Films on TV: Pick of the Week

picks out some of the best films showing on the small screen this week


The White Ribbon
BBC Four, Sunday 9pm
(Michael Haneke, 2009)

Shot entirely in monochrome, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon presents an unflinchingly cold and dark depiction of the life of a village in Germany just before WWI. Focussing on the unnamed young schoolteacher, played by Christian Friedel, the film shows his gradual discovery that the children of the village have a sinister quality about them, which manifests itself in ritualistic punishment enacted on other members of the village. The White Ribbon depicts a strict religious society governed by frightening and dictatorial parents, inadvertently reproducing and in fact enhancing the negative traits of themselves in their children. Given the ages of the children and the setting of the film it is obvious that the monsters that are being created are the first generation of Nazis. The White Ribbon’s blunt depiction of how society becomes corrupt and fallen, is deeply unsettling, and the children’s performances are compulsive viewing if only for the fact that they are so well geared for instilling the icy presence of terror so expertly within the heart of the viewer. It is uncomfortable and frightening but it is also able to present a wounded beauty in its otherwise bold directorial style, revealing an innate lamentation on the downfall of German society.

Once Upon a Time in America
Film4, Monday 11.10pm
(Sergio Leone, 1984)

One of Sergio Leone’s last films, Once Upon a Time in America is an epic gangster film that reinvigorated the genre. The film follows the life of David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson (Robert De Niro), from his time as prohibition-era gangster to thirty years later when he has to confront his past in the form of ‘Max’ Bercovicz (James Woods), an old friend and fellow gangster. The film doesn’t conform to chronology as it flits back and forwards between the two eras of Noodles’s life, and neither does it attempt to romanticise the life of a gangster. Both Max and Noodles are equally vile in their own way, but the picture of the two figures with which we are presented is ultimately a human one. These gangsters are creatures of circumstance whose need and then desire for money accompanied with their lives of crime ultimately destroy their friendship. Woods and De Niro are both excellent in portraying these nuanced and fragile characters that are both trying to make themselves appear stronger than they actually are. It certainly isn’t the best gangster film ever made and it is in desperate need for an enthusiastic editor, but it deserves to be watched purely for its originality in the genre. Once Upon a Time in America isn’t really about crime, guns and gangsters, its concerned with the powerful emotional relationships formed between men. It is a film of exquisite melancholy and is well worth the viewing time.

The Big Lebowski
ITV4, Friday 9pm
(Joel & Ethan Coen 1998)

Since this ‘pick of the week’ is mainly comprised of films associated with the darker side of cinema, it felt necessary to include the Coen brother’s estimable comedy, The Big Lebowski, to lighten the mood. The film follows the ‘Dude’ (Jeff Bridges) who is mistaken for the eponymous ‘Big Lebowski’ (David Huddleston), by a group of criminals who are attempting to blackmail the elder man. While attempting to deal with that, as well as being consistently stoned, the Dude and his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) are also attempting to win a local bowling competition. The bizarre but well controlled plot acts a conduit for the Coen brother’s black humour and more inspired moments of madness, which pepper the The Big Lebowski with wonderful effect. Take particular note of Julian Moore’s appearance in the film. The whole of the cast are well tuned for getting all the laughs out of the script, but it is perhaps the film’s more profound moments that cement this film as a cult classic. The Big Lebowski, perhaps ironically, seems to be presenting a spiritual aesthetic in which the Dude is ultimately humanity’s saviour. The Dude doesn’t care about the modern tribulations of the workingman and is instead more concerned with getting high. The film’s philosophy seems to be suggesting that once in a while we need to lay back and relax, and when we can’t relax we can be assured that the Dude is doing it for us.


  1. I think you may need to check your cast list of the Big Lebowski… I would, however, LOVE to see Kevin Bridges play the role of Dude…

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  2. 17 Feb ’13 at 6:22 pm

    2nd year arts student

    Cracking feature, Thanks!

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  3. 17 Feb ’13 at 7:13 pm

    Joseph Harrison

    Yep my mistake I of course meant Jeff Bridges, but I agree Kevin Bridges would be an excellent Dude.

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  4. He certainly would. And yes, I agree, this is a really great feature.

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  5. 17 Feb ’13 at 7:34 pm

    Joseph Harrison

    Thank you, I appreciate it.

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