If you’ve given up on Amazon’s flashy new sci-fi drama Chaos Walking (understandable: it’s an absolute car crash of a film) then try this thoughtful, if melodramatic, period piece from French actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent, itself based on Victoria Mas’s best-selling novel of the same name.
Opening on the day of Victor Hugo’s funeral in Paris in May 1885 – an estimated two million people followed the coffin from the Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon – it tells the story of high-born young woman Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge), whose life would otherwise be a round of upper-class tea parties and a ‘good’ marriage to a wealthy husband were it not for the fact she can communicate with the spirits of dead people. These days such a talent would win you a Netflix series and a book deal. In 19th century France it leads to the asylum: Paris’s notorious Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, to be exact. Hospital here is a relative term, though. Treatments include being locked in a bath of ice water for hours on end, forced into isolation cells or, the fate of Eugénie’s friend Louise (Lomane de Dietrich), hypnotised in front of a room full of men and asked to touch yourself. This scene is based on a famous painting by Andre Brouillet, A Clinical Lesson At Salpêtrière, which shows real-life neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (played here by Grégoire Bonnet) hypnotising real-life ‘hysteria’ patient Louise Augustine Gleizes.
Imprisoned in her own way at Salpêtrière is Geneviève (Laurent herself), who runs the place. Still mourning the death of her sister, Blandine, she is shocked when Eugénie claims to be able to communicate with her sibling. Geneviève’s father, who has raised her to believe in science and the rational, won’t tolerate any mention of it, but Geneviève and Eugénie come to an accord – one which plays out at the annual Salpêtrière costume party, the so-called Mad Women’s Ball.
There are some troubling scenes in which the women are inflicted to degradation and mis-treatment, though that’s sort of the point of the film. What elevates it are the sumptuous interiors, the strong performances and a haunting soundtrack from Israeli composer Asaf Avidan.
The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+, from Fri)
From Venus in Furs and Femme Fatale to European Son and The Gift, the Velvet Underground’s avant-garde sound was born from the band’s creative ethos, described by founding member John Cale as: “how to be elegant and brutal”. In this fascinating documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Todd Haynes explores how the group became a cultural touchstone and represented a range of contradictions: literary yet realistic, rooted in high art and street culture. It features in-depth interviews with the key players from their heyday, combined with a treasure trove of never-before-seen performances and a rich collection of recordings, films by Andy Warhol, and other experimental art to create an immersive musical experience.
Puppy Place (Apple TV+, from Fri)
Based on the best-selling books from Scholastic and produced by Scholastic Entertainment, this live-action series chronicles the adventures of dog-loving siblings Charles and Lizzie Peterson (played by Riley Looc and Brooklynn MacKinzie, respectively) and the furry friends they foster in search of forever homes. Over eight episodes, the story of every puppy that finds his or her way to the Peterson family is told. Charles and Lizzie, whose different approaches complement, inspire and occasionally confound one another, will do whatever it takes to find a happy, loving home for every pooch. Plus, finding out what makes each dog special offers a unique view that helps the siblings overcome their own individual hurdles.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (Amazon Prime, from Fri)
Perfect for the run-up to Halloween, this 21st-century reboot of the 1997 movie (based on a 1973 novel by Lois Duncan) ramps up the chills. Written and executive produced by Sara Goodman, it begins a year after a fatal car accident blighted a group of teenagers’ graduation night. Now bound together by a dark secret and stalked by a brutal killer, they try to piece together who is after them, and end up revealing rather more of their seemingly perfect town’s seedy underbelly – as well as themselves. It appears that everyone is hiding something, and uncovering the wrong secret could come with a deadly price. Madison Iseman, Bill Heck, Brianne Tju and Ezekiel Goodman head the cast.
You (Netflix, from Fri)
“A boy is not what we expected and I would be lying if I said the thought of mini me was purely exciting and not without challenges.” So speaks Joe (Penn Badgley) as the curtain goes up on series three of this enthralling drama. He and Love (Victoria Pedretti), now married and raising their baby, have moved to the balmy northern California enclave of Madre Linda, where they’re surrounded by tech entrepreneurs, judgmental mummy bloggers and Insta-famous biohackers. Joe is committed to his new role as a husband and dad but fears Love’s lethal impulsiveness, and to cap it all, could the woman he’s been searching for all this time live right next door? Saffron Burrows and Scott Speedman also star.
The Four of Us (Netflix, from Fri)
Off the top of your head, how many German comedies can you name (apart from The Cleaner, a UK version of which can currently be seen on BBC1)? If you’re clutching at straws, then make sure you don’t miss this wicked offering, originally called Du Sie Er & Wir. Set in a remote beach house, it follows two young couples as they meet up once again after a four-week partners swap. There was just one rule: no hanky panky. Of course, they all break it, but the bigger question is: have their feelings for their real partner changed? As the couples try to get to grips with the infidelities, their emotions are put through the wringer, while their life choices and expectations are re-evaluated. The whip smart cast comprises Nilam Farooq, Paula Kalenberg, Jonas Nay and Louis Nitsche.