Five things to watch this weekend – 6-8 March

Midnight-sun horror, head-spinning action and tales of fanaticism – what are you watching this weekend?

Samuel Wigley

Midsommar (2019)

Where’s it on? Amazon Prime

If winter seems to be exerting its wet, grey, virusy grip that bit longer this year, Ari Aster’s midnight-sun epic Midsommar may be the cinematic SAD lamp you need. Arriving on Amazon Prime this week, it split the room on release. For many, it built on the promise of Aster’s Hereditary (2018) with an even bolder, nay visionary, reinvention of the occult horror subgenre’s best moves, masterfully maintaining its daylit dread over 150mins (or even longer in the director’s cut); for others, it played like a white-elephant Wicker Man rip-off with nothing to say – ‘elevated horror’ believing its own hype. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, you won’t be able to deny the star-confirming performance by Florence Pugh. She holds the centre of Aster’s woozy daymare, playing the grieving college student who tags along with her boyfriend and his pals on a misguided trip to experience the midsummer rituals in rural Sweden.

King of New York (1990)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

King of New York (1990)

Reviews out of this year’s Berlin Film Festival suggest a near united front of befuddlement at the latest film from Abel Ferrara, an off-the-map Nietzschean head-trip called Siberia. While we wait to see if any UK distributors are brave enough to bring it here, there are plenty of places online to stream a selection of Ferrara’s past glories. Amazon Prime has The Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Blackout (1997), New Rose Hotel (1998) and his early ‘video nasty’ The Driller Killer (1979), while BFI Player offers China Girl (1987), Pasolini (2014) and today adds his electrifying underworld drama King of New York. Starring Ferrara regular Christopher Walken as livewire drug kingpin Frank White, fresh out of Sing Sing with scores to settle, it’s a mobster movie that feels hotwired into an illicit circuit board of nocturnal urban energy – all filmed with nervy intensity and with an indelible cast of key 90s actors: Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Steve Buscemi and Wesley Snipes.

Stations of the Cross (2014)

Where’s it on? BBC2, Sunday, 1.45am

This week sees Paul Schrader’s austere tale of religious doubt First Reformed being added to Netflix. Starring Ethan Hawke as the upstate New York pastor experiencing a crisis of faith in the face of imminent climate emergency, it was widely received as a late-career masterpiece from the ageing writer-director. If that’s one you’ve already seen though, BBC2 has an equally ascetic and engrossing dose of spiritual searching in the shape of Dietrich Brüggemann’s Berlin prize-winning Stations of the Cross from 2014. It is Lent, after all. In 14 rigorously controlled and coolly observed episodes, each named after the stations on Christ’s path to crucifixion, Brüggemann’s film charts the intense religious devotion of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, her homelife with her traditionalist Catholic parents and her increasing belief in her own sacrificial destiny. Stations of the Cross is undeniably cold to the touch, but with an affecting performance from young Lea van Acken to keep you rapt.

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

Where’s it on? Blu-ray

There’s religious dedication of a different order in this head-spinning Hong Kong film from 36th Chamber of Shaolin director Liu Chia-liang. After an ambush that leaves five out of seven sons of a Song dynasty general dead, the fifth son takes himself off to a monastery on sacred Mount Wutai where – the Buddhists not being keen on blades – he gradually masters a pole-fighting technique, while also cooling his hotheadedness enough to take his vows. This late production from the legendary Shaw brothers stable was marked by tragedy when veteran kung fu star Alexander Fu (who plays the sixth son) was killed in a car accident during filming. But this isn’t a film you finish and wonder which bits were rewritten. More likely, you’re catching your breath and trying to regain your balance. From that opening ambush – the film beginning in media res in a mind-boggling torrent of combat – to the syncopated carnage of the climax, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter maintains an astonishing level of visual grace. 

Vitalina Varela (2019)

Where’s it on? Selected cinemas nationwide

The first film in five years from the one-of-a-kind Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa continues his haunting series set in the derelict Lisbon immigrant neighbourhood of Fontainhas. Fontainhas and its residents have been a fixation for Costa since 1997’s Ossos, the filmmaker treading an almost invisible line between drama and documentary in his extraordinarily intimate portraits of real individuals – some of whom carry over from film to film. That said, Vitalina Varela – whose title character returns to the neighbourhood to find her secretive husband has died – needs no prior knowledge of Costa’s work and may even be the perfect introduction to his style. Costa has found ways of shooting digitally that no-one else is exploring, using harsh key lights to illuminate pockets of his frame as the borders fade to impenetrable darkness. There are trace memories of old RKO horror films in this shadowy aesthetic, which also sees him compared to Rembrandt, but the films have an incantatory strangeness and mournful current that’s really unlike anything else. Once you’ve adjusted your eyes and expectations, they exert a rich fascination.

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