The Woman in the Window (1944)
Where’s it on? Masters of Cinema Blu-ray
Fritz Lang’s terrific noir deconstruction gets the Masters of Cinema treatment with an essential Blu-ray upgrade this week. The first of two successive films that Lang would make with Edward G. Robinson (Scarlet Street would follow in 1945), The Woman in the Window sees a philosophy professor cast himself in a film noir of his own somnambulant making. Obsessed with a portrait of Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) in the window of a gallery he passes every night, Robinson conjures the woman herself into his life. Adding murder, blackmail and a detective always two steps behind to his after-hours adventure, the professor becomes a Dorothy in the genre fictions of his own hard-boiled Oz. Obscenely enjoyable, and postmodern before modern even got out of bed.
Room at the Top (1959)
Where’s it on? BFI Blu-ray, BFI Player
While the young turks at Woodfall Films would cement the arrival of a new wave in British cinema with the likes of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), the first film to herald its approach came from a pair of veteran industry producers bringing John Braine’s bestselling novel, Room at the Top to the screen. Jack Clayton made his feature debut following an Oscar win for Best Short, helming a pointed critique of class-obsession across the social divide. The film’s frank discussion of its on-screen love affairs saw it slapped with an X certificate, which did little to stem the slew of Oscar nominations. These included Best Supporting Actress for Hermione Baddeley, which, at just 140 seconds, still stands as the shortest amount of screen time to garner an Oscar nod. Simone Signoret took home Best Actress for her portrayal as the worldly, unlucky-in-love Alice, but for our money, the star of the show is cinematographer Freddie Francis, who’d have to wait a year to take home his own gold for Sons and Lovers (1960).
Where’s it on? Criterion Blu-ray
With Terrence Malick’s latest film, A Hidden Life (2019) in contention for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this weekend, and receiving the kind of mixed notices we’ve come to expect from his later body of work, here’s a chance to revisit his 1973 debut Badlands, on the receiving end of a magnificent 4K restoration from team Criterion. If you’ve only seen the American master’s more recent work, it’s an inviting prospect for those who like their films more recognisably organised than those pictures that make up his post-Tree of Life (2011) trilogy. Malick’s key thematic concerns are already in place, if tied to more traditional narrative methods, and offers a pair of stellar early performances from Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen as the young sociopaths on the lam through the eponymous Dakota Badlands. Questions of civilisation and nature clash through Malick’s always exquisite image-making, captured by lead-cinematographer Tak Fujimoto with magic hour ubiquity. Look out for a rare glimpse of the reclusive director as a blueprint-carrying caller at the rich man’s house where Kit and Holly are holed up.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, and one of the key films of the Romanian new wave, Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu charts the last hours of a 63 year old man in painstaking detail. What starts as a series of headache complaints, dismissed by his neighbours as symptoms of excessive alcohol consumption, soon descends into a Kafkaesque nightmare as he’s passed between abrupt medical professionals. If the subject matter sounds like it makes for heavy viewing, for the most part Puiu pitches his protagonist’s descent into his twilight hours as a jet-black comedy of social and institutional indifference. A divine comedy, even, given Mr. Lazarescu’s first name, Dante; ferried between hospitals by a kindly Charon in paramedic, Mioara (Luminița Gheorghiu) before an offscreen introduction to a porter called Virgil in the film’s closing seconds.
Where’s it on? Netflix
Wherever you stand in the seemingly never-ending, multipronged Netflix debate, you’ve got to hand it to them when a film like Joy turns up on the service. Winner of the top prize in the Official Competition at last year’s BFI London Film Festival, this sophomore fiction feature from Austrian filmmaker Sudabeh Mortezai never made it to UK cinemas, arriving today rebranded as a Netflix Film. A razor-sharp portrait of Nigerian sex workers trafficked into Austria, and an indictment of the systemic failures of both government and NGOs to offer asylum or protection, there’s little escaping that Joy is a tough watch. The title, of course, carries its own heavy irony, even if there is momentary levity to be found in the empathetic (if tenuous) bonds formed between the women at its centre, with many of the actors themselves having formerly worked in the sex industry. Mortezai doesn’t flinch from the horrors of these women’s experiences, or the numb resilience with which they face the seemingly endless cycles of exploitation, underlined in the cruel gut punch of its final scene.