With the passing of the novelist John le Carré this week, today’s pick is the stark and brooding adaptation of his novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
The film follows a near-ruined British agent, Aleck Lemas (Richard Burton) as he embarks on “one last job”, drinking himself into a stupor to plant himself behind the iron curtain. Le Carré initially thought Burton too dashing to portray the sallow, washed-out Lemas, but Burton’s performance manages to carry a mountain of world-weary resignation, dragging the character along with a ground-in, gritty determination.
The film has everything you’d expect from a le Carré story, political idealists and jaded veterans caught in the same tangle of manipulation and intrigue; mundane yet grippingly suspenseful moments charged with the weight of consequence. Here, life hangs by a thread, with fate decided by sidelong glances and innocuous gestures.
Arguably the finest Cold War drama there is.
One of our favourite films from this year's Leeds International Film Festival was the delightful (and we really are serious when we use that word) Chilean docu-drama, The Mole Agent (2020, 84mins, PG).
When a family become concerned about the care their mother is receiving in her retirement home, they hire private investigator Romulo to get to the bottom of the situation. Of course he in turn hires himself a plant to place in the home in the form of Sergio, an 83 year-old widower who has grown bored of his daily routine. However, Sergio is not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques.
The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie, with sleek camerawork and wonderfully watchable characters. It’s a unique meditation on compassion and loneliness that will infiltrate your heart and never let go.
You can now stream The Mole Agent from Dogwoof Online, and later today (Wednesday 16th, 7pm) join Birds Eye View for a special Q&A with director Maite Alberdi to learn a little more about how this almost painfully compassionate documentary came to be made.
Feeling nostalgic for family Christmases of the past? Then the BFI Player has some free festive treats just for you! Their Christmas Crackers collection of archive films includes a gloriously evocative selection of seasonal home movies, produced by an eclectic mix of families revelling across the years – with no social distancing in sight!
The questionable fashion and food may vary throughout the years, but the familiar archetypal traditions of family, gifts and fun remain ever present.
We would particularly recommend the amateur delights of local Leeds’ filmmaker Alan Sidi, held by the Yorkshire Film Archive and added to the BFI's collection. This includes Christmas Story, a tender and insightful look into a post-war family Christmas, made by Sidi at the young age of 19. And Sidi Family Christmas, which shows the filmmaker over two decades later, introducing the film with a sherry in hand.
An innovative and eccentric man of many ideas and inventions, Sidi began making films at school in the 1940s and continued to produce travelogues and family films through until the 1970s. As well as being the driving force behind the Leeds Mercury Movie Makers, his invention of a cine-sync machine in the 1960s enabled audio to be synchronised with, and then added to 16mm film. A local film pioneer!
The majority of our Hyde Park Picks come directly from Picture House staff and volunteers – but sometimes we like to mix things up and reach out to some of Leeds' finest, for their film recommendations. And with that in mind, and to coincide with World Booksniffers Day, today's special pick comes from Colours May Vary's Andy Gray.
"The 12th of December is World Book Sniffing Day, a date in the calendar when one can indulge in the gentle, mindful act of … well, sniffing a good book. What better accompaniment to this bibliophilic bonanza than D.W Young’s documentary on the lives and loves of those involved in the antiquarian book trade in New York?
The Booksellers (2019) plunges us elbow-patch deep into the magical (and compulsive) world of bookselling and collecting. Populated by a fascinating coterie of erudite eccentrics, this film is a celebration of the book in an age where reports of its death may have been greatly exaggerated. I say ‘may have’ as, throughout this film, the faint but inescapable smell of death (which is not a good smell at Book Sniffers Club) is never too far away - the death of print, of many independent bookstores and of the collecting impetus itself comes to the fore on several occasions. However, the film manages often to counter these negatives with positives - a recent explosion in NYC of street-level, bricks and mortar stores, for example, or an ageing old-guard (largely white and male) being replaced by a younger, equally driven, but more diverse crowd. As for the Internet, sure it has somewhat killed ‘the thrill of the chase’ but hasn’t it democratized the industry too, made it shareable, accessible?
What really shines here, aside from the staggering sums paid for some of these huge, vellum covered tomes, is the passion of the people involved. Rarely do you get the feeling that personal gain is the key criteria for the collecting impulse. Yes, the rarity/desirability factor is writ large in places, but often the people we meet are creating and maintaining important archives, making them accessible, and bringing marginalised histories into the light. Yes, the antiquarian book collecting field may have been once populated by men in Tweeds, smoking pipes and banning women from their societies (although the light shone on groundbreaking work of Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern demonstrates that they didn’t have it all their own way), but the contemporary field is far less stuffy than you might imagine. Today pre-digital hip hop magazine archives are being collated, the papers and associated ephemera of Malcolm X and James Baldwin find a home with the New York Public Library and historically important collections of female writers and history-makers are exhibited to the public.
Amid all of this, you’ll find books bound in human skin, a library where the contents are filed in height order, unfeasibly expensive Renaissance artworks and much more biblio-centric bounty besides. It is the people though, with their determination, passion and drive who are the stars here. I imagine every single one of them when sat peacefully away from the camera’s eye, pulled out a book and, with eyes closed, sniffed it deeply.
This Saturday is World Book Sniffing Day - follow us @booksniffersclub on Instagram, @sniffandtell on Twitter and visit booksniffers.club to leave your own sniff notes."
The Booksellers is available to rent and stream for £3.99 via the Curzon Home Cinema.
It’s beginning to look a lot like… well… a bit like, kind of, maybe, like Christmas... So it’s the perfect time to warm yourself with future seasonal classic contender: Echo (Bergmál, 2019, 76mins, PG) – today’s Hyde Park Pick.
Very much like a cinematic advent calendar, Echo opens the doors on 56 vignettes of contemporary Icelandic life during Christmas and New Year. Each a single stationary shot, director Rúnar Rúnarsson builds the short dramas of this naturalistic jigsaw into a mesmerising portrait of modern society.
It’s a beautifully composed and precise film - yet always nuanced in it’s depiction of our common humanity, in all it’s melancholy, compassion, loneliness and small kindnesses. From the mysterious to the mundane, the touching to the devastating, loving, heartbreaking or funny – each story stands alone, or remains part of a more momentous narrative that we can never quite see.
At its heart it is film about storytelling, ending exactly where it should - in the middle of a wonderfully majestic and lulling journey.
Echo is available to watch on MUBI as part of their library of fantastic films.
In partnership with Hyde Park Picture House, you can enjoy three months of MUBI for free! Sign up here.
Alongside our regular film recommendations #HydeParkPicks, we're also working in partnership with a number of distributors to support a select number of brand-new film releases – all available to stream via the Watch Online section of our website.
Following its digital release last Friday, this week we're pleased to be supporting Falling – Viggo Mortensen's directorial debut.
Bold, brave and often brutal, the film follows the troubled and volatile relationship between father and son, played brilliantly by Lance Henriksen and Viggo Mortensen respectively. Dealing with challenging topics of dementia and rejection, it is a story told with sensitivity and integrity – traits which fans of the director will be all too familiar with, evidenced not just in Mortensen's past work as an actor, but as a musician, artist, author and photographer.
Falling is available to rent and stream via our website for £9.99. And thanks to Modern Films, half of your rental fee will be donated to the cinema, so by watching the film with us, you'll also be directly supporting the Hyde Park Picture House.
As we watch the outgoing President of the United States hand out a series of pardons to his friends and allies, it feels important to give some time over to consider the many victims of the cruel and unusual American judicial system.
In 1999 Sibil 'Fox' Richardson and her husband Rob attempted, and failed, to rob a bank. Fox took a plea deal and served three and a half years, Rob’s lawyer advised him against the deal. He was sentenced to life without parole.
Garrett Bradley’s remarkable documentary, Time (2020), joins Fox 19 years on as she campaigns tirelessly for the release of her husband. Just as Bradley weaves together archive footage with contemporary material to build her film, so too must Fox knit together the competing demands of her situation; patience in the face of an inhumane system, fury and righteousness to spur on the fight for her husband and her children, and all the space in between to ensure that all the battles are ultimately worth the toll they must take.
Ultimately,Time is a deeply personal film, which speaks to the cruel and unjust nature of a for profit incarceration system.
After a successful run on the festival circuit Time is now available to watch on Amazon Prime. And if you want to learn more about the film check out this insightful Q&A with Bradley recorded as part of the New York Film Festival in September.