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From Beau Travail to Ziggy Stardust: What’s on at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse in June and July 2023

In a column sponsored by the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, our film critic, Mark Walsh, takes a look at what’s showing at the cinema in the coming weeks.

Sight & Sound Top 10: Beau Travail

The season of films which ranked highly in the most recent critics’ poll in the esteemed film publication Sight & Sound features this 1999 film from French director Claire Denis.

After being born in Paris, she was brought up in various colonial West African countries and this upbringing and its influence have fed through into a number of her films, including her first feature Chocolat and the Isabelle Huppert-starring White Material. But it’s this, her fifth feature which she both wrote and directed, which is regarded by many as her most significant work.

Denis takes her inspiration from Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd, with the location translated to an outpost on the coast of Djibouti. It sees Foreign Legion officer Galoup (the always reliable Denis Lavant) reflecting on his life in charge of the troops there, when their simple and structured life is upset by the arrival of an easy-going new recruit, Sentain (Grégoire Colin). Galoup seems to take an almost instant and irrational dislike to the squad’s new member, and tensions between the two escalate quickly.

Denis conjures up a world that is both hostile and compelling, with cinematographer Agnès Godard capturing both the harshness and beauty of the remote setting. Denis also makes use of music and movement, utilising some of the score of Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd as the men of the unit conduct their drills to create an almost balletic quality.

It’s a compelling study of masculinity that feels both dreamlike and fiercely real by turns, and where better to catch it than on the big screen once more?

Beau Travail is screening on Saturday, June 24.

Hello, Bookstore - plus Q&A

On the pie-chart of life, I suspect the largest sector of my waking moments would be taken up by my time in cinemas, while the lure of bookshops would probably see my many hours spent perusing the shelves taking a reasonable second place.

Both are experiences that were denied to us during the Covid pandemic lockdowns, and both felt the financial consequences of those closures.

Adam Zax’s new documentary focuses on The Bookstore, a helpfully-named independent book shop in Lenox, Massachusetts (a town roughly similar in population to Waterbeach or Godmanchester).

It opened in 1973 and has been operated ever since by Matthew Tannenbaum, whose method of answering the phone lends the film its title. Zax’s documentary takes up residence in the store, observing the ebb and flow of daily life among the shelves.

This includes the challenges of staying open when the pandemic prevented it, effectively becoming a book takeaway with a crowdfunding campaign to keep the wolves from the bookstore door, but mainly it’s keen to explore stories: the story of its long-term owner, his family life, his customers and the stories that leap from every page of the treasures lining the store’s walls.

Both the bookstore itself and its documentary are labours of love that are very far indeed from being laboured, full instead of an infectious charm that underlines why we treasure these palaces of cinema and literature respectively.

Hello, Bookstore is screening on Monday, June 26, and I’ll be hosting a Q & A, including director Adam Zax, afterwards.

Ziggy Stardust - 50th Anniversary

Arguably one of the greatest musical performers of the post-rock and roll era – and if you want to argue it, I’m happy to do so – David Bowie created an array of personas, from Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke.

Surely none was more iconic than Ziggy Stardust, the alien sent to the Earth that he feared was facing impending destruction. The tour with the character and the Spiders From Mars band helped to make him a global superstar, but – never one to rest on his laurels – Bowie retired the character after a legendary performance at the Hammersmith Odeon.

Fifty years to the day after that final performance (unless you’re watching the repeat), the film of that event is returning to cinemas to mark the golden anniversary.

The film itself took several years to be released, and was directed by D A Pennebaker, who’d also made films about Bob Dylan and Little Richard prior to capturing Bowie.

It features a selection of songs from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, as well as other hits including Oh! You Pretty Things and covers such as All The Young Dudes.

The changes for this anniversary release also include three tracks featuring Jeff Beck that were cut from the original release and has received a full sound and vision overhaul; thanks to the heroes who’ve made this re-release possible, showing what made Bowie such a star, man.

Ziggy Stardust 50th Anniversary is screening on Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 11.

Blue Monday: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

The season of late-night screenings continues with the chance to revisit one of the most famous films from one of Britain’s most distinctive filmmakers, Peter Greenaway.

Michael Gambon is The Thief, who takes over a French restaurant that provides the setting for this tale of excess, while Helen Mirren is The Wife, forced to attend the restaurant regularly and who then begins an affair with one of its customers, Michael (Alan Howard).

Where the Cook comes into this is one of the twisted delights I’ll leave you to discover if you’ve not seen it, but the real chef here is Greenaway, who cooks up an artwork of a film – shot like a play and imitating Renaissance and Baroque paintings - with music by Michael Nyman, costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier and food cooked by chef Giorgio Locatelli.

Keen-eyed viewers might also spot British character actors including Roger Lloyd-Pack and Ron Cook as well as a young Alex Kingston, and you can even spot Ian Dury in a rare acting role as well.

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is screening late on Monday, July 17.

NB. Apart from Beau Travail, all of the films listed this month are showing without ads or trailers, so check listings and make sure you arrive promptly!

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