We all know that viewing at home can never replace the theatrical viewing experience (viewing at HOME) but it can augment it.
With physical cinemas closed during COVID-19, distributors have been forced to release their films through online viewing services. This is actually not a new practice. Arthouse distributor Curzon have been doing it for years. Other independent distributors (Vertigo, 606, Anti-Worlds, MUBI, Modern Films) have followed suit but perhaps a major shift was the decision by Universal, a studio, to release Trolls World Tour through transactional streaming services. This was much to the chagrin of the multiplex operators, who, believing that allowing audiences to view new titles without a 16 week hold back is the sounding of the death knoll for cinema (it isn’t), promptly banned all Universal films from their screens, which are currently closed.
So, during lockdown what are some of the key titles that we can view to keep our love of the moving image alive? I’m going to pick out a few titles below. Unsurprisingly, I am not including Trolls World Tour, although for those with young children to keep occupied it may be just the ticket. Personally, I’d instead suggest instead heading over to Netflix and luxuriating in the Studio Ghibli titles that are currently to be found there. They really do represent the pinnacle of contemporary animation.
In these unprecedented times (a phrase one soon tires off), do not discount more traditional television stations for your cinematic fix. As I type this, Sony Movies Classic are screening The Set-Up, Robert Wise’s classic boxing drama in which punch drunk pugilist Robert Ryan aims for one more shot at glory. To my mind one of the finest films in the boxing genre (others cite Scorsese’s Raging Bull, but Huston’s Fat City may just have the measure of both of them) it’s sense of urgency and hard-edged realism is accentuated by the fact that it takes place over a single night.
Film4 is always a reliable repository of classic cinema with upcoming highlights including William Friedkin’s The Sorcerer, an update on Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and the Coens Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan’s loving look at the 1960s New York folk scene. It’s one of their most melancholic offerings. The highlight however has to be Film4’s screening of The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra’s tale of an unhappy Mumbai accountant who strikes up a chaste relationship with a bored housewife. A culinary delight, the film is a fitting tribute to the actor Irrfan Khan, a wonderful screen presence who sadly recently passed away. Many audiences ill know Khan from HOME patron Asif Kapadia’s debut feature The Warrior, which is free on Amazon Prime.
A samurai tale, The Warrior provides the perfect segue to one of the excellent online retrospectives currently to be found on MUBI who follow their recent collection of films by Joseph Losey with a double header celebrating Akira Kurosawa. As well as screening Ran, 1985s masterful adaptation of King Lear, MUBI also present Chris Marker’s A.K.A characteristically poetic documentary/cine essay/homage, the film involves Marker travelling to the vicinity of Mount Fuji to observe the meticulousness and technique of Kurosawa and his collaborators during Ran’s production. It’s a genuine do not miss opportunity.
MUBI also features a number of key releases from its own distribution arm, the most recent of which is Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s Ema. A look at a relationship in crisis, the film – a dazzling, intoxicating look at sex, power, family and chaos in modern-day Chile – is anchored by searing turns from rising star Mariana Di Girolamo and Larrain regular Gael García Bernal. For those seeking something even more experimental, British artist-filmmaker Andrew Kötting’s The Whalebone Box can also be found on MUBI. A beguiling travelogue with folk tale elements, modesty dictates that I reveal that this is a HOME release.
A number of recent titles that Curzon would have released into physical cinemas, where the real action is, can now be found on their home cinema service. These include Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am, an intoxicating meditation on age and sex featuring a luminous performance from Juliette Binoche. Binoche also appears in The Truth, Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-Eda first film outside of Japan. The tale of escalating tension between a mother and daughter that reaches its apex when the mother’s memoirs are published, I initially found the film a little disappointing given the director’s perfect curriculum vitae. A second viewing however revealed hidden depths and the interplay between Binoche and Catherine Deneuve is a delight. Soon to be added to Curzon is Atom Egoyan’s Guest of Honour, a brilliantly complex look at family and how technology mediates our lives from one of my own personal favourite filmmakers. . Curzon also offer something even more special, Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s 7 hour Sátántango. An adaptation of the novel by Laszlo Karsnahorkai’s novel about the decline of Communism in Eastern Europe, it’s a visionary masterpiece set in a struggling Hungarian agricultural collective. Don’t be intimidated by the running time. Every second is essential.
BFI Player has recently added The Assistant, Kitty Green’s restrained and timely drama that details abuse of power in a Hollywood mogul’s production office. The spectre of Harvey Weinstein looms over every frame, though we never see the face of the anonymous New York film-company executive whose toxic behaviour drives the story. Julia Garner (Ozark) is magnificent as a conflicted office junior. BFI also has Bait my favourite film of 2019, but it’s worth rolling up your sleeves and delving into their exceptional Archive section, which is also free to view once you have registered. Treasures await here, but the real pleasure to be had is that you can curate your own film programme depending on your interest. There are 102 films about Manchester for example. Making curators of the general public, now that is a threat to my livelihood…