SBS on Demand: stream these three hidden gems now

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Head On and You Were Never Really Here are three very fine films streaming on SBS on Demand this week.
Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here.

Overwhelmed by choice of movies on SBS on Demand? Here are three great movies you might have missed – and one of them is leaving the platform very soon!

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

The tagline: When a teenage girl goes missing, a jaded enforcer begins a rescue mission but uncovers corruption and abuse of power.

The director: Scottish director, writer and cinematographer Lynne Ramsay won the award for Best Screenplay for this film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered in competition. Ramysay’s previous credits include Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The stars: Joaquin Phoenix gives a standout performance (also winning Best Actor at Cannes) in this brooding, tense psychological character study of a damaged man. The cast also includes Ekaterina Samsonov and Judith Roberts.

What the critics said: With an 89% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus is that You Were Never Really Here ‘confirms writer-director Lynne Ramsay as one of modern cinema’s most unique – and uncompromising – voices’.

Watch it if … You’re in the mood to see a committed performance by Joaquin Phoenix at his best, and looking for unsettling tension that never lets up.

Don’t watch it if … You’re looking for light-hearted laughs or non-violence.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) – expires in one week

The tagline: A classic French New Wave musical romantic drama about a pregnant 17-year-old French girl (Catherine Deneuve) who must choose between her lover, who is going into the army, and a very wealthy merchant.

The director: Jacques Demy (1931–1990) is celebrated as one of the eminent French New Wave directors alongside Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. Demy wrote and directed this film, which won the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, as well as being nominated for five Academy Awards. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is considered the second of an informal series that shares some of the same actors, characters and a mood of romantic melancholy. These include Lola (1961), The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) and Model Shop (1969).

The stars: This was the first big hit for 21-year-old Catherine Deneuve (now a Grand Dame of French cinema at 80) and also stars Nino Castelnuovo as her young lover, Anne Vernon as the mother who runs the embattled umbrella shop, and Marc Michel as the merchant husband.

What the critics said: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was voted No.14 Best Romantic Film of All Time by The Guardian, and in in 2018, a BBC Culture critics’ poll ranked the film in the Top 100 Greatest Non-English Films of All Time. Over at Rotten Tomatoes it’s 97% fresh and a recognised classic.

Watch it if … You love musicals, French cinema and Catherine Deneuve and feel in the mood for some bittersweet romantic escapism.

Don’t watch it if … The idea of sitting through a film where every line of dialogue is sung makes you want to tear your ears off.

Read: SBS on Demand: new shows streaming this week

Head On (1998)

The tagline: Ari (Alex Dimitriades) the son of two Greek migrants, is a 19-year-old living in Melbourne. Over a 24-hour period, he confronts his Greek background and sexuality and becomes obsessed by sex, mostly with men.

The director: Greek-Australian writer-director Ana Kokkinos wrote the screenplay with Andrew Bovell and Mira Robertson, adapting the 1995 novel Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas. Kokkinos had previously dircted acclaimed short films, including the 50-minute feature Only The Brave (1994), but Head On put her name on the map. It won various awards including Best First Feature in the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and Best Film at the Milan International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Kokkinos’s subsequent film and TV work has included Blessed, The Book of Revelation and The Hunting.

The stars: Alex Dimitriades had previously attracted attention for his starring role in the 1993 teacher-student romantic comedy The Heartbreak Kid, but it was his critically acclaimed performance in Head On that hit hard and won him an AFI nomination. The film also stars performer and singer Paul Capsis as Ari’s best friend, as well as Julian Garner and Tony Nikolakopoulos.

What the critics said: Graphic sex scenes and the uncompromising depiction of the lead character’s nihilism, drug use and cultural and sexual identity crisis made Head On notorious at the time of its release. Reviews were mixed and Rotten Tomatoes pegs it at a fresh-ish 60%. Positive reviews praised the film’s stark realism, courage and energy, while others found its plot ‘rambling’. Ben Falk at Empire wrote: ‘Kinetic, at times shocking, and – as the title suggests – constantly in your face, this is a film that may be narrow in scope but is awfully big in heart.’

Watch it if … You want to catch up with an Australian LGBT classic and a knockout performance from Dimitriades, as well as seeing 1990s Melbourne inner city in a way we hadn’t seen it before.

Don’t watch it if … You’re easily offended by the idea of an extended masturbation scene and a whole lot of profanity.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is the ArtsHub Group's Education and Career Editor. She is a journalist for Screenhub and is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. Her second book, Double Happiness, a novel, will be published by Midnight Sun in 2024. Instagram: @Rochelle_Rochelle Twitter: @Milan2Pinsk