Recommended films on TV


Ema (2019) is a strange film. Its eponymous heroine, played by Mariana Di Girólamo in her first lead role, is not particularly likeable or indeed knowable. When we first meet her, she is trying to get her child back from the authorities. Then it emerges that she and her infertile husband Gastón (Gael Garcia Bernal) adopted the Colombian boy, only to give him back when his behaviour became more than challenging. Their bitter wrangling, and the ambiguity about how the boy was treated, are one strain in the story. Another is dance: Gastón is a choreographer and Ema a leading member of his modern dance troupe. But her real passion is the street-dance called reggaeton, which she practises with abandon, as she does her uninhibited sex-life with multiple partners of both sexes. Thirdly, less explicably, she is also an arsonist, patrolling the streets at night with a flamethrower. 

It would not be true to say that the Chilean director Pablo Larraín, known for No, The Club and Jackie, has the tightest grip on plot or motivation, but the film looks and sounds astounding, with Valparaíso depicted in extraordinary colours. And Ema herself, with her bleached and cropped hair and sullen expression, is an unforgettable creation. As Sight and Sound put it back when it was first released, “The cinema of what-the-hell-did-I-just-watch uncategorisability has a new title for its pantheon”. Includes scenes of a sexual nature. Lots of them. Ema is on Film4 on Wednesday (2/12) at 01:20. 

World Cinema

On Sunday (29/11) at 22:00, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC4 has Balloon (2018), a true-life adventure about two East German families who try to escape to the West in a home-made hot-air balloon.  

On Monday (30/11) at 01:30, Film4 brings us Adore (2013), in which two childhood neighbours and friends, played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, fall for each other’s sons. Directed by Anne Fontaine, later to create The Innocents, which we showed in 2017/18. 

On Wednesday (2/12) at 00:10, Channel 4 has 120 Beats Per Minute (2017), an acclaimed French drama about AIDS activists demanding action against the disease in Paris in the early 1990s. 

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

On Saturday (28/11) at 00:00 on Channel 4, Stephen has picked Patti Cake$ (2017), an underdog story about Patricia Dombrowski, a white girl from New Jersey who tries to make it as a rapper. A debut film from director Geremy Jasper, with a standout performance from Danielle Macdonald as Patti herself. 

On Sunday (29/11) at 00:55, Talking Pictures has Salt of the Earth (1954), about a strike by Mexican-American workers in a Zinc mine seeking fairer treatment. Based on a real incident. 

Finally, on Friday (4/12) at 22:55 , Stephen has picked Premium Rush (2012) on Sony Movies. A cycle courier in Manhattan, riding a fixed-wheel bike, picks up a parcel that a corrupt police officer wants very much. An unusual chase ensues.

Other modern films of interest

Four notable films on Saturday (28/11). Earth: One Amazing Day (2017), at 20:30 on BBC2 and subsequently on iPlayer, is a feature-length documentary about the planet and its creatures, narrated by Robert Redford and Jackie Chan from a script by Frank Cottrell Boyce. At 21:00, 5 Star has The Last Samurai (2003), with Tom Cruise as a captured American mercenary who embraces the Samurai culture he has been called in to suppress. At 22:00 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has Monsoon (2019), a semi-autobiographical story about a British-Vietnamese man returning to his home country for the first time since fleeing at the age of six. At 23:40, Channel 4 has Arrival (2016), in which linguist Amy Adams finds ways to communicate with the alien crews of 12 mysterious spacecraft that have appeared around the world. 

On Sunday (29/11) at 11:00,  Film4 has The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015). At 21:00 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC1 has Red, White and Blue, the latest in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of dramas about black life in Britain. It tells the true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), who joins the police force hoping to fight racism from within, only to be sadly disillusioned. 

On Monday (30/10) at 00:50 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC1 brings us the acclaimed Coriolanus (2011). Directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes, with other important roles for Gerard Butler, Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave. At 23:10 the same day, Film4 has Patriots Day (2016), in which lawmen Mark Whalberg, Kevin Bacon and John Goodman track down the perpetrators of the Boston marathon terrorist attack of 2013. 

Shame (2011), on Film4 on Tuesday (1/12) at 01:50, is the story of a New York sex addict, with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. At 22:00 the same day and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC4 has The Falklands Play (2002), commissioned by the BBC from Ian Curteis and originally rejected, allegedly because of its sympathetic stance towards Mrs Thatcher. This was denied.

On Thursday (3/12 ) at 01:45, Film4 has The Double (2013), an interesting paranoid comedy by the multi-talented Richard Ayoade. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska and Wallace Shawn.


On Saturday (28/11) at 11:30 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has High Society (1956), the musical with Big Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra (also on Thursday 3/12 on BBC4  at 20.00). At 17:05, 5 Star has the irresistible sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest (1999), with Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen. “By Grapthar’s hammer, you shall be avenged!” Finally for Saturday, at 22:20, Talking Pictures has Francis Ford Coppola’s underrated The Cotton Club (1984), with Richard Gere, Gregory Hines and Diane Lane. 

On Sunday (29/11) at 00:20 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC1 brings us Westworld (1973), in which wealthy would-be gunslingers go to a Western theme park populated by androids, one of whom, played by Yul Brynner, goes rogue. 

On Monday (30/11) at 13:35, Talking Pictures has Carve Her Name with Pride (1958), a biopic of the Second World War heroine and martyr Violette Szabo (played by Virginia McKenna). Then at 16:20, Sony Action has The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), a Robert Aldrich thriller about a group of men stranded in the Arabian desert who need to rebuild their crashed plane so they can escape. With James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine.

On Tuesday (2/12) at 23:45, ITV4 brings us Enemy of the State (1998), a political thriller starring Will Smith, Jon Voight and Gene Hackman. 

Three from Talking Pictures on Thursday (3/12). At 00.10 there is Dementia 13 (1963), an early Francis Ford Coppola thriller about an Irish family at war and an axe murderer on the loose. At 03:10, there is A Diary for Timothy (1945), a Humphrey Jennings documentary about Britain in the final days of the War and preparing for peace. At 10:30, there is Suddenly (1954), in which Frank Sinatra plays an assassin kidnapping a family so he can use their home as a vantage point for his attempt to kill the President.

On Friday (4/12) at 16:10, Film4 has Funeral in Berlin (1966), the second of the Cold War thrillers in which Michael Caine stars as Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer. Finally, at 23.25, 5 Star brings us Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), the first in the delightfully silly franchise. It stars Mike Myers, this time with Liz Hurley. 

And that concludes your suggested viewing for another week.

John Morrish and Stephen Ilott