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On release from 11th November
A 50-year rescue mission concludes with the theatrical release of Abel Gance’s epic, first shown in Paris in 1927, now digitally restored to a glorious 330 minutes. Working with the BFI National Archive, film historian Kevin Brownlow has assembled the most comprehensive version of this rarely seen silent masterpiece. It is accompanied by Carl Davis’s score, first performed in 1980.
Napoleon convinces with the sophistication of its storytelling, a potent blend of artifice and naturalism. The narrative covers the early years—from the 10-year-old at military school masterminding an exercise in deep snow to the Commander- in- Chief’s electrifying speech to the exhausted Army of Italy in 1796. Anchored by the intense presence of Albert Dieudonné as the adult Bonaparte, every episode brings new wonders: the feathery chaos of a dormitory pillow fight, the crucible of the Convention in Paris and the spectacular military scenes, where Gance deployed projection over a triptych of screens to convey his own three dimensions, physical, mental and emotional. If you can’t get to the live performance at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra, try to see this visionary work on any screen you can.
On release from 4th November
Few adaptations of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata are noted for subtlety and this is no exception. The energy and anger with which director Spike Lee infuses this lurid romp (in verse, with music) keeps it urgent, even when it becomes messy. The place is contemporary Chicago where, the opening titles inform us, more citizens have been murdered this century than US servicemen have been killed in Iraq. How to stop the gang violence? Peace not pussy, declare the sisters, led by the divinely built Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris). With Jennifer Hudson as a grieving mother, John Cusack speechifying as a priest and Samuel L Jackson riffing as a world-weary Chorus in a series of eye-watering suits.
On release from 25th November
Adam Driver is an actor who can embody a certain contemporary soulfulness, watchful with the suggestion of unexplored profundity, even dark depths. In Jim Jarmusch’s feature, he’s a New Jersey bus driver (below) finding poetry in the mundane. The film is set over a week, giving space to savour its wry observations and appreciate the rhythm of dreams passing.