God in America (Local)
‘The American story cannot be fully understood without understanding the country’s religious history’, God in America’s executive producer Michael Sullivan. This 6 hour series examines the potent and complex interaction between religion and democracy, the origins of the American concept of religious liberty, and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation’s courts and political arena. The series considers the role religious ideas and institutions have played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights, examining the impact of religious faith on conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War, and how guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive American religious marketplace. It also explores the intersection of political struggle and spiritual experience in the lives of key American historical figures including Franciscan Friars and the Pueblo leader Po’pay, Puritan leader John Winthrop and dissident Anne Hutchinson, Catholic Bishop John Hughes, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, reform Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, Scopes trial combatants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell.
Babette’s Feast: Dir. Gabriel Axel (Local)
After a long absence Babette makes a welcomed return to our shelves. Based on an Isaac Dinesen short story, the film follows the adventures of Babette—a refugee from France’s civil war who flees to a small village (built on Puritan austerity and denial) on the remote western coast of Jutland in 19th century Denmark. She finds work as housekeeper and cook for two spinsters—the devout daughters of a puritan minister. After 14 years of service Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery, and rather than return to Paris, she decides to use all 10,000 francs of her winnings to create a real French dinner for the inhabitants of the village—a feast which leads the sisters to fear for their souls. It was the first Danish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. A beautiful film.
The Devils: Dir. Ken Russell (Region 2)
The Devils is probably Ken Russell’s most notorious film. When it was released in 1971 it was heavily censored and mired in controversy—this new release is the original UK X certificate version. In 17th century France, a promiscuous and divisive local priest, Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), uses his powers to protect the city of Loudun from destruction at the hands of the establishment. Soon, he stands accused of the demonic possession of Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), whose erotic obsession with him fuels the hysterical fervour that sweeps through the convent. There’s a heap of great special features including an audio commentary with Ken Russell, Mark Kermode, Michael Bradsell and Paul Joyce; Hell on Earth (Paul Joyce, 2002, 48 mins)—a documentary exploring the film’s production and its controversial history; Director of Devils (1971, 22 mins)—a documentary featuring candid Ken Russell interviews and unique footage of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies recording his score. I am on the side of the many that rate The Devils as Russell’s masterpiece. It is still a great film.
The Women on the 6th Floor: Dir. Philippe Le Guay
It’s Paris, 1962. Wealthy stockbroker Jean-Louis (Potiche’s Fabrice Luchini) lives a staid and bourgeois existence with his perfectly-presented socialite wife (Sandrine Kiberlain, Mademoiselle Chabon). But when the family’s maid abandons them, into the residence comes Maria, who is young, hardworking and—quelle horreur!—Spanish. Remarkably it does not take long for the entire building to become enchanted with the new arrival; Maria rallies the friendships of the other servants on the sixth floor (played with warmth and vitality by two of Almodovar’s favourite senoritas, Carmen Maura and Lola Duenas), and soon Jean-Louis is swept up into the wild and fun-loving cross-cultural environment of the women on the 6th floor, much to the horror of his conservative wife, colleagues and friends. ($39.95, Local)
Sing Your Song (local)
A patriot to the last and a champion for worldwide human rights, Harry Belafonte is one of the truly heroic cultural and political figures of the past 60 years. This is his story, but it is also a chronicle of the civil rights movement in the US. We first meet Belafonte as a young boy: born in New York and raised in Jamaica, he returns to Harlem in his early teens, where he discovers the American Negro Theatre, the magic of performing and, finally, fame. However, even as a superstar, the life of a black man in 1960s America was far from easy and Belafonte was confronted with the same Jim Crow laws and prejudices that every other black man, woman and child in America was facing. Sing Your Song is also a history of the civil rights movement through the eyes of an insider, who despite his high profile, wasn’t afraid to spend time in the trenches.
Bobby Fisher Against the World (Local)
In 1972 America’s Bobby Fisher received rock star status when he defeated Russia’s Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. The match was widely publicized as a Cold War confrontation. He declined to defend his World Championship in 1975 and in the following decades became more and more reclusive. He did play competitive chess again until 1992 when he won an unofficial rematch against Spassky. Unfortunately the match was held in Yugoslavia, which was under a UN embargo at the time. This, plus his continuing anti-American statements, plus his pursuit by the US government over unpaid income tax, meant the Fischer never returned to the USA. When his US passport was revoked, Iceland threw him a life line, and in 2005 the Icelandic Government voted to give him citizenship. He remained living the life of a recluse in Iceland until his death in 2008. This is a great documentary about one of the 20th century’s most mysterious characters.
A Separation: Dir Asghar Farhadi (Region 2)
A Separation is a tense, engrossing film by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. It comes with a bit of baggage—it has won nearly every film award going (including the 2012 Oscar for best foreign language film)—but don’t let that put you off. It is a deceivingly simple story about a marriage breaking down and a conflict involving hired help, but it is also very much a film about contemporary Iran. The separating couple, Simin and Nader, clash over how to raise their daughter Termeh. Simin wants a better future for Termeh, but Nader is bound to his father who is suffering from Alzheimers. To help with his father’s care, Nader hires a devout working class woman, Razieh, who is a clear counterpoint to his more free spirited and enlightened, estranged wife. But the arrangement soon sours and Nader must deal with Razieh’s bellicose husband who is not at all happy. There are no simple answers in this film and you are able to sympathise with each character’s predicament. It is an economical, restrained production which has a superb ensemble cast. Somehow, under the watchful eye of the mullahs and Iran’s other ‘faceless men’, a great film was made. David McLaughin
Arrietty: Dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Local)
A new film from Studio Ghibli (Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) is always something to celebrate. This one is based on Mary Norton’s famous children’s book series featuring The Borrowers. Arrietty lives beneath the floorboards of a large family home in Tokyo. Her tiny family lives by ‘borrowing’ things from the house—from gas & water to furniture & clothes. (These are the creatures that take your socks!) When Arrietty defies the borrowers’ maxim ‘never let a human see you’ the quiet life beneath the floor boards takes an adventurous turn. As usual beautifully animated. A delight for both children and adults.
Vera: Series 1 (Region 2)
The ‘female Dalziell’, Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope—played by Bafta winner Brenda Blethyn—comes to the small screen in a series of 4 cases. A favourite of Janice’s (see page Wilder Aisles), Vera is a middle-aged, obsessive loner (with a heart of gold) who’s not averse to a pint & a bacon butty. David Leon plays her offsider Sargeant Joe Ashworth, and the marvellous Gina McKee turns up in the feature-length pilot episode.
Now available locally:
The Killing, Season 2
Now available locally—Sarah Lund finds herself entangled in the war on terror.
From the producers of the Emmy nominated dramas Endgame and The Hamburg Cell, comes a new political thriller set in contemporary Israel and British Occupied Palestine in the aftermath of the Second World War.