Five things to watch this weekend – 28 February - 1 March

Classic Studio Ghibli and a Ming dynasty heist movie head up our recommendations this week. What will you be watching?

Samuel Wigley

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Where’s it on? Netflix

Princess Mononoke (1997)

The second of the three staggered batches of Studio Ghibli classics arrives on Netflix this Sunday, with seven more titles added to the service. The headline-grabbers in this tranche are 2001’s dreamy Spirited Away (the most widely acclaimed of all Ghibli films and usually high up in any list of the best films this century) and the company’s international breakthrough, Princess Mononoke (1997). Set in the medieval Muromachi period, the latter is Hayao Miyazaki’s sublimely rendered tale of a clash between firearm-wielding humans and the creatures of the surrounding forests. The adventure begins as young Prince Ashitaka is afflicted with a deadly curse after he’s wounded fending off a forest demon.

For the record, Sunday also brings us Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999), The Cat Returns (2002), Arrietty (2010) and the final film by Miyazaki’s Ghibli running mate Isao Takahata, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).

Raining in the Mountain (1979)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Situated in broadly the same time period as Princess Mononoke, in this case during China’s Ming dynasty, Raining in the Mountain takes place in a secluded Buddhist monastery, where the community is eagerly awaiting the sitting abbott’s big reveal as to his successor. Two advisors have been brought in for the occasion, but these visitors also have another goal in sight: stealing the monastery’s priceless Tripitaka scriptures. We’re living through very special times for fans of China’s great wuxia classics, with many of the genre’s most venerable titles – long difficult to see in watchable quality – getting immaculate high-definition restorations. Raining in the Mountain comes from the stable of the legendary King Hu; he shot it back to back with the same actors, in the same monastery, as his 1979 fantasy Legend of the Mountain (also recently made available on the Masters of Cinema imprint). Just to be clear, there’s no rain here, and not even very much actual combat, but what we do have is a spiritually-inflected Ming dynasty heist movie that absolutely pops.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)

Our next recommendation brings us slightly more up to date, but only as far as the year 1640. The scene changes to Paris in the 17th century, where Gérard Depardieu cuts a dash as the lovesick poet of Edmond Rostand’s classic play Cyrano de Bergerac. Hampered in romantic affairs by his big nose, Cyrano has been played countless times on screen, including an Oscar-winning incarnation by José Ferrer in 1950 and Steve Martin in the 1987 modern-day reworking, Roxanne. As the perfect embodiment for Rostand’s big hunk o’ love, Depardieu’s may be the finest interpretation of all. His sadsack swashbuckler is like a dejected D’Artagnan, proving achingly affecting as Cyrano writes himself into a corner: penning poems to romance the woman he loves on behalf of another man. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s lavishly appointed costume epic was a huge international hit on release in 1990, and this week sees its first bow on Blu-ray.

Force Majeure (2014)

Where’s it on? Film4, Monday, 1.15am

In Film4’s middle-of-Sunday-night subtitled slot this week is Force Majeure, a pleasurably needling drama from Swedish director Ruben Östlund, the American remake of which (Downhill) has just landed. The action takes place in an Alpine ski lodge, where a perfect marriage suddenly hits a downward slope after the husband inadvertently reveals his true mettle. There’s a huge avalanche that nonetheless leaves the lodge unscathed, but not before dad of two Tomas is seen instinctively running for cover, leaving his family unprotected. And this revelation of self-interest casts a pall over the remaining film, as Östlund mercilessly surveils Tomas’s attempts to save face as his family goes into meltdown. Often compared to Michael Haneke in his gift for generating vicarious unease, Östlund’s provocations have sometimes proved grating, not least in his empty 2017 Palme d’Or winner The Square. Force Majeure stands as his most satisfying release: a disaster film that suggests that the most daunting aspect of a catastrophe is our own unforeseeable reaction. 

Roma (2018)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexican memory-piece Roma might not have won Netflix their coveted first best picture Oscar last year, but here’s another badge of high-cinematic respectability: a luxurious Blu-ray edition from Criterion. While once famously exclusive to Netflix streamers, Cuarón’s film is now available for collectors too – a first for any Netflix film, and a welcome one for viewers who want to see Cuarón’s rapturous black-and-white images in the pinprick sharpness they deserve. The film is based partially in the director’s recollections of his own childhood, and is centred around the experiences of the live-in maid in a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City. Revisited now some of the ecstatic buzz around its release has petered out, it arguably looks less like a masterpiece than the fastidious compilation of the ingredients for one. But it remains a film to be reckoned with, and the virtuosity of Cuarón’s travelling shots and deep-focus compositions drops your jaw.

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