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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (1/3/2024)

Updated: Mar 2

(Reviews of Four Daughters; Driving Mum; American Star; Defoe; and Combat Wombat: Double Trouble)


FOUR DAUGHTERS.


Having studied cinema in her homeland and at La Fémis and the Sorbonne in Paris, Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania started out with the shorts, La Brèche (2004), Me, My Sister and the Thing (2006), and Wooden Hand (2013). The documentary features, The Challat of Tunis (2013) and Zaineb Hates the Snow (2016), followed before she turned to fiction with Beauty and the Dogs (2017). Returning to the short form with Sheikh's Watermelons (2018), she earned an Oscar nomination for the art world satire, The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020). Ben Hania has now landed a second Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature with Four Daughters, an ambitious blend of actuality, discussion, and reconstruction that takes its cues from Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up (1990) and Lars von Trier's Dogville (2003).


In the opening fragment, Ben Hania explains in voiceover how Olfa Hamrouni has lived with her two youngest daughters, Eya and Tayssir, since their older sisters, Ghofrane and Rahma Chikhaoui were `devoured by the wolf'. But this is much more than a mere scene-setting exercise. We realise we are in the meta-realm of adjusted reality when a clapperboard enters the frame and we see the siblings being made up for their appearances. But the shot of Olfa looking directly into the lens, as we learn that her elder children have disappeared, starts to blur, which clues us to the fact that things may not be quite as they seem.


Olfa sees herself as a Tunisian variation on Rose in James Cameron's Titanic (1997) and almost seems disappointed when Ben Hania announces that she will be played in the more distressing re-stagings by Egyptian-Tunisian star Hend Sabri. When they meet, Olfa wonders how she will manage to distance herself from re-enacting the traumas she has endured. But, while she is unfazed at meeting such a famous actress, she is taken aback when she sees Ichraq Matar and Nour Karoui, as they bear such a striking resemblance to Ghofrane and Rahma.


Eya and Tayssir are also upset by the similarity and Sabri joins them in the make-up room as Karoui and Matar don hijabs to pose for a family photo. Meanwhile, Olfa records a piece to camera about how she had dressed as a boy in order to protect her mother and sisters after their father had abandoned them. Artfully lit with slatted shadows, Sabri tries to learn the lines and finds herself becoming emotional.


She also describes the day of her wedding to Abderahmane, who is played by Majd Mastoura, who will take all the male roles in the picture. As Olfa wanted nothing to do with him, she resisted his advances to consummate the marriage and her sister had entered the bedroom to instruct her brother-in-law to take Olfa by force. However, he was the one who ended up with a broken nose and Olfa used the blood to smear the sheets to reassure the party guests that she had done her duty.


Olfa smiles at the recollection and throws herself into the role of her sister. She also chides Sabri for pleading for mercy, as she would never have done such a thing. When re-enacting a scene in which Sabri's Olfa tries to coax her husband into being romantic (while watching a Sabri film), they get the giggles at the risqué language. But Olfa recalls that Abderahmane used to insult the actresses on the screen and would admonish Olfa when she declared that she would sometimes like to be a `slut'. In fact, she kept him at a distance and we can see from the dates of the ultrasound pictures of the four babies that she wasn't joking when she claimed she only slept with her husband when he earned enough money to make life a little easier.


Sitting on a sofa with Eya and Tayssir, Sabri tries to understand why Olfa had taught them to be ashamed of their bodies when they were young girls. They recall how their father had picked on Ghofrane and warned them against becoming as free-spirited as their mother. But they also remember how she had made Eya stand outside in the rain after seeing a photo on phone that she thought was a butt crack, when it was actually a scar on Taysir's leg. Olfa has joined them for this part of the conversation and Eya gives Sabri a thumbs up when she accuses Olfa of peddling old-fashioned ideas about a woman's body belonging not to herself but any future husband. Olfa defends her views and is appalled when Eya insists that she has control over her body and no one else.


Following an outdoor acting exercise with Matar and Karoui that includes a loud laughing session, Eya and Tayssir join Olfa and Sabri for a discussion of a game they had played in which they imagined their leftovers were exotic dishes. Eya accuses her mother of always putting a dampener on things and Sabri suggests that she had been selfish in the way she had sought to impose her own tastes and opinions upon them.


Dressed in red uniforms, Matar and Karoui join Olfa to watch footage of Ghofrane and Rhama being majorettes. They perform a piece with Eya and Tayssir, while Olfa laments that Tunisia was never the same after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled during the Arab Spring revolution. Yet, the revolution had convinced her to leave Abderahmane and she grins into the camera as she confesses that the day she moved in with her sister, she started an affair with Wissem.


It began with a game of calling wrong phone numbers, but they began chatting and Olfa admits that the romance made her giddy, even though she knew he had escaped from prison after being jailed for killing someone. She laughs in confiding that she would have helped him hide the body because he allowed her to experience feelings she had only previously dreamt of. But Eya and Tayssir play a scene with Mastoura that exposes Wissem as a junkie and a molester. Holding knife and wearing a hijab, Eya is finding the scene more therapeutic than her re-enactments of it in a psychiatrist's office. But Mastoura is uncomfortable and asks Ben Hania to cut and refuses to discuss his reasons on camera.


As he leaves, Tayssir begins to cry and she explains that she finds the scene hard because she can't bring herself to hate Wissem, even though he abused her and deceived their mother into taking his side. She also admits to being unable to dislike her father, even though he also betrayed her. It's painful to watch, especially as Olfa becomes teary after a reconstruction of Wissem's arrest.


Eya and Tayssir are joined by Karoui and Matar for a scene like something out of Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang (2015), as they sing a song while lounging around together. As they talk, Eya recalls how her sisters had teased her when she used a sanitary towel upside down and had pulled out her pubic hair. Watching the recording, Olfa takes offence and spanks Eya for discussing something so intimate with a man in the film crew. But she's unrepentant and they all laugh when Olfa sidles off the set brandishing them all `whores'.


She had beaten Rahma when the school had informed her that she had become a goth and had returned from working abroad when a neighbour has snitched that Ghofrane had had her legs waxed and died her bobbed hair blue because she was seeing a boy. Confronted about it on camera, Olfa smirks and admits to getting carried away. But Eya says she used to use the gas hose to whack them and enjoyed the punishments. On recalling how she had broken a broom handle in thrashing Ghofrene, Ofra confesses that she had only stopped because she thought she had killed her daughter.


In 2013, Islamic preachers came to the square to give out hijabs so that women would cover themselves. Ghofrane went to get one to sell, but wound up wearing it. Rahma gave her a hard time (and Eya cries at the recollection during a re-enactment), only to start wearing a niqab after being harangued by some men for wearing an antichrist t-shirt. As she idolised Rahma, Tayssir followed suit and Eya was browbeaten into joining them because she had been ostracised.


Eya smiles sadly into the camera, as Tayssir tells the story (with Ofra sitting between them, intently watching their faces) of how all four sisters had taken the veil almost as if to keep in with a fashion trend rather than from any religious conviction. But Rahma became more committed and Karoui explains in a scene in which Olfa plays herself that she had so browbeaten her teenage daughters about not being easy that they had used religion to escape what they deemed to be her hypocritical rules. Olfa protests that she was simply trying to protect them and wishes Eya wore the veil now, even though she admits to hating it herself. Eya rolls her eyes, as Karoui tries to make Olfa accept some responsibility for Rahma and Ghofrane being open to radicalisation.


Tayssir recalls Rahma imposing her own code of discipline upon the household and doling out lashes for infractions. She also beat herself and once threatened a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock with a Sharia stoning after she gave birth. Eya jokes that they wouldn't be making the film if Rahma hadn't become so obsessed and she poses for photos with her mother, whose head is uncovered. Olfa also wears bright red lipstick and is sporting a red scarf when she asks Karoui if she would be happy to have her as a mother in real life. Matar intercepts the question, however, and inquires whether Olfa would have preferred different parents and she admits she would.

After seeing a video online, Rahma became obsessed with spending the night sealed in a grave. She invented a burial game and forced the sisters to play it.


Then, when Olfa was working in Libya, they became convinced that Ghofrane had been possessed by an evil spirit and a female exorcist was summoned from the mosque to help her. Olfa was so dismayed by this episode that she took the girls back to Libya and found them cleaning jobs. Shortly afterwards, Ghofrane left to join ISIS and Rahma ate the contact number rather than allow her mother to call her and try and dissuade her. Olfa confides to Sabri, as they block the scene, that she hated Rahma from that moment on and felt no sadness when she also left. That said, she had tried to have the 15 year-old jailed at a Tunisian police station to prevent her from leaving.


By 10 September 2015, the sisters are headline news. Rahma had gone to Sabratha on a false passport and has married ISIS emir, Noureddine Chouchane, who had been behind some terrorist attacks in Tunis. Concerned that Eya and Tayssir were in danger of being abducted by their sisters, the pair were sent to a secure billet. As she had wanted to follow Ghofrane and Rahma, Tayssir spent her first few months hectoring her teacher about her sins against God. However, she now credits the centre with turning her life around.


News reports detail a bombing raid on the Sabratha compound and how Ghofrane (who had married 37 year-old compatriot Abdel Monam Amemi) was reunited with her five-month daughter, Fatma. Olfa sits stroking a pregnant ginger cat and informs Ben Hania that feline mothers eat their young when they become too fearful to protect them. She had been just as anxious, but had lost two of her girls. She tells Sabri that she had turned into her own mother and the actress hopes that Eya and Tayssir can break the chain.


On seeing an image of her sisters and niece in Libya's Jdaija Prison, the latter sobs and reveals that she had adored Rahma and wishes she could come home. Eya had been less forgiving, but had spent a night tearing out her hair after upsetting Tayssir by hoping the others stayed out of their lives. After ending on a close-up of eight year-old Fatma's plaintive brown eyes, Ben Hania uses captions to note that Ghofrane and Rahma were sentenced to 16 years in 2023. However, their mother and sisters hope that they can be repatriated to Tunisia.


It's become common for families to discuss their domestic issues in documentaries, as a means of dealing with their distress and allowing those in similar situations to realise that they are not alone. The majority make for discomfiting viewing, with some coercing the viewer is into eavesdropping on what often feels like it should be private grief. There are moments in this remarkable distanciated actuality when it seems as though Olf, Eya, and Tayssir are enjoying the experience of making a film about their plight. But there are others when the pain is so palpable that the film becomes almost unbearable to watch.


Although she adopts a non-judgemental stance, on occasion, it seems as though Ben Hania is using the blend of direct camera address, on-set discussion, and dramatic reconstruction to coax the charismatic, but contradictory Olfa into confronting her maternal shortcomings and accepting a degree of blame for the way her moralistic repression had shaped her daughters' lives. She certainly encourages Hend Sabri to speak her mind in getting into character. At other times, however, Ben Hania avers that Olfa is herself a victim of the patriarchal aspects of Islamic and Tunisian society and that her intentions had always been good, even when her methods had sometimes misfired.


The decision to cast Majd Mastoura as all of the men in the family's lives is intriguing and it would be fascinating to know what got under his skin during the Wissem scene. This is one of several in which Eya Chikhaoui proves to be a potent screen presence, as she is fearless in embracing the Brechtian conceit and in reliving harrowing moments from her past. The younger Tayssir is slightly more reserved when role playing, although she excels in the sequence in which the sisters lie on bunk beds and recall their spell in secure care. Her emotions spill forth, however, in the final piece to camera when she reflects on her devotion to Rahma and the toll that losing her has taken.


At times, Ben Hania overplays her self-reflexive hand, most notably with the noirish lighting of Sabri while she listens to Olfa on her phone. The odd supposedly spontaneous incident can also look pre-planned, as Farouk Laaridh's compositions are always a bit too perfect. Bessem Marzouk's sets, Qutaiba Barhamji's editing, and Amina Bouhafa's score are equally elegant. But the boldness of the overall approach is entirely laudable, particularly when Ben Hania allows Olfa to hover at the edge of the set with a licence to intervene. Ultimately, much remains veiled. But what does emerge makes this enthralling experiment both worthwhile and significant.


DRIVING MUM.


How can one not be intrigued by a director whose sophomore outing was

entitled Cinderella and the Man Who Had No Trousers (1987)? Hilmar Oddsson is as well known in his native Iceland for his music as his movies. But, having debuted with The Beast (1986), he made such an impression on the festival circuit with Tears of Stone (1995), No Trace (1998), and Cold Light (2004) that it's somewhat surprising that Driving Mum is his first feature since December (2009). However, this mordantly morbid road movie set in 1980 proves well worth the wait.


Now in grey-bearded middle age, Jón (Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson) lives with his mother (Kristbjörg Kjeld) and their dog, Brésneffs (Dreki), in Arnafjord in a remote north-western corner of Iceland. They spend their days knitting jumpers and listening to cassette recordings off the radio, which are brought across the fijord in a rowing boat. Every now and then their balls of wool become entangled, but they never comment on the irony. She also laments not having seen more of the country, but Jón reminds her that it's getting a little late in the day to go travelling.


When not promising Mamma that he will ensure she is buried in her home village of Eyrabakki, Jón takes photographs of the desolate landscape, which he develops in his own darkroom. One night, Mamma lays out her best clothes before bedtime and calls out in her sleep about visiting her mother. Next morning, Jón finds her dead, as Brésneffs scuttles around the house, whimpering.


The dog is reluctant to get into the car after Jón dresses Mamma and puts on full make-up, so she can ride in style on the backseat. But it runs after the vehicle to find Jón parked around the corner with the passenger door open.

They exchange glances as they bounce along the beach before navigating a narrow mountain road. At one point, they have to stop so that Jón can roll a volcanic boulder out of the way (and, later, another will narrowly miss them as it tumbles down an incline). When they come across a VW camper van, Jón refuses to budge and, when the German driver comes over to ask him to reverse, Mamma seems to spring to life to urge him not to give way to a Nazi. Sitting tight, Jón gets his way and drives on with James Last blasting `Daddy Cool' from the car stereo.


Spotting two women and a man playing with a ball on the beach, Jón stops to take a photo. He leaves through an old album, as the hatted woman resembled his lost love, Bergdís (Hera Hilmar). But Mamma chides him for mooning when he knows she would have betrayed him and that he made the wiser choice in staying with his mother. Chugging along in his rusting white

Cortina, Jón makes steady time. He pulls over for a hitch-hiker (Tómas Lemarquis), who doesn't believe him when he says his mother is dead. As the man has little Icelandic, Jón decides to leave him in the middle of nowhere (even though he is actually going to Bjarkalunder, where Jón stops for food).


With Mamma calling out directions, Jón drives into a small town. The road is blocked by circus performers and he grabs his camera when he realises that the woman in the wedding dress also resembles Bergdís. Entering the hotel, Jón is disconcerted to find a birthday party in full swing. Having bemused everyone by taking a plate of lamb chops out to Mamma in the car, he is hit on by both the birthday girl and her equally drunken pal (Elva Ósk Ólafsdóttir and

Guðlaug Elísabet Ólafsdóttir) and winds up being ridden in the former's room before sleeping in the car in the middle of nowhere.


Having spotted the bus carrying the circus folk, Jón gets into an argument with a motorist for driving too slowly on a narrow road. When the cops arrive, the older officer (Pálmi Gestsson) lets him off with a warning because he is from the neighbouring village and remembers Jón as a kid. He also fails to react on being informed that Mamma is dead and Jón drives on.


When Mamma is rude about Bergdís and the standard of his driving, he covers her with a blanket. However, on passing a farm, a sheepdog runs alongside the car and Jón is mortified when he runs it over. He takes it to the farmer (Kjartan Bjargmundsson), who puts it out of its misery. His wife (Harpa Arnardóttir) invites Jón in for a cuppa and makes a joke when he explains that his passenger is dead. Feeling guilty, he insists on the couple keeping Brésneffs and decides to talk about how his parents met when Mamma complains about him bleating on about missing his pet. As all of their relatives have died, she dubs him the Last of the Mohicans.


Stopping to refuel from a jerry can, Jón decides to stop for the night. When a cassette gets caught in the dashboard player, he sings as lively song with his mother. He recalls how Bergdís had liked to dance, but Mamma insists that she and father had loathed her and he leaves her in the car to make a hot drink on a bonfire. He fails to notice a comet passing behind him, but hunkers down for the night, as a mist descends. Bergdís appears and climbs into the front seat. Jón asks why she left and she says she had no choice and shrugs when he protests that he hadn't written because he had no idea where she'd gone.


Suddenly, Bergdís offers to show him how dreams are made and Jón looks round to see several young women running around the car brandishing torches. When Jón wakes next morning, Brésneffs is sitting beside the car and he strokes him while admonishing him for running away. He also calls him a jinx when the engine refuses to start and Jón is tinkering under the bonnet when the hitcher he had previously spurned comes up. He speaks French and tells his story about needing to get out of the city and how the doctors have

stopped his medication, as Jón tells him all about Bergdís. They fix the problem and pose for a photo before the hitcher strides off on what he claims

will be his last journey and Jón drives on.


Stopping beside a geyser for a photo with Mamma and Brésneffs on a bench, Jón decides to head for the town where Bergdís has purportedly been living. The door is answered by her daughter, who informs him that her mother has moved to Newcastle in New South Wales. Over an off-screen coffee, she also reveals that Bergdís had sent him a letter informing him that she was pregnant and Jón fumes at Mamma when she denies hiding it from him. Pulling over, he gets out and yells at her through the windscreen, causing Brésneffs to bark.


Driving on, they reach a quiet town and Jón stops outside a picturesque cottage. Emptying the boot and making Brésneffs sit at a safe distance, he douses the car with petrol and takes photographs as black smoke billows out of the open doors. A man sidles into shot and clearly sees Mamma sitting in the backseat and draws the conclusion that she was alive when the conflagration commenced.


The waitress from the hotel and the cop from the road both confirm that Mamma was alive when they met Jón. But the hitcher sees his photo on the front page of the paper after he is sentenced to seven years and the governor breaks the news that fresh evidence has been found. However, as Jón has found prison life conducive and has started a knitting class for the inmates, he's asked to stay on and he agrees on the proviso he can have a dark room.


Much to his mournful relief, he sees Brésneffs at the prison fence and nods permission to follow the children who have adopted him and named him `Mooch'. Jón develops the pictures he had taken on his trip and pins them to his wall. However, he lets the treasured teenage photo of him and Bergdís float out of the window. It's caught by one of the circus troupe (who have been acting as a sort of Greek chorus), who are performing mimes on the beach. The leader sits at the table where they are lunching and tells Bergdís that it's her turn to tell the next story.


A splendid rug-pull ending rescues this otherwise amiable odyssey from the penultimate chapter miscalculation that so clumsily sets up the contrived prison finale. It's entirely plausible that Jón would prop his dead mother into the backseat to give her a last tour of a country she had barely seen during her secluded lifetime. It's certainly likely that her condition would not have been noticed by those encountered en route and it's almost inevitable that Jón would continue to converse with her as though she was alive.


But the meandering action loses its way when Jón not only finds Bergdís's house with such ease after three decades, but also makes the soap operatic discovery that he's unknowingly been a father because of the machinations of his mother. Even then, Oddsson might have got away with such contrivances. But the torching of the car rings clangingly hollow, as why would Jón risk the chance of a relationship with his newly discovered daughter and grandchild to exact a mode of revenge sparked by Mamma's throwaway remark about not wanting to be cremated? Indeed, it's only the suggestion that the whole yarn has been spun by a circus performer to amuse their travelling companions that restores the viewer's faith.


This comes as a relief, as there is so much to enjoy and admire here. Had the film debuted at Cannes, Dreki would have been a shoo-in for the Palm Dog, as the sheepdog steals every scene he's in. Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson and Kristbjörg Kjeld are also splendid and it's a pity that Oddsson didn't show more of their huis clos situation. However, with the make-up giving her a cadaverish look, Kjeld makes a ghoulish backseat driver, while Gunnarsson is so dejectedly deadpan that he wouldn't be out of place in an Aki Kaurismäki or Roy Andersson picture. It's also tempting to see parallels with Hiner Saleen's Kilomètre Zéro (2005). But, in fact, the most pronounced influence is that of Jim Jarmusch, although Oddsson also acknowledges the debt owed to his absurdist playwright father, Oddur Björnsson.


Reinforcing the melancholically offbeat tone, Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits's score conveys Jón's shifting mindset in much the same way as Óttar Guðnason's monochrome cinematography charts the route from mountainous wilderness to flat mundanity, as Jón is sucked into the treacherous civilisation from which Mamma had been trying to protect him. Let's hope he gets to enjoy his cosy captivity and all those video screenings of Rocky!


AMERICAN STAR.


A former RADA classmate of Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt, Ian McShane has probably made more of an impact on television than cinema. Indeed, he didn't make a single film for 15 years, while he was headlining Lovejoy (1986-94). But he has always looked the part in crime films, from Michael Tuchner's Villain (1981) to Jonathan Glaser's Sexy Beast (2000) and Malcolm Venville's seriously underrated 44 Inch Chest (2009).


Now in his early 80s, McShane is known to younger audiences as Winston Scott in the John Wick series (2014-). But he delivers another typically assured performance in American Star, a laconic anti-thriller that he also co-produced and which reunites him with Spaniard Gonzalo López-Gallego, who had directed him in the 2016 Western, The Hollow Point.


Arriving in the Canary Islands, dapper veteran hitman Wilson (Ian McShane) hires a car and drives across Fuerteventura. Breaking his journey in the middle of nowhere, he checks the instructions left in the boot of the car and proceeds to the target's residence. However, there's no one home and Wilson has to hide when a young woman arrives on a motorbike to take a dip in the pool.


Strolling back to the car, Wilson informs his handler of the situation and decides to make the most of the delay by checking into a nearby hotel. Approaching his room, he sees 10 year-old Max (Oscar Coleman) sitting in the corridor because his parents are having a row. Wilson checks the boy is okay before unpacking his case, which is hardly filled with holiday attire.


Prompted by an acoustic version of `The Final Countdown' in the hotel lounge, Wilson seeks an alternative watering hole and ventures into one in the town after recognising the bike from the target's house. He's served by Gloria (Nora Arnezeder), a Frenchwoman in her early thirties, who tells him about SS American Star, a liner that had run aground off the coast of the island in 1995 while being towed to Thailand for conversion into a hotel.


She gives him directions and Wilson sets off to explore the next morning after being pestered at breakfast by the lonely Max. On getting lost, Wilson finds himself on another beach, where he hooks up with Ryan (Adam Nagaitis), the handler sent by the security firm to ensure the hit is carried out efficiently. He calls Wilson `uncle', as they reminisce over lunch about Ryan's father, an army buddy of Wilson's who had died of hypothermia after parachuting into the Falklands in 1982. As a consequence, his mother wants nothing to do with Wilson, who finds Ryan's attitude towards killing distasteful, as he cares little about duty and loyalty.


Having told Gloria that he had failed to find the ship, she agrees to act as guide the next day. As they stare at the rusting hull, it lurches in the sand and tilts on to its side. When they stop for lunch, Wilson is discomfited by Gloria's questions about his past and makes his excuses to leave the table. When he returns, he finds Ryan chatting to Gloria and he feigns not to know Wilson, as he breezily promises to see her around.


Back at the hotel, Wilson chats to Max about parachuting. He also teases him about wearing a Real Madrid t-shirt when he should support his local Welsh team or Liverpool. Fond of the boy, Wilson makes a €30 that he can do over 20 keepie ups so he can give him the money. However, he's told to give it back by his father and Wilson tries to cheer him up by taking him on to the hotel roof at night and floating down a paratrooper doll.


Ignoring Ryan's warnings not to get too close to anyone involved in the hit, Wilson accepts Gloria's invitation to lunch. She has told her estate agent

mother, Anne (Fanny Ardant), that Wilson is looking for a property on the island. But she senses he's not what he seems and warns him that Gloria is only interested in him because she wants a father figure and is trying to hook them up so that she can have a family around her. On returning to his room, Wilson finds an envelope containing fresh information and he is dismayed to learn that Gloria is also a target, as she has done time for drug smuggling.


Playing for time, Wilson takes Gloria on another outing to the beach. While she swims in the sea, he checks her camera to remove any evidence of himself. However, he sees several pictures of Gloria and Ryan together and he feels resentment at the latter's callous attitude. He tries to urge Gloria to leave the island, but she's disappointed in him and they part on bad terms.


Touched by a thank you card from Max (in which he returns the banknotes Wilson had given him to replace the cash he'd been forced to return), Wilson drives out to the target's house. Thomas (Thomas Kretschmann) and Linda (Sabela Arán) return from their trip and are having a drink when Wilson shoots them.


As he is preparing to leave, he hears Gloria's bike pull up. She finds the bodies and is shocked to see Wilson. He tells her that he knows about her past and again pleads with her to leave. However, Ryan had suspected that Wilson had

a soft spot for Gloria and returns from killing her accomplice to shoot her down. He turns the gun on Wilson, but it's Ryan who takes a bullet and the film ends with Wilson wading into the sea carrying the body of his fallen comrade - as the capsized ship simply fades from view.


With its clumsy symbolism and laboured allusion to past events in the South Atlantic, this is a disappointing way to end a slight, but still involving story. Screenwriter Nacho Faerna doesn't offer much by way of character depth, but gives McShane enough to work with, as he limns an old school professional who comes to question his existence after momentarily letting down his guard. Wilson's relationship with Gloria feels a bit forced and, thus, lacks the poignancy of the bond he forges with Max, in whom he probably sees a little of the young Ryan. But the tension between the pair doesn't quite ring true, as Ryan has presumably never been detailed to monitor Wilson before and would have had no need to do so on this occasion had Thomas been home when the assassin first called.


Such inconsistencies don't detract from McShane's deftly internalised performance, however, as Wilson shops for something to wear other than his sharp black suit, frees a street hustler from the boot of his own car, and dances with Anne in the knowledge she can see right through him. Nora Arnezeder also conveys the complexities of a hardened criminal who remains emotionally vulnerable, while Adam Nagaitis makes Ryan seem sinister even at his most bonhomous. Fanny Ardant does what she can with an underwritten cameo that leaves many questions unanswered about how much Anne knows about her daughter's activities.


Serving as his own editor, López-Gallego maintains a measured pace throughout this sunlit noir, while making evocative use of José David Montero's views of the terrain. The score by Remate reinforces the reflective mood that occasionally feels reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Melville's collaborations with Alain Delon, as Wilson weighs up his narrowing options. But he never seems to suffer from any pangs of conscience and this reluctance to explore his ruthless side makes the ending's sentimental fatalism feel all the more unearned and misjudged.


DEFOE.


It's safe to say that Jermain Defoe has had his ups and downs. A gifted goal scorer, he didn't win much as a player, while his 57 caps for England seems a lot when superior players like Ian Wright and Robbie Fowler only managed 33 and 26 each. But, as debuting documentarist James Ross reveals in Defoe: For the Love of the Game, he's a decent lad who has come through triumphs and tragedies with a laudably level-headed sense of acceptance.


Born in Beckton in October 1982, Defoe didn't see much of his father, Jimmy, after he left mother Sandra when the boy was about five. Growing up in Canning Town, he was obsessed with football and was coached at the famous Senrab Sunday league team by Bertie Knight. He recalls his goal-scoring exploits with pride, as we see home-movie footage of the young Defoe terrorising defences and winning trophies.


Befriended by Joe Cole at the FA National School of Excellence at Lilleshall (which is described as Hogwarts for football), Defoe signed for Charlton Athletic. But, as former manager Alan Curbishley recalls, he was poached by West Ham United, who had to pay a sizeable compensation fee for the 16 year-old. Harry Redknapp gave him his scoring debut against Walsall in the League Cup in September 2000 before sending him on loan to Bournemouth, where he scored in 10 consecutive games.


On his return to Upton Park, Defoe struggled for game time under new manager Glenn Roeder and he submitted a transfer request within a day of the club being relegated in 2003. Ross glosses over Defoe's antics prior to securing a move to Tottenham Hotspur in the January transfer window. But he lingers a little longer on the spell that followed a debut goal against Portsmouth.


Ironically, this was to be his destination in January 2008, although Ross opts not to mention that Defoe missed out on the Spurs victory over Chelsea in the League Cup Final and then found himself cup-tied for Pompey's FA Cup triumph under Redknapp. We do, however, get an anecdote about how the Tottenham dentist made him sufficiently homesick to return to White Hart Lane in January 2009, where Redknapp was now the boss after the departure of Juande Ramos, who had allowed Defoe to leave.


A mention might have been made of the broken foot that kept Defoe out of the 2009 League Cup Final, but one gets the impression that Ross isn't that interested in football, as he prefers to dwell on the more poignant aspects of Dafoe's private life. We learn about father Jimmy keeping his distance despite watching games on television in his favourite pub and listen to Daily Mirror hack Harry Harris struggling to justify the publication of stories about Jimmy's use of crack cocaine and prostitutes. Following a montage of newspaper headlines about Defoe's love life, he reflects on the difficulty he has had in trusting people since a 2013 DNA test revealed he was not the father of a girlfriend's child.


Back on the footballing front, Defoe looks back on the shock of being omitted in favour of Theo Walcott from the England squad for the 2006 World Cup and takes pride in the group stage goal that got helped the team qualify for the Round of 16 in South Africa four years later. But his international career as part of the Golden Generation was relatively unremarkable. Indeed, medals were in short supply at club level, too, although he once scored five when Spurs beat Wigan Athletic 9-1.


Goals were never a problem. But, although Spurs occasionally reached the Champions League, they failed to challenge for silverware on a regular basis during Defoe's two spells and he departed, somewhat unexpectedly, for Toronto FC in the MLS in January 2014. Despite agreeing a four-year deal, he was back in the Premier League the following January after old teammate Gus Poyet lured him to Sunderland. Despite losing his record of scoring on each club debut, Dafoe settled into life at the Stadium of Light, where a meeting in the dressing room changed his life.


Bradley Lowery was one of the mascots for the home game against Everton in September 2016. A passionate Sunderland fan, the six year-old had tripped across the changing room to clamber on to Defoe's knee and begin a conversation about his boots. The bond would be reinforced as Defoe supported the boy through his battle with neuroblastoma. But, as mother Gemma rightly notes, Defoe also owed much to her son during a harrowing period in which he also lost his father, half-brother, and a cousin.


It speaks volumes that Defoe continues to turn out in games in aid of the Lowery charity and that he regularly visits Gemma. He has also dedicated himself to putting something back after his career ended with returns to Bournemouth and Sunderland being interspersed with a couple of seasons at Rangers, where he won the Scottish Premiership under former England teammate, Steven Gerrard. He's seen coaching some kids at his old school, but he has now moved on to working with the Under-18s at Spurs. Given the resistance that clubs have shown to Black British managers, it remains to be seen how far up this ladder he progresses. But he deserves to be taken seriously.


Interestingly opening as Defoe moves into the first house he has considered a permanent residence, this quickly becomes a standard profile, with lots of talking-head contributions leavening the archive footage and the scenes of daily life. Possibly because of rights issues, there's a lot less football than one might expect, with Defoe's England exploits being discussed over montages of stills and clippings. This isn't entirely surprising, as James Ross's previous work has flitted between tele-portraits of Anton Ferdinand and Joe Wicks and studies of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the treasures of the National Trust.


Yet, while he doesn't currently pose a threat to James Erskine or Gabriel Clarke, Ross succeeds in showing that there is more to elite sport than adulation and affluence. The sections on Defoe's bereavements are tactfully handled in revealing a vulnerability that sporting icons don't usually agree to display on camera. He's less forthcoming about his reluctance to trust or commit, but this is as much a showreel for future employers as it is an in-depth biography. Ex-players like Peter Crouch and Robbie Keene testify to Defoe's professionalism. But a few more locker-room anecdotes might have afforded greater insight into his personality, while Ross might have approached the odd pundit or journalist to analyse Defoe's talent and his overall achievement.


COMBAT WOMBAT: DOUBLE TROUBLE.


Animator Richard Cussó launched the Sanctuary City franchise with The Wishmas Tree in 2019. This was swiftly followed by Combat Wombat and Daisy Quokka: World's Scariest Animal (both 2020). Now, having detoured to direct Scary Girl (2023) Cussó is back with co-director Tania Vincent for Combat Wombat: Double Trouble.


For those who missed the original story, Maggie Diggins (Deborah Mailman) has become the talk of Sanctuary City after confounding disgruntled superhero Flightless Feather with the help of Sweetie the sugar glider (Ed Oxenbould). However, as Combat Wombat and Gallant Glider soon discover, a crime fighter's work is never done.


Having been inundated with requests to do petty tasks by busy or lazy animals after launching the Heroes on Demand app, Maggie decides enough is enough. But her plans to quit as Combat Wombat are shelved when Chief Furbank (Dan Brumm) informs her that senior citizens like echidna Reginald (Mark Coles Smith) have been caught red-pawed committing crimes.


As the geriatric spree has coincided with the arrival of tech wizard Lenny Glick (David Wenham) and his Chameleonline business, Maggie smells a rat. However, Furbank tells her not to get involved and saddles her with juvenile offender Skylar Bloodface (Elizabeth Cullen) and Reginald's toddler granddaughter, Matilda (Lorenzo Shakhovskoy). Much to the straitlaced Sweetie's dismay, Maggie insists on going undercover at the Sanctuary City Bowls Club, where they discover that Reginald has been leading a protest

against Chameleonline and its plans to harvest data from the citizens to use for its own purposes.


Maggie also realises that the other arrested animals are Reginald's supporters. So, when the badger who calls bingo at the club suddenly leaves the game in a seeming trance, she follows him to the museum, where he informs the CCTV camera that he is about to break in. Spotting an earpiece in the badger's ear, Maggie twigs that he's being controlled and, discovers that Lenny is calling the shots when the device drifts into her own ear.


Finding herself in Lenny's HQ, Maggie is told that Reginald had been telling the residents to stop using their devices and that this had prevented him from completing the user profiles that would enable him to lure everyone into Sanctuary+, the perfect pixellated world that he has created. When Maggie refuses to co-operate and threatens to expose Lenny, he has her arrested by Furbank. Moreover, he replaces the earpiece so that Maggie is hostile to Sweetie when he visits her in prison.


This makes him aggressive towards Skylar, who had wanted to turn her life around and join the team. But Matilda spots the earpiece in a video clip of Maggie's confession and, with the bungling help of rookie recruits Algernon, Frogman, and Ibis, Sweetie sneaks the infant through a window at the prison so she can remove Maggie's device and get her back onside. Unfortunately, Reginald is reprogrammed and he nabs Matilda, as the duo discover that any attempt to remove an earpiece triggers an inflatable protective suit around the wearer. Moreover, everyone in the city has been rendered immobile because they have become avatars in Sanctuary+.


Breaking into Lenny's lair, Maggie and Sweetie find Matilda under a glass dome. So, leaving Sweetie on the outside, Maggie enters the digital realm and meets some of her friends, who thank her for the little jobs she had been doing for them because they had made a big difference to their lives. This lesson learned, she confronts Lenny, but is appalled when Sweetie shows up with a plan that backfires when Lenny reproduces dozens of replicas of himself so that they can't snatch the transmitter on his temple that he uses to control his operation.


Just as he is about to launch the metaverse simulation, however, Skylar appears and Maggie is amazed when she calls him `dad'. He explains that he has created this world without pain so that they can resurrect her other father, who had died shortly after she was born. He manifests before them, but reasons with Lenny that it's wrong to entrap everyone and exploit their data simply to bring him back to artificial life. Realising the mistake he almost made, Lenny cancels the confirmation and Sanctuary City returns to normal. Indeed, Skylar is asked to join the team, as are Algernon, Frogman, and Ibis, who will be needed because heroes are needed across the metropolis.


Scripted by Dominic Morris, this is a surprisingly dystopian story for tinies. Moreover, it tackles some complex ideas and there are bound to be lots of questions on the way home (if there aren't plenty during the screening itself). This may not be a thematically subtle or graphically sophisticated, but there aren't many CGI animations prepared to introduce young viewers to such concepts as grief, same-sex relationships, the potential perils presented by computers and phones, the folly of judging by appearances, the value of small acts of kindness, and the power of true friendship.


Sporting a Steve Jobs polo neck, Lenny turns out to have a poignant motive for his misguided scheme and it's a shame the rehabilitated chameleon isn't included in the closing sequence to show how accepted he has become after being forgiven and how he has consented to use his genius for good. Nevertheless, David Wenham's voiceover is suitably invidious alongside Deborah Mailman's soul-searching Maggie, as she comes to understand that there's more to helping others than acts of superheroism. Cussó and Vincent end by neatly teeing up the next sequel, but one wonders whether it needs to be quite as dark as its predecessors.



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