Arrival, Film4, Tuesday, 9pm

If you enjoyed Bladerunner 2049, French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel to Ridley Scott’s cult classic, then you’ll love the vastly superior Arrival, another slice of contemplative sci-fi that manages to hit all the required genre beats while also packing a serious emotional punch. That’s thanks to a mesmerising performance by Amy Adams in the lead role and to its source material: Ted Chiang’s majestic novella Stories Of Your Life.

On the face of it, Arrival runs on a straight-forward sci-fi plot such as we’ve seen a hundred times before in everything from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind to Contact. Aliens arrive on earth, governments and authorities scramble to come up with an action plan, somebody steps up to save the day/make first contact/build weird models in their living room.

In this case that someone is linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is helicoptered into the dawn light by brusque Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) and delivered to a hastily-built army camp in misty Montana over which is hovering a 15-storey high alien spacecraft shaped like a gherkin and made out of something that looks like coal. Twelve have appeared at various random points around the planet.

At the camp Louise is kitted out in a hazmat suit and breathing apparatus and, in the company of mathematics whizz Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), sent into the spacecraft to talk to the aliens. Or try to. There are two of them, dubbed Abbot and Costello by Ian, who communicate in low rumbles from behind a semi-opaque screen. And as Louise and Ian do their thing, the government and the spooks do theirs – China threatens to attack the craft which has appeared over their territory, the US government takes fright and moves to a war footing itself and shifty CIA agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) seems to be everywhere at once. No pressure, then.

It's what happens next that elevates Arrival above all those other films, because Chiang’s story (and Eric Heisserer’s screen adaptation of it) runs on two very powerful engines. The first is a mother’s love for her child – the scenes with the aliens are intercut with scenes in which we see Louise inter-acting with her daughter, Hannah, at various stages in her life – and the second is some mind-bending ideas to do with linguistics, mathematics, causality and teleology. It isn’t always easy to follow exactly what’s going on, but the drip-feed of revelations as Louise and Ian unravel the aliens’ written language and what it means, and the cutaways to Louise’s domestic life, keep you wanting to know more. Which you do, eventually. Comparable in a way to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Arrival is a bona fide sci-fi classic whose power and relevance goes well beyond the genre. Quite rightly, it secured eight nominations at the 2017 Oscars, including a Best Director nod for Villeneuve.

The Whistlers, Curzon Home Cinema

Now streaming

A blackly-comic Romanian crime thriller set partly in the Canary Islands and partly in Bucharest, The Whistlers unfolds through a series of flash-backs and tells the story of drug squad cop Cristi (veteran Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov) and the world of trouble he finds himself in when he becomes embroiled with Spanish drug lord Paco (Agustí Villaronga) and Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), his translator. It starts with Cristi arriving in the Canaries to be taught the whistling language of the region by Kiko (Antonio Buíl), one of Paco’s lieutenants. The Spaniards want Cristi to help them free Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), their man in Bucharest, who has been arrested by Cristi’s boss Magda (Rodica Lazar). The plan is for Cristi to poison Zsolt, then have him admitted to hospital, then use the whistling language to reveal to Paco’s men which room Zsolt’s in. Or something. If it sounds absurd it’s meant to – director Corneliu Porumboiu is a leading light in what’s known as the Romanian New Wave and, as with his French counterparts of the 1960s, he loves to play with convention and movie tropes. A critical scene occurs in a cinema showing a John Wayne film which features whistling, a shoot-out takes place on a disused film set (“I arrested the owner,” says Magda) and when an American director scouting for locations knocks on Paco’s door in the middle of a pow-wow he’s promptly shot. One for fans of offbeat double-cross thrillers such as Bound.