- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (1/7/2022)
(Reviews of The Princess; Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War; I Am Zlatan; and Tigers)
It's safe(ish) to presume that cinema-going is a thing again. However, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.
In 2019, documentarist Ed Perkins related a fascinating story, which saw a man telling his amnesiac brother about the facts of his life. What worked so well in Tell Me Who I Am, can't possibly be applied to the narrative in The Princess, however, as the life of Diana, Princess of Wales is simply too well known for (m)any revelations to be turned up by editing together (no matter how knowingly) archive footage with an exclusively contemporaneous commentary track of unidentified voices.
Coming so hot on the heels of Jemma Chisnall's Diana and Robin Bextor's Diana At Sixty, as well as Pablo Larrain's Spencer, Christopher Ashley's Diana (the musical), and Season Four of The Crown (all 2021), this could seem like an extraneous latecomer in an already overcrowded field. But, marking as it does, the 25th anniversary of the fatal crash in Paris's Pont d'Alma tunnel on 31 August 1997, it manages concisely to chronicle Diana's 17-year public life and make several salient points about her, the Royal Family, the mass media and a global public obsessed with celebrity and salacious gossip.
As this is essentially a slick cut'n'paste job, there's little we've not seen before. In being subjected to an audiovisual bombardment, however, the viewer is given time to pause and reflect. Consequently, the Charles and Diana of the infamous engagement interview look more like a couple of under-rehearsed actors with no gift for improvisation than a pair of lovebirds. Similarly, it's possible to see his disdain for the media growing alongside her realisation that she can manipulate it.
Some reviewers have suggested that Perkins has arranged the material to show that the relationship was a sham from the outset, with all parties being aware that this was a marriage of convenience designed solely to produce an heir and a spare. This contradicts accounts. however, that Diana was besotted with Charles and gradually became disillusioned as his public irritation and private infidelity became impossible to ignore.
What does seem clear is that Charles realised in Australia that the fairytale princess he had plucked from aristocratic obscurity to give his brand a touch of glamour was stealing focus. Hence, the peevish joke about needing two wives to cover each side of the street during a walkabout. He also appeared miffed by her growing insistence on speaking for herself in interviews and by the fact that Royal correspondents had noticed his exasperation with the paparazzi baying at his wife while barely acknowledging his existence.
It's annoying that the off-camera voices commenting on what was rapidly turning into an unseemly circus are unattributed, as it's difficult to know how much weight to attach to the insights and assertions. But the odd editorial decision is also eye-rollingly irksome, notably the clumsy insertion of a game-shooting sequence and footage of Camilla Parker Bowles hunting a frightened rabbit. Nevertheless, Perkins and estimable editors Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira piece the fragments into recognisable mosaic that reminds one that the principals in this palace soap opera were two human beings trapped in a miserable mistake that they were being forced to grin and bear with the whole world gazing on.
Familiar images like Diana alone in front of the Taj Mahal and her turned cheek during the polo prize-giving are slotted into place, as Royal watchers like James Whittaker and Robert Lacey (in his D'Artagnan phase) stopped trying to pretend that everything in the Highgrove garden was rosy. More intriguing, however, are the vox pops and contributions by audience members on TV shows like Kilroy, as the speakers seem so blithely unaware that their obsession with all things Charles and Diana was driving the media frenzy that (particularly in the case of Rupert Murdoch's rags) always seemed to have an ulterior motive.
Once John Major had made his mournful statement to the Commons, the gloves came off. Despite protestations that Diana had never wanted a divorce, each party sought to wound the other with actions and utterances that were calculatingly designed to get the upper hand in the PR stakes. Leaked tapes hardly helped either cause, while biographies and television specials only confirmed the speculation that the Waleses detested each other. It was all very sad and grimly unedifying. Moreover, the revelations about Diana's bulimia and suicide attempts risked damaging the Monarchy, as they invited speculation about the lack of support provided by senior Royals.
Once divorced, Diana laudably decided to use her profile to draw attention to the plight of AIDS and land mine victims. However, her bid to cultivate and control the media and exploit it for her own ends was doomed to failure, as no one sold papers on such a scale, especially when her love life was under scrutiny. No one cared about Charles and Camilla, as they were old news. But Di and Dodi were a front-page sensation and they paid with their lives to satisfy the public's intrusive infatuation.
This spilt over into the displays of hysterical grief for the Tony Blair-dubbed `People's Princess' that followed the crash in Paris. Footage of four American friends watching the events of the night unfold over a game of cards curiously encapsulates the world's shock that the dream that had turned into a nightmare was really over. For a brief moment, there was something mutinous about the pre-social media British response, until Her Majesty returned from Balmoral to look at the flowers outside Buckingham Palace and the Duke of Edinburgh walked beside William and Harry behind their mother's coffin.
The Platinum Jubilee emphasised the chasm that now exists between the brothers, as the paps turn their long lenses on them and their wives. Few lessons seem to have been learned by the Palace machine. But what is even more sobering is that the problems facing Britain's under-classes at the time of the Royal Wedding in 1981 are no nearer being solved four decades later.
Trading on foreknowledge and preconceptions, Perkins has stated that he has sought to bring `greater emotional clarity and honesty' to the events of Diana's life and `the strange power they had, and still have, on so many people'. Yet, abetted by Martin Phipps's coaxing score, his `immersive, unmediated' method is archly uncontexualised, judgementally hindsightful and unabashedly voyeuristic. Moreover, it merely adds his interpretation to a morass that will never reveal its truths. The marriage of the rakishly narcissistic prince and the naively virginal nanny was a spectacular miscalculation that ended in tragic circumstances that no one could have foreseen. What's so remarkable is that its countless fabrications are still regarded by so many as facts.
ERIC RAVILIOUS: DRAWN TO WAR.
Margy Kinmonth has been making documentaries for 40 years. The great director John Huston narrated her first feature, To the Western World (1981), while she won a BAFTA for the 1991 series, Naked Hollywood. She has also directed episodes of Grange Hill, Casualty and EastEnders.
More recently, however, she has been producing art studies like Lookng For Lowry With Ian McKellen (2011), Royal Paintbox (2013), Hermitage Revealed (2014) and Revolution: New Art For a New World (2016). Now, she follows up War Art With Eddie Redmayne (2015) with Eric Revilious: Drawn to War, which is released after a 15-year struggle to mark the 80th anniversary of the artist's plane-crash death on 2 September 1942.
Over shots of a young boy sketching in an idyllic country setting, Freddie Fox and Tamsin Greig read from the letters that Eric Ravilious wrote to his wife, Tirzah Garwood. They had met at the Royal School of Art, where he was teaching and she was studying. Granddaughter Ella Ravilious shows off the woodblock depicting Tirzah reading before Alan Bennett extols the virtues of the 1939 watercolour, `Train Landscape', with its view from a third-class carriage of a white horse etched into the hills.
We see childhood sketches of everyday items and learn of the influence of pictures like Samuel Palmer's `The Herdsman's Cottage' (1850) on his style. Curator James Russell and print maker Anne Desmet note the influence of RCA tutor, Paul Nash, whose `We Are Making a New World' (1918) showed the scarred landscape of the Western Front. During a scholarship trip to Italy, Ravilious expressed concern about the rise of Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party and hoped that another conflict could be avoided.
While Tirzah was visiting a palmist on Eastbourne Pier, who warned her she would spend the latter part of her life without her superman husband, Ravilious was accepting a fresco commission at Morley College in London, with Edward Bawden and Charles Mahoney. One wall depicted the rooms in a boarding house, which were based on a doll's house belonging to Tirzah, who can be seen climbing some stairs.
The couple were married on 5 July 1930 and we see cine-footage taken by Tirzah's Uncle John. Her father disapproved of the match, as a retired colonel felt his third daughter could do better than the son of a lightbulb salesman. However, they muddled along in the early years of their marriage, with Ravilious doing lots of woodcut illustrations, as well as paintings like `November 5th 1933 Kensington', which showed fireworks lighting up the sky above their home.
As Ravilious wanted to paint the countryside, the couple moved to Brick House in the Essex village of Great Bardfield, which they shared with Bawden and his wife, Charlotte Epton. Ravilious and Bawden painted portraits of each other and a 1930 picture of the wives sitting in the garden is subtly animated as Tirzah notes in her memoir, Long Live Great Bardfield, how a gentle spirit of competition drove the husbands on.
Daughter Anne Ullmann recalls how industrious they were, while Grayson Perry commends the boldness of a watercolour style that afforded no second chances. We see a number of paintings, but none are titled (how difficult would this be to put right and how frustrating it is for anyone a full appreciation of Ravilious's art). As a former resident of Great Bardfield, Perry is familiar with the views and vouches for their evocative authenticity.
In 1933, Eric and Tirzah spent several months painting a mural in the rotunda tea room at the Midland Hotel in Morecambe. Ella Ravilious highlights her grandmother's talent over shots of drawings like `The Crocodile' and some of her paper marbling designs. The pair also made frequent returns to the Sussex of Ravilious's youth and stayed with fellow artist Peggy Angus at Furlongs on the South Downs.
However, it was here that Ravilious fell in love with Diana Low and Tirzah not only noticed him becoming more critical of her, but also much freer in his painting style. A second dalliance followed with Helen Binyon and, as we see Tirzah's `The Wife', her daughter (who inherited Diana and Helen's letters) opines that her mother tried to ignore the infidelities because a break-up would prove her parents right.
After son John was born in 1935, Eric promised Tirzah that his affairs were behind him and they settled into Bank House in Castle Hedingham. However, he kept returning to the chalk figures on the Downs, as writer Robert Macfarlane reveals, as James Russell points out the inclusion of barbed wire in `The Long Man of Wilmington' (1939). He also came to Oxfordshire for `The Vale of the White Horse' (c.1939) and Alan Bennett contends that Ravilious isn't given sufficient credit because he was a watercolourist. However, he likes being one of his secret admirers.
We see `Cuckmere Haven' and `Beachy Head Lighthouse, Belle Tout' (both 1939) and the woodcut he did for the cover of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanac, a Country Life calendar and some Wedgwood ceramics, including a famous alphabet mug. As he had to earn a living, he was always busy and curator Alan Powers reveals that he destroyed hundreds of pictures, as he shows us how `Muggery Pope' had been pieced back together after Peggy Angus had retrieved it from a bin.
Alan Bennett is amused by the boxiness of the red van in `Wiltshire Landscape' (1937), which Revilious had painted for the Artists Against War and Fascism Exhibition. Tirzah had detected a premonition in the long, winding road seemingly leading to nowhere and this prompted her to welcome a German-Jewish refugee for a short stay.
Artist David Hepher shows off `The Vicarage' and `Vicarage in Winter' (both 1935) and explains how the Ravilious clan had moved in because their pipes had frozen. Perry suggests there is something essentially English about Ravilious, but Bennett dismisses ideas of cosiness, with `Tea At Furlongs' (1939) having a quiet post-Munich despair that brings to his mind the W.H. Auden lines from `The Witnesses': `Something is going to fall like rain / And it won't be flowers.'
War came shortly after the birth of second son, James, and Tirzah commends her husband on his one-man show in London. Ravilious joined the Royal Observer Corps and painted `Observer Corps Hut' (1939). However, as Charles Saumarez Smith recalls, Kenneth Clark set up the War Artists Advisory Committee to make a visual record of hostilities. Ravilious was commissioned as a captain in the Royal Marines in December 1939 and rather enjoyed posing for photos in his uniform and being inspected by King George VI.
Letters home were full of details about painting warships in dock, visiting light vessels and watching mines being disabled in Whitstable Bay. We see `Ship's Screw (Propeller) Railway (Snow' (1940) and hear him asking Tirzah for £5 because his Ministry of Information cheque hasn't arrived. However, he was posted to HMS Highlander and Imperial War Museum curator Robert Rumble explains how he was sent to paint the convoys operating in the Norwegian Arctic.
Artist Ai Weiwei marvels at the fortitude Ravilious showed and the brilliance of the work he produced, as it captures a moment in time with such authenticity. Items like `HMS Ark Royal in Action' (1940) are hugely atmospheric and Tirzah was worried for his safety after seeing newsreels. IWM curator Paris Agar notes his proximity to the sinking of HMS Glorious. Yet, his letters home revelled in the seascapes and the camaraderie, while Tirzah was telling him about bombs falling near to where John and James played.
James Russell opines that Ravilious sought in pictures like `Midnight Sun' (1940) to bring the watercolour tradition of J.M.W. Turner into the 20th century. Robert Macfarlane highlights the disturbing serenity of such pieces, as the depth charge in the foreground is waiting to be fired. Ai Weiwei feels that Ravilious de-dramatises and romanticises his subjects, yet always strives to convey the gravity of the situation. Perry and Bennett concur that he resisted brutalising his style and refrained from producing pure propaganda in pictures like `Leaving Scapa Flow' (1940).
His watercolours struck home at the first National Gallery exhibition in July 1940, although he wrote to Kenneth Clark to ask for some of his contributions to be taken down, as he felt over-represented. On returning to duty, he found himself focussing on submarine interiors. Playwright Julian Mitchell recognises their accuracy from his time in service and we hear letter extracts detailing how Ravilious had to make hurried sketches in confined spaces to keep out of the way.
As the Battle of Britain intensified, Morley College was bombed and the mural destroyed. Ravilious was worried for the safety of his family, as he returned to Britain for `Coastal Defences Newhaven Harbour' (1940). However, the Top Brass were concerned that his images could fall into enemy hands and a number of coastal defence paintings were censored.
Relocating to Dover, Ravilious witnessed the shelling across the Channel and noted scenes like the fishing boat and the yellow tub respectively surrounded by barbed wire in `South Coast Beach' (1939-42) and `Drift Boat' (1941). While he was away, Anne was born and we see her mother's sketch of her sleeping. He writes home about her from May Island, off the coast of Scotland, where he learns that several paintings have been lost aboard a ship taking a propaganda exhibition to South America.
While painting `RNAS Sick Bay Dundee' (1941), Ravilious saw a seaplane crew drown when a training exercise continued rather than rescuing them. He confides a fear of death to Tirzah, who has now moved to Iron Bridge Farm, where she has cut a deal for half of the rent to be paid in Ravilious paintings.
Still in Scotland, Ravilious became obsessed with planes and jokes that he hopes that Paul Nash hasn't stolen his thunder. Pilot Mark Miller comments on the precision of `De-Icing Aircraft' and `Tiger Moth' (both 1942). However, while he is having a ball, Ella Ravilious spares a thought for Tirzah, who is raising three children in a cold farm and having to take what work she can to bring in cash. Moreover, she has been treated for the first signs of the breast cancer that would claim her in 1951. She is a talented artist in her own right, but the scene makes few compromises, especially in a time of emergency.
Anne sympathises with her mother's plight and reveals she had to have an abortion because the doctors feared for her health after having a had a mastectomy. She continued writing, however, and Ella reads a passage in which she hopes a descendant will read her book because it means her children have survived the Luftwaffe. For a spell, Ravilious returned to Essex to be near her. But a desire to emulate the snowscapes of Francis Towne that led him to accept a posting in Iceland.
David Hepher remembers his mother having to break the news of the plane crash to Tirzah. Ravilious was just 39 and was the first British artist to die on active service during the Second World War. It took Tirzah two years to receive her widow's pension. By the time she passed, her husband had already been forgotten and it was only after their children found a stash of paintings under Edward Bawden's bed in the 1970s that his reputation was restored.
Apart from the infuriating lack of labelling, this is a fond and informative profile that should introduce a new audience to the work of a fine and courageous artist. But Kinmonth also pays handsome tribute to Tirzah and the sacrifices that she made during a short and often difficult life. A word might have been said about who raised the orphaned children, but the peeks into Tirzah's war career are fascinating.
Greig and Fox read the passages with a feeling that is complimented by Edmund Jolliffe's piano score. Filming during the pandemic, Kinmonth and her camera crews capture the pastoral beauty of Sussex and Essex, while the close-ups of the paintings do them justice. Gordon Mason's editing is also accomplished. But it's the talking-head contributions that make this so memorable, with Anne Ullmann's unique recollections and Alan Bennett's unassuming insights being the standouts.
I AM ZLATAN & TIGERS.
It's an old gag, but it still has its uses. You wait ages for a biopic about a Swedish footballer and two come along at once. The early years of Zlatan Ibrahimovic - who has already been the subject of the Fredrik and Magnus Gertten's documentary, Becoming Zlatan (2015) - are recalled in Jens Sjögren's I Am Zlatan, while Ronnie Sandahl's Tigers revisits Martin Bengtsson's travails in Italy in the first years of the millennium. Neither film exactly brims with revelation or innovation, but they will keep footie fanatics occupied until the Women's Euros kick off.
Taking inspiration from the autobiography that Ibrahimovic co-wrote with David Lagercrantz, I Am Zlatan opens with a flashback to the Rosengård neighbourhood of Malmö, where 11 year-old Zlatan (Dominic Andersson Bajraktati) shuttles between the houses of his estranged parents, Šefik (Cedomir Glisovic) , a bibulous Bosnian caretaker, and Jurka (Merima Dizdarevic), an emotionally cocooned cleaner. He's disruptive at school and a reluctant team player at football. With his father preoccupied by the civil war in his homeland, Zlatan is often left to his own devices and feed himself from the scraps he finds in the fridge. But Šefik refuses to allow his son to be sent to a special needs school and reminds the principal that his name translates as `golden'.
When his pal, Tony (Mak Kovacevic), is picked up by Malmö FF, Zlatan is frustrated. But he gets a chance with his junior side and scores eight goals off the bench in front of a watching scout. He is warned that he needs to work hard and he hears the same thing from agent Mino Raiola (Emmanuele Aita) when Zlatan (Granit Rushiti) is struggling to impress Ajax coach Ronald Koeman (Gijs Naber). Raiola urges him to ditch the black Porsche and gold watch and knuckle down and floats the prospect of a transfer to Juventus to keep him focussed.
Coach Nils-Åke (Håkan Bengtsson) sticks up for Zlatan after he headbutts a defender during training and even forgives him a stolen bike to lambaste his teammates for raising a petition to have him dropped for refusing to pass. Yet, when it comes to the U-19 championship, Nils-Åke benches Zlatan and he informs siblings Sanela (Lind Haziri) and Keki (Dino Cosovic) that he's been spurned because he comes from a poor part of town.
He hangs with his bad lad pals, but Šefik reminds him how hero Muhammad Ali rose above adversity and he knuckles down to make the Malmö A team. Futhermore, after Raiola had failed to persuade Luciano Moggi (Duccio Camerini) to sign him for Juventus, Zlatan scores a wonder goal for Ajax against NEC Breda and leaves for Italy in the January 2004 transfer window. Real footage of this dazzling run forms part of a closing montage of Ibrahimovic wonder strikes, along with his preposterous 35-yard overhead kick against England in 2012.
Following on from his 2014 migrant saga, Underdog, Ronnie Sandahl's sophomore feature is also based on a football autobiography. However, Martin Bengtsson wrote In the Shadow of San Siro when he was just 19 and had already quit the sport after a torrid time at Internazionale. Having already contributed to the scripts of Janus Metz's Borg vs McEnroe (2017) and Olivia Wilde's forthcoming biopic of gymnast Kerri Strug, Perfect, Sandahl has the credentials to convey the psychological strain of succeeding in elite-level sport. But Tigers never quite delves deeply enough.
Signed at 16 from a small-town Swedish club, Martin Bengtsson (Erik Enge) hopes to make mother Karin (Liv Mjönes) proud, as she has raised him alone for much of his life. At his going-away party, she recalls him crawling home from practices as a young boy because he was so determined to become a footballer. Now, on the verge of the big time, he still drives himself hard and keeps a journal, in which he urges himself to stick to his standards and maintain his focus.
Scolded for eating a boiled egg in the backseat of the taxi taking him to the San Siro, Martin feels bewildered and alone when he signs his contract and poses with an Inter Milan shirt. As he has arrived on a lucrative contract and speaks no Italian, he is ignored at the youth team dormitory and grows frustrated during practice matches because no one passes to him and he can't understand the coach's instructions.
Eventually, he finds a pal when American goalkeeper Ryan (Alfred Enoch) returns from international duty. He teaches him to drive his new sports car on the roof of a multi-storey parking lot and encourages him to be selfish when his teammates freeze him out during a trial game. Consequently, Martin insists on taking a free kick after he's fouled on the edge of the box and earns a few pats on the back when he curls the ball into the top corner.
But Ryan also reminds him that someone will have lost their place in the squad to accommodate him and that more promising players fail to make the grade than succeed.
A case in point is Walter (Antonio Bannò ), who smashes up the breakfast room and covers Martin cereal when he learns he's been released. On a farewell night out to a club (where everything seems to surprise the wide-eyed teen), Walter drunkenly climbs some scaffolding and Martin encourages him to jump in Swedish.
As he turns 17, Ryan treats him to dinner and upsets him by asking questions about his father. His mood dips further when he is benched for a key game against Juventus. Having come on and laid on a goal, he throws down his shirt at full time and expects a rollicking when he is summoned to the office of supremo, Galli (Maurizio Lombardi). He grills Martin about needing hunger to match his talent and he promises to do better in future. But Galli has summoned him to inform him that he's being promoted to the first-team squad.
Martin gets to play in a packed stadium, but contributes little, as the occasion rather passes him by. He lingers on the edge of a goal celebration and gets to sign autographs at the gate. But his look of bewilderment remains throughout and is still there as he sits in his car and scrolls through the messages on his phone. One is from his father (Henrik Rafaelsen) and he steels himself to call back. It's answered by a half-sibling he didn't know he had, but manages to chat hesitantly until his father suggests they meet up and he opens the car door to vomit.
Ryan takes him out to celebrate and he meets Vibeke (Frida Gustavsson ) at a bar. She's been modelling since she was 15 and is slightly taller than Martin, much more mature and thoroughly unimpressed by his profession. As he attempts to make small talk, she teases him about fulfilling an ambition he has had since he was three. When they go for fries, she spins him on a playground roundabout and playfully mocks the paucity of his Italian vocabulary.
By autumn, they are an item. Vibeke is on crutches having bruised her foot and the agency is threatening to drop her. She shows Martin the photo on her phone of a tiger in a Chinese zoo that had attacked a keeper after 20 years in captivity. Shortly afterwards, dormitory security is increased after drugs are found in the grounds and Ryan urges him to keep his mouth shut.
During the next game, he is blamed for losing his man in the box and Coach Panelli (Alberto Basaluzzo) humiliates him by revealing that he was only given 10 minutes in Serie A to boost his value if they have to sell him. He further questions his commitment when Martin follows through on Tonolli (Gianluca Di Gennaro) after he flirts with Vibeke during an open training session.
The situation deteriorates when den father Luca (Lino Musella) catches Martin and Vibeke in a state of undress in the front seat of his car after curfew. Then Ryan is sold to a second-tier Dutch club for the drug offence and he roars at Martin to grow up when he suggests they appeal against the decision. Not long after his departure, Galli pressurises Martin into dumping Vibeke, so that he doesn't blow his chances and return home a failure after being placed No.8 in a Top 100 list of young European players.
More alone than ever, Martin has a dark night of the soul, in which he uses scissors to remove the braces from his teeth and climbs the fence to spend the night clubbing. He feels out of place amongst the revellers, who are shocked his impression of a squealing pig after being told to say something funny during a game of truth and dare. Running into the night in a state of deep distress, he is hit by a truck on the main road.
He's lucky to escape with bruises and broken ribs. But Galli spins a story to the press that he had suffered an epileptic fit while jogging and Martin is so determined to stay at Inter that he goes along with the lie, even though Karin flies in to beg him to come home and start afresh. Undergoing tests, however, he sees the tiger picture from Vibeke's phone and he discharges himself, picks up his belongings and drives away in his car, with a smile creeping across his scarred face.
Ibrahimovic left Juventus for Inter two seasons after Bengtsson had left. He was an established star and scored 57 goals in 88 games before departing for Barcelona in 2009. After three spells, however, he is more associated with AC Milan, where he is still playing at the age of 40. By contrast, Bengtsson had one season with a minor Swedish club after his nine-month nightmare and retired in 2005 to concentrate on his writing.
He is well served by Sandahl's screenplay, although the `based on' tag in the opening credits leaves one to wonder how much fact is actually contained in the storyline. Bengtsson should also feel indebted to Erik Enge, whose intensity suggests much of the inner turmoil that Martin endures at every stage of his Italian odyssey. At times, the dressing-room antagonisms bear a resemblance to those in Marcel Gisler's Mario (2018), which centred on a gay player trying to make his mark while guarding a secret. But Sandahl uses his knowledge of sporting stress to make this much more than a melodrama.
While Marek Wieser's camera is more interested in Enge's eyes than his feet, Åsa Mossberg's editing draws attention to the fact that he's not much of a footballer by limiting the number of shots of him actually kicking a ball. By contrast, Granit Rushiti (who has come through the system at Malmö) looks entirely comfortable slaloming between defenders before hitting the back of the old onion bag. Perhaps some credit has to go to Jens Östberg, who choreographed the on-pitch action. But it's Sjögren who coaxed out the solid acting displays from Rushiti and Dominic Andersson Bajraktati, who capture Ibrahimovic's mannerisms without resorting to impersonation.
Sjögren also owes much to the efforts of Gösta Reiland and Henning Mark for his clipped visuals. But his script rarely attempts to fathom Zlatan's psyche, as he keeps taking advantage of last chances to realise his potential. Consequently, Sjögren's films feels less profound than Sandahl's, while the reverse is true when it comes to footballing authenticity. Taken together, they veritably make a game of two halves that can't quite banish memories of Bo Widerberg's glorious tale of a six year-old superstar, Fimpen (1974), which contained cameos by several members of Sweden's World Cup squad.
Pompo the Cinefile
The Princess (Altitude)
Push (Tull Stories)
Eric Ravilious: Drawn to War (Dartmouth)
Tigers (Studio Soho)
# In Cinemas (24/6/2022)(Reviews of The Big Hit; Manifesto; and Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest)
It's safe(ish) to presume that cinema-going is a thing again. However, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.
THE BIG HIT.
In the mid-1980s, Swedish actor Jan Jönson started a drama workshop at the Kumla maximum security prison. Realising that the inmates spent their days marking time, he introduced them to Samuel Beckett's absurdist classic, Waiting For Godot. A number of films have centred around acting classes behind bars, including Zeina Daccache's documentary, 12 Angry Lebanese (2009), Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die (2012) and David Mackenzie's Starred Up (2019). But Emmanuel Courcol's The Big Hit is the first to take direct inspiration from Jönson's experience.
Unable to convince Conservatoire friend
Stéphane (Laurent Stocker) to cast him at a production in his new theatre, Étienne Carboni (Kad Merad) agrees to run a drama workshop at a prison outside Paris. Warden Ariane (Marina Hands) has had to fight with the authorities to keep the programme going, but Étienne isn't convinced that acting out animal fables does much for prisoner morale.
After getting to know Patrick (David Ayala), Moussa (Wabinlé Nabié), Jordan (Pierre Lottin), Alex (Lamine Cissokho) and Nabil (Saïd Benchnafa), he decides that they would benefit from studying Waiting For Godot because it says so much about their own situation. He casts Moussa and Nabil as Vladimir and Estragon, while Patrick and Jordan chosen for Pozzo and Lucky. The latter is barely literate and worries about Lucky's big speech, but Étienne urges him to stay with the group.
He's unable to prevent Nabil being eased out of the group by Kamel (Sofian Khammes), however, who settles into the role after an initial bout of confrontational cockiness. Russian inmate Boïko (Alexandre Medvedev) also becomes part of the team after he lingers while on a cleaning detail. Indeed, Étienne is so impressed by their progress that he coaxes Ariane into letting him stage the play in Stéphane's theatre in six months time. The presiding judge (Catherine Lascault) has misgivings, but the date is set and rehearsals take on a new intensity.
There are stumbles along the way, with Jordan having to overcome his insecurity, while Kamel wants to bale out as the curtain is about to go up because his young son isn't in the audience. Étienne is also disappointed because daughter Nina (Mathilde Courcol-Rozès) fails to turn up. But the show goes and is so well received that a number of other venues ask to book it, complete with Boiko's unscheduled appearance as a shrouded Godot as the lights go down.
Once again, Étienne and Ariane prevail with the judge and the tour is a success, even though Étienne is unimpressed when they corpse on opening night. However, Patrick is delighted to see his doting wife, Martine (Brigitte Froment), in the audience each night, while Kamal is overjoyed to be reunited with his son on stage. But the trip reminds the inmates of what they are missing and they sneak out of the dressing-room to visit a beauty salon. Étienne keeps the indiscretion from Ariane, but a report is filed by the chief guard (Yvon Martin) after they smuggle a bottle on to the bus and dance naked outside the prison where they are to spend the night.
A year after this incident, the Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe invites the troupe to perform. Ariane is convinced that the judge will refuse to sanction the performance. But it goes ahead, with the judge and the justice minister in the audience. However, the prisoners decide that this is their last chance and they abscond into the Paris night, leaving Étienne to take to the stage to apprise the audience of his journey. He receives a standing ovation that is heard by Kamel when he calls to apologise and hope that Étienne understands their flight.
Closing captions outline how Jönson turned his first night humiliation in Gothenburg into one-man show that caught the attention of Samuel Beckett, who declared it the best thing that had ever happened to Waiting For Godot. Perhaps this would have made a better film than this transposition, which never descends much below the surface, as Courcol and co-writer Thierry de Carbonnières whisk their caricatures between prosceniums and incarceration.
The ever-genial Kad Merad holds things together, but we learn little about his career struggles or the reasons for his estrangement from a daughter who would rather revise for her exams than watch his play. Even less is revealed about the inmates, as though Courcol was scared of losing audience empathy by detailing the crimes for which they were convicted. Consequently, they come across as the butts of culture clash jokes, who are being exploited for not entirely altruistic reasons by Étienne and Ariane (who is revealed to be a divorced lawyer hoping to do more good for the marginalised than defending them against the odds in court).
Marina Hands is typically sincere, while the members of the inmate ensemble do what they can with their sketchy roles. For all the actorly adroitness, however, this feels dramatically formulaic and socio-politically self-satisfied. It's a puzzle, therefore, why it was selected for the Comedy strand at the Covid-cancelled Cannes of 2020.
Writing hours after the Conservatives have lost two by-elections in a single day for the first time since November 1991, it's tempting to wonder how comfortable Boris Johnson would have been feeling at the prospect of meeting Jeremy Corbyn at the Dispatch Box during the next Prime Minister's Questions. But, of course, he is no longer the Labour leader after his mishandling of Brexit and the party's issues with anti-Semitism led to him being replaced by Sir Keir Starmer and stripped of the whip.
How very different things might have been had Corbyn won the last General Election. Had it been held around the time that the Glastonbury Festival crowd was singing his name, he may well have prevailed. But he had become a harder sell by December 2019, despite the enthusiasm for his agenda that Daniel Draper discovered on the streets of Liverpool while making his latest documentary, Manifesto.
As we hear periodic quotations from Robert Tressell's classic socialist text, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, we see Dan Carden and Ian Byrne respectively on the stump in the Liverpool constituencies of Walton and West Derby. With the city budget held down to 63% since 2010 by Tory austerity measures, it should be plain sailing to canvass votes against a government led by a man who has been despised since accusing Liverpudlians of wallowing in a `victim status' in a 2004 article in The Spectator.
Walton is actually the safest Labour seat in the UK, but there's no complacency among activists like Claire Tierney and Michael Hardy at strategy meetings with constituency chair, Lena Šimic, secretary Alan Gibbons and campaign co-ordinary John Whearty. There is a genuine says that this is 1945 Mk2, although the mood is more heated at the gathering attended by Treasurer Tim Jeeves, Over 55s Co-ordinator Ken Dunlop and Office Manager Ian Byrne, as the subject turns to Brexit.
Even before Johnson calls the election on 29 October, open-air meetings and marches have begun in Liverpool in a bid to mobilise support. Amidst autumnal shots of Sefton Park, the news breaks that Stephen Twigg is not going to stand in West Derby and Ian Byrne is shortlisted for the ballot. He has the full support of Women's Officer Maureen Delahunty, as he admits that he's been accused of being too `angry' in his speeches and looking scruffy because he doesn't wear a suit. But his hatred of Johnson and the Tories is heartfelt and this passion connects with core voters.
Byrne secures the nomination by three votes and plans are made for Walton activists to help out in key marginals like Blackpool North and Crewe because their turnout is almost guaranteed. We see Dryden launch the local campaign, as the Anfield crowd is targeted on match day. There's a buzz and a confidence that this is Corbyn's time and that his `decency' will carry the day over Johnson's `cruelty'.
On the streets, Dryden gets the expected mix of support and slating from members of the public. The response is more polite on a quiet estate in Crewe, where the anti-Semitism scandal is dismissed as a few isolated cases. As the polls open, Syed Anwar-ul-Haq and the tele-canvassing team step up their efforts to reassure people that they are not `the only leftie in the village'.
While the count is being scrutinised, news comes in that Jeeves has won a council by-election. We later see Dryden command a 30,000 majority, with Byrne falling short of the same figure by a handful of votes. But both are aware that the tide has turned against Corbyn and that Brexit has mattered more in the so-called Red Wall seats than social issues.
Byrne speaks of the quality of the manifesto, but (despite the film's title), we've heard little about the fine detail of its contents. We also see nothing of Corbyn, whose resignation is consigned to a caption, as his supporters pound the pavements in the cause of peace. At leadership hustings. emotions run high as speakers advocate Rebecca Long-Bailey and Keir Starmer. But work on picket lines and rallies also goes on, until the first Covid lockdown is announced on 16 March 2020. Meetings are held via Zoom until people take to the streets again in June in support of Black Lives Matter, following the racist murder of George Floyd.
On 15 October, Carden resigns from the Shadow Cabinet over the Spy Cops Bill. A fortnight later, the Equality and Human Rights Commission finds 23 instances of `inappropriate involvement' by Jeremy Corbyn's office when dealing with complaints of anti-Semitism. He responded by claiming that the extent of the problem had been `overstated for political reasons' and blamed enemies within the Labour Party and the media.
On 17 November, Corbyn's suspension is rescinded by the National Executive Committee, only for Starmer to withdraw the whip two days later. A month later, Alan Gibbons (who has been vocal in his criticism of Starmer) is suspended without a cited cause. But the fight goes on because it matters to him and his colleagues to be effective on a community basis until they can influence the next manifesto for nationwide change.
Despite losses at the local elections in May 2021, Labour retains almost 50% of the vote in Liverpool. A closing sequence takes us to Robert Tressell's pauper's grave, where everyone vows to learn the lessons from the treachery that toppled a socialist leader and bring about lasting reform. Equally poignant is a caption revealing the death of Tim Jeeves, who seems to have embodied decency more veritably and with more humility than this film's off-screen idol.
Completing the Hope Trilogy started with Nature of the Beast (2017) and The Big Meeting (2019), this is another impressive exercise in agit-vérité by the estimable Daniel Draper. There's a hint of Frederick Wiseman in the way he keeps the camera at the heart of public meetings to capture both dull procedure and impassioned debate with equal fidelity. Moreover, like Wiseman, it's easy to gauge where he stands on the topic he's filming, although his sympathies are often more apparent.
This is anything but thick-ear propaganda, however. While the issues plainly matter, it's the basic impulse of serving the community and improving the lives of those on the lower rings that comes shining through. The members of the Walton branch have an agenda that links Tressell and Corbyn, but they also have a core humanity that transcends politics and should inform every aspect of social-economic life. That is doesn't in the second decade of the 21st century shames us all and makes it even more of a shame that Corbyn allowed hubris to wreck the best chance of transforming Britain since 1945.
CANNON ARM AND THE ARCADE QUEST.
Kim Købke doesn't say much. He prefers to let his fingers do the talking, So, when `Cannon Arm' decided to have a crack at playing the 1983 arcade game, Gyruss, for an unprecedented 100 hours on a single coin, Danish documentarist Mads Hedegaard simply had to be present to cheer on his compatriot. The result is Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest, a charming study of unassuming mastery and geek camaraderie that would make a fine double bill with Seth Gordon's The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007).
With his blonde mullet cascading down his back, 55 year-old chemist Kim Købke is instantly recognisable at Copenhagen's Bip Bip Bar. A taciturn grandfather who has been nicknamed `Kanonarm' since the 1980s, he once set the world record for playing Gyruss for 49 hours straight. Now, in homage to Thomas, the much-lamented friend who took his own life, Kim seeks to go way beyond the current record of 56 hours and embarks upon a fitness regime having been warned of the dangers of going for so long without sleep by his doctor.
While Kim pounds the pavements in preparation for his fourth attempt at the ton, his buddies forge themselves into a support unit to cater for his every need while he's ensconced in a pimped up garden shed. When not competing at poetry slams, Dyst fancies himself as a Puzzle Bobble expert and his pounding will give Kim a sense of arcade normalcy, as Emil keeps him supplied with snacks and Icelandic mathematician Svavar monitors the console during the carefully planned pee and snooze breaks.
Aiding this process is the computer spreadsheet devised by Trier, which keeps count of the lives that Kim accrues by completing levels so that he knows how many he can afford to burn on break and how close he is to the 250 mark, when the game has been known to erase scores on a whim. Keeping an eye on everyone is Carsten, who has devoted his life to analysing the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. However, he also shares Kim's musical tastes and can blast out Iron Maiden's `Run to the Hills' when the mood leads lifting.
Anxious not to get in the way or miss anything significant, the awestruck Hedegaard and co-cameraman David Bauer give editor Mark Bukdahl plenty of angles to convey the energy and tension of what is essentially a static enterprise. Taking the odd swipe at gaming golden boy Billy Mitchell, the film sees nothing wrong with notion that the geek shall inherit the earth and signs off with a touching graveside sequence, as the gang raise a bottle to their fallen friend.