Sampling movies on SBS OnDemand

By © Jane Freebury

There is a trove of quality films to watch free-to-air on SBS OnDemand, 650 titles to revisit or catch up with.

An astounding range of quality films that SBS has curated in a variety of ways for niche appeal. Feature docos, movies about feisty females, movies for gay audiences, cinema classics, animation, and as yet little known ‘hidden gems’.

With so much bewildering choice, here are 15 titles I can recommend.

The category ‘the Oscar goes to’ guarantees a film that’s good on one level at least, having achieved an Oscar nomination, not necessarily for best film.

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010), an Oscar foreign language film nominee, is a powerful, atmospheric drama about Canadian siblings who travel to the Middle East to solve a family mystery. Villeneuve has since directed outstanding films like Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, and his take on Dune is due to release this year.

The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, 2004) takes you along on a meandering road trip through South America with a young Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) as the Marxist revolutionary. It won an Oscar for its music, and could easily have won for cinematography.

Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004) is an account of the final days of Adolph Hitler and inner circle in his underground bunker. A provocative, thoughtful perspective on an arch-criminal guilty of heinous crime.

Talk to Her (2002), from the wonderful Spanish writer-director, Pedro Almodovar, whose unique vision creates a sensual, extravagant world of its own.

From the young Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), stars Mia Farrow as a pregnant wife fearful that a coven of witches plans to steal her child. Its menacing atmosphere and disturbing psychology are unforgettable.

Alain Becourt with Jacques Tati in Mon Oncle

Mon Oncle (1958), a classic of French cinema created by Jacques Tati that won the best foreign language Oscar. It’s a witty, gentle send-up of bourgeois pretention that is a classic of comedy in any language.

In the ‘World Movies’ section there’s Anonymous (Roland Emmerich, 2011) with Rhys Ifans demonstrating surprising depth. This is a clever concoction for those who enjoy an enduring mystery. Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? Of course, he did but it’s still good fun exploring who else might have done it.

Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen in A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012). This story about a young queen of Denmark (Alicia Vikander) who falls for the court physician (Mads Mikkelsen), is a thoughtful, delicate romance that deserved more recognition on its release.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983), is a strange, striking film that features a mercurial performance from David Bowie as a British major in a Japanese prison of war camp in World War II.

A Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson, 2019) offers a light, whimsical touch on weighty subjects as a woman archer steps up to take on corporate vandals destroying the Icelandic environment.

Ali’s Wedding (Jeffrey Walker, 2017) is a terrific Australian comedy, a tricky genre to get right these days. At its heart is a smart, funny performances from co-writer and lead actor Osamah Sami as the dutiful young Muslim struggling with life choices.

Capharnaum/aka Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018) is the powerful, haunting story of a 12 year old living in a Beirut slum who sues his parents for neglect. It’s said to have become the highest grossing Arabic films ever.

Filmed in the palace of Versailles itself, Farewell My Queen (Benoit Jacquot, 2013) it is told from the perspective of a court reader (Lea Seydoux). A sumptuous period drama on the last hours of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution.

The niche category ‘Essential 70s’, revisits the decade when some of cinema’s top directors did their outstanding early work. The seventies are not well represented by the films in this SBS category, but it does offer two of the best.

The Conversation (1974) a highly esteemed thriller written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It lost the best film Oscar to The Godfather Part II, that Coppola also directed.

Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973) is based on the true story of a New York cop who exposed corruption among the force. Al Pacino is ferocious and righteous in the lead role, in what is still one of his best performances.

First published in the Canberra Times on 22 March 2020, and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7

*Featured image: Zain Al Rafeea and Boluwatife Treasure Bankole in Capernaum

Downfall

Review by © Jane Freebury

The face of actor Bruno Ganz, his gentle, impish features transformed by the intensity of performance in this portrayal of one of the monsters of history, is unforgettable. Bruno Ganz who was the gastronome and lover in Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous, and the beneficent angel hovering above Berlin in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, does Adolph Hitler brilliantly.

It’s an extraordinary performance and it’s also a brave one, to show the man as human like the rest of us, not incapable of affection nor of choosing a new secretary who’s pretty rather than skilled, and not the raving loon of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Yet in delivering a portrait of Hitler as recognizably human rather than a caricature of evil, the film has been controversial at home in Germany.

Some of the criticism has been from none other than director Wenders, who has expressed the surprising view that Downfall lacks a strong moral position on Hitler. But it’s not the villains with cloven hooves and tail, or disfigurement like Richard III that are the most dangerous ones, it’s the seductive ones that have the capacity for inspiring blind faith in millions of others, like the fanatic Magda Goebbels who couldn’t bear to see her six children live in a world without National Socialism.

It’s a little disappointing that director Oliver Hirschbiegel, a television director of good repute, has been so literal in his approach. However this film’s production, undertaking the re-enactment of the last days of Hitler’s regime as it took place in his bunker system under Berlin would have required grim determination in itself. When we occasionally step out for air above ground to walk the dog with Eva Braun or visit the band of children who are in the last line of defence, it’s an infernal wasteland of walking dead.

Direct mention of the Nazi past was long repressed in German cinema, though this began to change in the 1970s with films from Wenders, Sanders-Brahms and others. But since The Great Distator, conceived and filmed in 1939 while Neville Chamberlain was still making up his mind, there’s been little besides a 1955 film by Pabst. In Downfall, Hitler is centre-stage and the secretary on whose book this is partly based is interviewed, delivering a coda that offers responsibility for the cataclysm of war.

4.5 stars