Cannily timed, I presume, to catch the weary eye of the desperate last-minute Christmas shopper wondering what they can get their dad who expressly said he didn’t want anything, but will act mortally aggrieved if you listen to him, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (Warner Bros, 12) jackboot-stomps on to DVD shelves tomorrow. It’s a summer blockbuster that adapts quite well to yuletide event-viewing status, and not just because of its chilly, windblown atmospherics. There’s plainly a warming, unifying intent to its multi-angled breakdown of the Dunkirk evacuation, a feelgood sensibility laced through its solemn, storm-blue elegy, that’ll draw many a familial crowd to fireside viewings in the final week of the year.
It’s hard to deny, however, that Nolan’s film, almost overwhelmingly big and bruising on the Imax canvas, loses a fair bit of its mojo in the transition to TV screens. The muscular, immaculate beauty of Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography, its gunmetal metallics spiked by orange-blue flame, is still in evidence, but the scale of its compositions no longer stretch and challenge the eye. Hans Zimmer’s marvellous, louring score is still impressive, but no longer rings in the ears with caught-in-the-crossfire immediacy. It still plays, then, as a handsome, stirring, intricately conceived battle study, missing the sensory extravagance that, in cinemas, outweighed some scripted flaws. The slenderness of its characterisation and performances (save for a constrained but soulful Tom Hardy) stands out more glaringly, as do its narrow, parochial politics. Nolan’s decision to foreground the British military experience above all else, rendering collaborators secondary and the enemy literally unseen, seems an ungenerous one. It remains a grand, symphonic feat of film-making, marshalled by a man at the peak of his formal powers. Its human errors just loom a little larger now.
Félicité (Mubi, 12A) may be worlds away from Dunkirk in almost every conceivable respect, but it is, in its own way, just as technically tactile and rousing. French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis’s thrillingly alive character study hits the scratchy streets of Kinshasa running, filtering rich, earthy environmental detail into its close-up portrait of a hard-up nightclub singer (the striking Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu) scraping together funds to save her hospitalised son. A one-line synopsis might suggest rote social realism, but Gomis has sensual matters on his mind too. The film thrums with colour, music and poetry, filling in how its protagonist’s desperate circumstances look, sound and feel. It’s now streaming on Mubi after a low-profile cinema run, and deserves a devoted audience.
Over at Netflix, meanwhile, Errol Morris’s new project Wormwood (Netflix) has just landed, and it’s the veteran documentarian’s most curious, circuitous work in some time. A six-part series melding investigative documentary and reconstructions that play as straight-up psychodrama, it probes the 1953 death of American biochemist Frank Olson, contentiously ruled a suicide – until later evidence tangled the supposed facts with CIA conspiracy and governmental experiments with LSD. It’s a trip in multiple senses, one Morris steers with icy expertise, even as the dramatised portions of the enterprise test and expand his tonal reach.
Since this will be my last column before the holiday, this week’s top re-release is cosily apt. You probably need no introduction to Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (Arrow, PG), but a sparkling new 4K restoration only burnishes its case as one of the most exquisitely bittersweet Christmas movies. It’s mercifully short on conventional festive cheer, of course, but the delicate, fractured romance it draws from the farcical hideousness of office-party season finally glows with the spirit of togetherness and fellow-man feeling that we’re supposed to treasure beneath all the tinsel. Last-minute gift shoppers could do far worse.