The Conversation

Tonight, BBC Two, 11pm

Film-makers and cinema-goers love movies about the act of eavesdropping and the art of surveillance. It’s no big surprise. In a medium which opens a window onto even the most intimate moments of people’s lives the subject offers boundless potential for drama and psychological study. And who doesn’t love to indulge their inner voyeur from time to time? Oscar-winning 2006 German film The Lives Of Others, about a Stasi agent in East Berlin, and Brian De Palma’s 1981 political thriller Blow Out, which stars John Travolta as a film sound-man, are great examples, but if the sub-genre has a masterpiece it’s this 1974 film from Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

Shot on location in San Francisco while Coppola was making The Godfather II – how’s that for multi-tasking? – it stars Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, an obsessive, suspicious and socially awkward private surveillance operative who has been hired to bug a young couple during their regular lunchtime meetings in the city’s crowded Union Square Plaza. Using a variety of sources – a directional mic on a rooftop 200 yards away, a recorder hidden in a lunchbox, a satellite dish contraption – he sets to work on the resulting recordings in his huge, ramshackle warehouse studio. Using hand-built audio equipment he tweaks and filters the audio into something, well, audible for his mysterious client, a man known only as the Director (Godfather star and Coppola regular Robert Duvall). Who are the young targets? What are they actually talking about behind the inanities and lovers’ endearments? Who is the Director and what does he want with the recordings? It only becomes clear in the film’s intense and shattering final scenes, played out mostly in a hotel bathroom and the street outside the Director’s office.

Before all that, Caul has to navigate his own personal problems as he pursues a strangely secretive relationship with girlfriend Amy (Terri Garr), a turbulent one with underling Stan (John Cazale, aka Fredo Corleone in The Godfather), a difficult one with his God – he’s a devout Catholic – and an abrasive one with East Coast competitor Bernie Moran (Allen Garfield). It’s Moran who appears to have the low-down on why Caul left his home in New York following an investigation into the notorious Teamsters union, adding a sense of guilt to Caul’s long list of hang-ups.

Fans of top-end analogue stereo equipment and reel-to-reel tape recorders will love the interiors of Caul’s workshop and apartment – he relaxes by playing jazz records through massive wooden speakers and accompanying it on his saxophone – and film nerds will be excited by the presence of editor and sound designer Walter Murch in the credits. Murch also worked on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and The Godfather III, as well as on The English Patient and Cold Mountain, and won four Oscars for his efforts. The streets and buildings of San Francisco have a starring role too, Coppola’s film showing a city on the cusp of great change but verging on the run down and very different from the one today occupied by the wealthy young tech workers of Silicon Valley. Finally, there’s another treat in store, this one for fans of Star Wars – featuring as the Director’s untrustworthy assistant Martin Stett and appearing in one of his earliest screen roles is Harrison Ford, fresher of face than we’re used to seeing but just as laconic.

The Occupant, Netflix

Now streaming

Set in modern-day Barcelona, this original commission from Netflix was written and directed by Spanish siblings Alex and David Pastor, and stars Javier Gutiérrez Álvarez. Eagle-eyed viewers of the late-night film channels will recognise him as the cop in excellent 2014 Franco-era crime thriller Marshland, but here he plays down-on-his-luck advertising writer Javier. Out of work, he’s forced to move his family out of their luxury high-rise apartment and into a dowdy flat elsewhere in the city. But when he returns on a whim to the old flat with the spare keys, he begins an obsession with the new occupants which soon turns spiteful and then threatens to turn deadly as he uses his knowledge and access to interfere in their lives. His motivation isn’t exactly clear though there’s a clue in the film’s original Spanish title – Hogar means the place to which you belong, so for Javier this is about a sense of entitlement. Stylishly shot and with a sting in the tail, it’ll please fans of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar winner Parasite and TV dramas such as Apple Tree Yard.