Recommended films on TV



We all know the story of the Tower of Babel, in which an angry God took man’s universal language and smashed it into a literal cacophony of competing tongues. In Babel (2006), the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, celebrated for Amores Perros and 96 Grams, uses the name of the fabled structure as a metaphor for our modern nightmare of global miscommunication and misunderstanding.

The film tells overlapping and non-linear stories from three continents, linked by a single deadly object: a rifle. Hollywood A-listers Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play a couple who go travelling in Morocco to revive their marriage. Susan (Blanchett) is hit by a bullet, a disastrous incident which the world’s media immediately interpret as an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, the couple’s children are left at home in California with their Hispanic nanny, who takes them to Mexico to keep them safe, only to be refused re-entry into the States. While all this is going on, a deaf Japanese teenager struggles with her burgeoning sexuality. Babel is on Sony Movies on Friday (31/7) at 21:00.

Elle (2016) is the only French-language film directed by Paul Verhoeven, notorious for Basic Instinct, Total Recall, RoboCop and the much-ridiculed Showgirls. In the lead role, Isabelle Huppert reaches new levels of self-abasing audacity; Verhoeven could apparently find no American star willing to take on the part. But Huppert was keen on making the film, which is based on a novel by Phillipe Dijan, who wrote Betty Blue. She plays the owner of a successful video games company who is raped by a masked assailant and decides to find and punish the rapist herself. From there the film lurches in a direction that has left audiences uncertain whether they are watching female empowerment or pretentious misogyny. That’s on Film4 at 00:55 on Saturday (25/7).

On Monday (27/7) at 00:10 and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 gives us Asghar Farhadi’s wonderful The Salesman, which we showed in 2017/18. A married couple in Iran, both actors, prepare for a production of Arthur Miller’s tragedy, only to be derailed by an unforeseen incident. Later that night, at 01:45, Film 4 brings us Chevalier (2015), an odd Greek comedy about a group of men on a boat, competing to be the best. It is notable for having been co-written by Efthimis Filippou, who went on to write The Lobster, the fifth least popular film we have ever shown. 😉

On Tuesday (28/7) at 22:45 and Wednesday (29/7) at 21:00, Film4 is screening two features by Pawel Pawlikowski: Ida (2013), which we showed in 2015/16 and Cold War (2018), which we showed in 2018/19. The former is about a novice nun who returns to her family home and discovers uncomfortable secrets. The latter tells of a traditional singer and her musical director who flee communist Poland. Both are in black and white and both are excellent.

On Thursday (30/7), BBC4 has Hurt Locker Hero (2018), also known as The Deminer, a documentary about a Kurdish bomb disposal expert. That’s at 00:15 and subsequently on iPlayer and is in the Storyville strand.

That wraps it up for World Cinema. Our film expert Stephen Ilott has picked a few highlights from the week’s English-language output. On Saturday (25/7) at 18:15, Sony Movies has Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, from the Patrick O’Brian books, directed by Peter Weir, with Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey and Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin. Then on Thursday (30/7) at 00:05, Talking Pictures shows The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963), with Anthony Newley in a rare dramatic role as a Soho strip club owner in trouble with gangsters. At 02:15 the same night, the same channel has Salt of the Earth (1954), an interesting drama about striking Mexican-American miners, billed at the time as “Banned! The film the US government didn’t want you to see!” Still with Talking Pictures, there is Sabotage (1936) on Friday (31/7) at 11:25. One of the last films Alfred Hitchcock made before departing for Hollywood, it is loosely based on Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

And now for the best of the rest. On Saturday (25/7) we have:Gran Torino (2008), Clint Eastwood’s well-liked drama about an angry suburbanite, on ITV4 at 21:00; The Post (2917), Spielberg’s homage to the glory days of American newspaper journalism, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, at 21:15 on Channel 4; and Sicario, a “war on drugs” drama, also on Channel 4, at 23:15.

On Sunday (26/7) at 03:30, Sony Movies is showing Julie & Julia, directed and scripted by the much-missed Nora Ephron, starring Ms Streep – once again – and Amy Adams, as an ill-matched pair who bond over a shared love of Julia Child’s cookbooks. At 21:00, 5 Select has Cold Mountain (2003), with Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger.

On Monday (30/7) at 00:50, Sony Movies has the second Iñárritu film of the week, 21 Grams, and it is as adventurous as Babel. The title refers to the supposed difference in weight between a living person and a dead one, sometimes called “the weight of the soul”.

Then there are lots of Oldies. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1954) is on Sony Action on Saturday (25/7) at 11:55. Champion (1949), a Kirk Douglas boxing picture, is on Talking Pictures the same day at 13:40.

On Sunday (26/7) at 15:45 on Sony Action, there’s another Western, The Tall T, starring Randolph Scott. The musical Funny Face, which we showed in 2014/15, is on Talking Pictures at 18:25.

On Monday (27/7), Talking Pictures has The Deadly Affair (1966) at 00:55 and Shoulder Arms (1918) at 03:10. The former is a Sidney Lumet espionage drama while the latter is Chaplin’s military comedy. At 14:15 the same day, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC2 has Laura (1944), an unusual noir in which a detective falls in love with a murder victim. Trust me, it does make sense.

On Thursday (30/7), Talking Pictures is showing Defence of the Realm (1985), the unexpectedly topical KGB infiltration drama, with Gabriel Byrne and Greta Scacchi, at 18:50.

On Friday (31/7) at 08:00, Sony Action is showing John Ford’s Wagon Master (1950), and then at 22:45, and subsequently on iPlayer, BBC1 is showing Poltergeist (1982). Another packed week in film on TV.

John Morrish and Stephen Ilott