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WITH the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in full swing, The Ides of March (Sun­day, 8.30pm, Movie One) must be rated es­sen­tial view­ing. It’s a con­sis­tently en­gross­ing po­lit­i­cal thriller di­rected by Ge­orge Clooney, who also plays Mike Mor­ris, the smooth-talk­ing gover­nor of Penn­syl­va­nia, a con­tender for the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­dency. It oc­curred to me that with a switch of party la­bels the film would work just as well as a study of Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, with Clooney a nat­u­ral to play Mitt Rom­ney. Gover­nor Mor­ris may be a shade more hand­some than Gover­nor Mitt, but there’s not much in it, and their cam­paigns, like all cam­paigns, have a lot in com­mon — past in­dis­cre­tions, cover-ups, com­pro­mises and much airy rhetoric about the fu­ture of Amer­ica. Ryan Gosling is su­perbly off­putting as Stephen Mey­ers, a bril­liant young aide in the Mor­ris camp, with Philip Sey­mour Hoffman at his best as a dour and de­vi­ous ad­viser. The Ides of March can be seen as Clooney’s darker ver­sion of The Can­di­date, Robert Red­ford’s clas­sic film about Demo­cratic pol­i­tics, made in 1972. Not a great deal has changed in 40 years.

Ter­rence Mal­ick is a di­rec­tor noted for long ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods be­tween films. There was a five-year gap be­tween Bad­lands and Days of Heaven, then a 20-year wait for The Thin Red Line. So many were sur­prised when his lat­est, To the Won­der, pre­viewed at this year’s Venice film fes­ti­val a year af­ter the re­lease of The Tree of Life (Tues­day, 5.55pm, Show­time Pre­miere), his enig­matic and visionary med­i­ta­tion on the mys­ter­ies of love and ex­is­tence. The Tree of Life is the story of a subur­ban Texas fam­ily in the 1950s, ruled over by Brad Pitt’s lov­ing, au­thor­i­tar­ian fa­ther (a part orig­i­nally of­fered to Heath Ledger). The fa­ther has some oldfashioned ideas about fam­ily dis­ci­pline, but when­ever his sons feel op­pressed or un­happy they turn for love and com­fort to their mother (Jes­sica Chas­tain), the very im­age of ma­ter­nal grace. The most daz­zling se­quence is an ex­tended mon­tage trac­ing the ori­gins of the uni­verse, the big bang and the first ap­pear­ance of life on earth, cul­mi­nat­ing in the birth of a child. Each of us will take what we can from this se­quence — if in­deed we take any­thing at all.

Ray Lawrence, like Mal­ick, is an­other di­rec­tor noted for long waits be­tween films. Which is why it was such a plea­sure in 2001 to greet Lan­tana (Satur­day, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), his first in 16 years, a se­ries of in­ter­lock­ing sto­ries about four con­tem­po­rary Sydney cou­ples who find them­selves drawn into a web of mys­tery and in­trigue, cul­mi­nat­ing in the death of a woman. The su­perb cast in­cludes An­thony LaPaglia, Kerry Arm­strong and Rachael Blake. I’ve writ­ten be­fore that Lan­tana is for me the best film made in this coun­try — ma­ture, in­tel­li­gent, adult in the best sense and never less than ab­sorb­ing — and I’ll be sur­prised if an­other view­ing should change my mind.

Critic’s choice

(M) ★★★★✩ Sun­day, 8.30pm, Movie One

(M) ★★★★★ Satur­day, 8.30m, Movie Greats

(M) ★★★★✩ Tues­day, 5.55pm, Show­time Pre­miere

Lan­tana

Rachael Blake in

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