Where’s it on? Netflix

One of the year’s best documentaries hit Netflix this week bearing some heavy credentials. It’s the first film to arrive from a major deal struck between the streaming platform and Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, who picked up Julia Reichert and Steve Bognar’s film following its Sundance win for Documentary Directing. Charting the takeover by a Chinese tycoon of the former GM factory in Dayton, Ohio (where the directing duo made their 2009 film, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant), American Factory begins as a warm exercise in globalist co-operation between the newly employed locals and the Chinese workers shipped in to graft alongside them. Soon, tensions begin to mount, and a simmering cultural clash drawn from different attitudes towards their respective roles in the factory ‘family’ comes into sharp relief. Unexpectedly funny, touchingly human, and essential viewing.

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