Film

Offbeat gems and Christmas classics – 'tis the season to support indie cinema

It's not just about seasonal blockbusters and curling up in front of the TV at Christmas, y'know. Get out to your local indie cinema and discover

This can’t be an easy time of year to be running an independent cinema. For one, there’s the release of the new Star Wars casting its mighty shadow over smaller, more edgy fare. I wrote about the phenomenon last week, but neglected to mention the release of British movie The Unseen. The film’s director recently took out a newspaper ad pleading with Disney to free up a single London screen for his low-budget drama. It’s a valiant attempt to play down the fate seemingly threatened for the film by its unfortunate title: for the makers of The Unseen I hope it pays off.

Quite aside from The Last Jedi pressure, there’s also the seasonal instinct we have to nestle, to curl up in front of a glowing screen and consume unhealthy snacks. It’s a habit that TV and streaming schedulers happily indulge when they show such homely fare on the small screen. But it must make cinema programmers’ lives even more difficult.

Forsyth’s under-rated Christmas gem was the follow-up to the more acclaimed Local Hero, a TV perennial this time of year

All credit then to Edinburgh’s magnificent independent cinema the Filmhouse for entering into the Christmas spirit by guaranteeing adventurous filmgoers a dose of Comfort and Joy. Not the sentimental tidings offered by the icky carol, but Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s droll comedy from 1984. Comfort and Joy – as this Glasgow-set film is called – sees Bill Paterson’s doleful DJ unwittingly mediating between two rival ice cream companies while struggling with a broken heart in the weeks around Christmas. It’s a winningly eccentric, deliciously deadpan delight that’s both funny and melancholy. Forsyth’s under-rated Christmas gem was the follow-up to the more acclaimed Local Hero, a TV perennial this time of year.

The holidays are also peak period for family movies, and you’ll be reliably served by all manner of movies for the little ones. Of the large number on offer, I’d single out the Glasgow Film Theatre’s screening of the brilliantly strange 1957 East German slice of fairy-tale kitsch The Singing Ringing Tree and the 1937 Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Brighton’s Duke of York Picturehouse. Newcastle’s Tyneside cinema is putting on a New Year’s Eve party, which, with its offering of plentiful fizz and promise of dancing till late, is assuredly not aimed at the PG crowd.

It’s a Wonderful Life is, as far as I can tell, playing everywhere. Are there really any audiences who haven’t seen it? If so, you’re in for a treat, so much so I can’t begrudge programmers’ lack of originality.

And starting in the new year, the BFI Southbank is showing a comprehensive retrospective of the Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman to mark his centenary year. To kick things off, cinemas around the UK will be previewing Bergman’s 1975 version of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute throughout December. Bergman was a director associated with unforgiving bleakness (often accurately as it happens) but this made-for-TV film sees him in an unusually playful mood. Set in the replica of a Baroque opera-house, it’s an exquisite confection – and if I had to recommend one Christmas treat to lure you from the comforts of home, it would be this.

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