FREE- TO- AIR FILMS
THE first time I saw it I couldn’t get that marching tune out of my head ( it sounded even better when whistled). And that’s often the way with a masterpiece. There are so many fine things in The Bridge on the River Kwai ( Sunday, 10.30/ 11.30am, Seven) that it’s easy to be distracted by details and overlook its deeper meanings.
It was the first film of David Lean’s epic period and among the best of all World War II dramas: an absorbing study of the psychological complexities of war, with a brilliant cast and some marvellous suspense sequences. In Pierre Boulle’s novel, a bunch of English prisoners of war are forced to build a bridge for their Japanese captors, but the project becomes an obsessive point of honour for their commanding officer, played by Alec Guinness in the film version. The writers of the screenplay, Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman, once blacklisted in Hollywood, were denied credits in the film in 1957, and it wasn’t until 1996 that the Writers Guild of America had their names officially restored.
And while we’re still in the jungles of World War II, the ABC is showing The Purple Plain ( Tuesday, 2.45am), in which Gregory Peck plays a fighter pilot battling his way back to civilisation after crashing somewhere in Burma. Based on an H. E. Bates novel and scripted by Eric Ambler, with plenty of thrills.
I’d just about given up on SBS movies, but this week the network has come up with a gem: Monsieur Ibrahim ( Wednesday, 10pm), a strange and beautiful film from France. Its full title in 2003 was Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran , but the Koran wasn’t mentioned in the ads in those days and certainly it didn’t feature in promotions in the US after 9/ 11. But anyone looking for someone to play a sympathetic Muslim could hardly go past Omar Sharif. His character, Ibrahim, is a lonely widower who runs a little grocery shop in Paris in the 1960s and befriends an unhappy Jewish boy ( Pierre Boulanger) living across the street.
I always thought Sharif a bit insipid and sugary in his Lean epics, but in Francois Dupeyron’s film he looks wonderfully wise and good- humoured.
He’s been quoted as saying that this isn’t a film about a Muslim and Jew but a love story about an old man and a boy. Either way it’s deeply affecting, with much to say about faith and a boy’s coming of age.
It’s turning out to be a good week all
around. The Player ( Sunday, 11pm, Ten) is Robert Altman’s delicious satire of contemporary Hollywood ( or at any rate 1992 Hollywood). Beginning with a famously long unbroken tracking shot, in which various characters and strands are introduced, it becomes a series of vignettes, built around a mystery story involving a studio executive ( Tim Robbins) and a murdered writer, with a huge cast of cameo celebrities and crammed with knowing in- jokes. Example ( one I missed at the time): Buck Henry, who wrote The Graduate , pitches an idea for a sequel in which a bedridden Mrs Robinson moves in with Benjamin and Elaine. Inevitably a little dated, but consistently witty and enjoyable.