Five things to watch this weekend – 8-10 March

Mysterious journeys and secrets in the past are themes running through this week’s handful of viewing recommendations on TV, streaming and at the cinema.

Samuel Wigley

Border (2018)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

Border (2018)

Freaky and poignant in roughly equal gulps, Border is a compulsively peculiar, mythology-infused Swedish movie based on a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote Let the Right One In. This one’s not about vampires, but it’s difficult to say what it is about without giving away the film’s slowly unpeeled secrets. Suffice it to say, you’ve never met a customs official quite like Tina before. Played by Eva Melander, behind Oscar-nominated makeup, she’s a lonely soul with apparent bodily disfigurements and an extraordinary ability to sniff out guilt and shame. Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes last year, Ali Abbasi’s film knowingly trolls our disgust and empathy reflexes en route to a rather moving enquiry into the nature of beauty, belonging and sexual boundaries.

Heat and Dust (1983)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

Made just before their Forster-fuelled winning streak, from A Room with a View (1985) on, Heat and Dust was the turning point in the career of producer-director team Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, beginning their ascent from arthouse names to household names. But at the heart of its success was Merchant Ivory’s concealed third wheel: the script writing of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, here adapting her own Booker Prize-winning novel. As her story flits between two separate time frames, the team’s trademark period opulence is offset with the sensuous sights and sounds of a very modern India, with Julie Christie’s Englishwoman travelling to the subcontinent to trace the footsteps of her great aunt. This is Olivia (Greta Scacchi), a Raj-era colonial wife who – in the 1920s sequences – embarks on a clandestine affair with an Indian Nawab.

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

The English language remake of a ‘foreign language film’ is a lowly beast, but as the 2014 iteration of The Kindergarten Teacher by Israeli director Nadav Lapid never saw cinemas in the UK, the American redo comes to us fresh and startling. Maggie Gyllenhaal is now in the lead role of the preschool teacher who, unable to rise above mediocrity in her own poetry, transposes her creative ambitions to an apparent child prodigy in her care. On screen throughout, Gyllenhaal does her finest work to date here (though Film4 has cannily programmed Secretary this weekend too, should you wish to size up the competition). We’re kept so pressed up against her striving sensitivity that we scarcely sense the film’s inexorable shift towards thriller territory.

Mister John (2013)

Where’s it on?  BBC1, Sunday, 12.45am

It’s great to see this ambitious mystery turn up on BBC1. A smallish release back in 2013, it deserves to be seen more widely. Shades of Graham Greene abound in the story of an Irishman (Aidan Gillen) who travels to Singapore to settle the affairs of his dead brother, only to find himself being increasingly drawn to the murky world revolving around Mister John’s, his brother’s hostess bar. Directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor made their mark with the missing-girl drama Helen (2008), and this second feature sees them similarly detune the genre elements. They’re more in interested in mood and atmosphere, and in tracing the gradual recalibrations in their protagonist’s identity, which slips its mooring amid languid heat and expat decadence. 

Ray & Liz (2018)

Where’s it on?  Cinemas nationwide

The path from British galleries to the director’s chair has been well-trodden by the likes of Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood (now Taylor-Johnson), and here’s the debut of one of their contemporaries: photographer Richard Billingham. Best known for his 1996 collection Ray’s a Laugh, comprising candid pictures of his dysfunctional family, Billingham’s already much acclaimed first film is like that book’s movie version. It brings into motion the stormy, volatile lives of his alcoholic father and chain-smoking mum, as they raise their two sons against a backdrop of hopeless poverty in a Midlands high-rise in the 1980s. Taking some inspiration from the early work of Terence Davies, Ray & Liz shares the same clear-eyed emotional force and an eye for stunningly tactile images.

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