After multiple weekend jaunts across Europe in an attempt to keep my life in Berlin alive whilst starting a new one in London, last Bank Holiday weekend was set aside for very little other than well, doing very little. So what better way to spend it than rekindling my love affair with the BFI player.
For those not familiar with the British Film Institute, their purpose is to preserve and promote film in the UK. Bought to us by the institute is the very wonderful BFIplayer, like the Iplayer but with amazing art house cinema from across the globe and the artistic end of Hollywood releases. I was delighted to discover the new addition to the service of the BFI player plus, like a superior Netflix for arty film geeks where you pay £5 a month for access to an amazing range of curated film, winning!
I enjoy watching films from a curated but limited selection, as it prompts me to watch things which I have sometimes overlooked. This weekend two films I knew to be excellent but had never seen were available; Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, both of which were written, directed and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers.
The Red Shoes (1948) inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name is what Martin Scorsese poetically described as “The film which plays in my heart”. The Red Shoes which is based on a ballet is a tale of archetypal themes of obsession, jealousy and devotion to art. Admirably, the production team opted to work with dancers who could act, rather than actors who could dance. The film is made in in wonderfully nostalgic and visually vibrant technicolour.
The main attraction for me, however, was Black Narcissus. Although I had never seen the film before, it’s striking religious imagery had been on my radar for some time. My true passion is visual cinema and Black Narcissus really did not disappoint. It is a film of contrast and documents a group of nuns given the Palace of Mopu by the old general to house a convent, but originally built as a house of women: the general’s concubines. 1947.
The haunting Himalayan sets are stunning, and I was even truly captivated by the lighting and colour, particularly the exquisite rose sunsets. The film was designed by Michael Jung, arguably Britains best productions designer. Director Michael Powell gave Junge unusual freedom in terms of colour, composition, and technique, and Junge received the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for the film in 1947.
I strongly recommend looking up both of these delights on the BFI player, worth every penny of the £5 monthly subscription.