• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (10/9/2021)

(Reviews of The Lost Leonardo; The Collini Case; Copilot; The Bright Side; and The Pebble and the Boy)


Cinemas are open again. But not everyone is going to want to sit in the dark being distracted by the prospect of whether everyone else in the auditorium is still behaving as though the social distancing guidelines are still in place.


Consequently, the streaming platforms seem set to keep up their good work a little while longer. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, therefore, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation will be staying open for business. Whatever choice you make, stay safe.


THE LOST LEONARDO.


Danish documentarist Andreas Koefoed has examined a range of subjects over the last decade. Having gone all strictly in Ballroom Dancer (2011), he shed light on a hushed-up incident over India in 1995 in The Arms Drop (2014) before accompanying five refugees through their first year at a Red Cross school in the small town of Lynge in At Home in the World (2015). But he stumbles across his most sensational story in taking a detour into the art market in The Lost Leonardo, which makes a compelling companion to Oeke Hoogendijk's My Rembrandt (2019).


Alexander Parish is a sleeper hunter, who trawls auction houses looking for misattributed paintings. At a sale in New Orleans in 2005, he finds a `Salvador Mundi' that is billed in the catalogue as `After Leonardo'. However, Parish has a hunch about the picture and calls art dealer Robert Simon, who agrees to pay $1175 for the item, which they have shipped to New York.


In `The Art Game', Parish explains that the face of Christ had been heavily overpainted. But other areas of the canvas appeared to have been untouched since c.1500 and, because Leonardo was known to have painting this subject and fate can do funny things, he and Simon concurred that their find deserved a first-class restoration.


They chose Dianne Modestini, whose 98 year-old Mario had verified `Ginevra de'Benci' (c.1474-98) for the National Gallery in London. He believed it was the work of a great artist from a period after Da Vinci. But, in removing some of the varnish, Dianne noticed a pentimental thumb in the blessing hand that made her think she was not dealing with a copy. She was even more struck by the similarity between the lips of Christ and those of Lisa Gherardini in `The Mona Lisa' (c.1503-06).


While Dianne is convinced and Parish is prepared to accept that the likelihood is as slight as having a spaceship land on a lawn being grazed by unicorns, Jerry Saltz (the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic of New York magazine) is adamant that there is no chance that a sketchily documented Leonardo could turn up out of the blue in a New Orleans auction house. Evan Beard from the Bank of America agrees that the picture would have little value unless it had a certified provenance. Yet, while Simon was able to find a mention of such a painting in the collection of Charles I, he was unable to fill in the many gaps over the intervening four centuries.


As opinion matters as much as fact in the art world, Parish and Simon decided to contact National Gallery curator Luke Syson, who gathered scholars for a viewing in the conservation studio. Among them was Maria Teresa Fiorio from Milan and Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Oxford, who felt it unlikely that a genuine Da Vinci would descend out of the blue.


As Beard notes, there are paintings from the workshop, circle and followers of Leonardo that are regarded with interest by historians. But their values are appreciably lower than those of the master. In judging authenticity, however, academic ego comes into play and Koefoed follows the reasoned recollections of the National Gallery cabal with the reaction of Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, who is astonished that it was labelled as a genuine Leonardo in a 2011 exhibition when its provenance is so murky.


German art historian Frank Zöllner suggests that the untouched parts of the painting were done by a pupil, while the areas that could be by Leonardo's own hand have been so deftly restored by Dianne Modestini that it's now as much her work as his. She scoffs at the accusation, as she is not that good an artist and Da Vinci specialist Jacques Franck agrees that the hands are particularly inept for such a keen student of anatomy.


Undaunted by being dismissed as an idiot by Zöllner, Syson also has a clear conscience when it comes to the fact that his verdict contributed to the painting selling for a world record price. Critic and collector Kenny Schachter condemns the National Gallery for putting the picture on show with a stamp of approval it had no right to issue without wider scrutiny. He puts this down to a cynical decision to exploit the news headlines and rake in some extra cash.


Indeed, as `The Money Game' section of the documentary argues, the art market has become a place for billionaires, oligarchs and rulers to flex their financial muscles. By inviting art dealer Warren Adelson to become a partner in their enterprise, Parish and Simon upped the ante, as none of the galleries to which they offered `Salvator Mundi' could raise the funds to purchase it.


However, Bernd Lindemann, the director of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, refused to contemplate it on the grounds that it was a tainted work that the National Gallery had no right to have shown as an authenticated Da Vinci. Schachter also points out that Leonardo wouldn't have painted on a piece of wood with a knothole that compromises the integrity of the picture. But Dianne dismisses his assertion that it's primarily her work and looks askance at her lovely home outside Florence that she profited from the transaction because she had a share in the picture. While Mario had been a dealer, she has no head for such wheeler-dealing and she states baldly that she received only a generous sum for her conservation work and the authentication process.


Ultimately, `Salvator Mundi' wound up in the hands of Yves Bouvier, a Swiss art dealer and freeport owner, who is introduced atop a unicycle. Art writer Alexandra Bregman finds him an enigmatic character, while investigative journalist Antoine Harai says his backstory is tricky to piece together. Evan Beard links Bouvier to Russian collector Dimitri Rybolovlev, who spends much of his time in Geneva. He saw the Da Vinci and asked Bouvier to acquire it for him, despite the Swiss's efforts to warn him off.


Using Sotheby's as a go-between, Bouvier and a poker-playing pal with a keen eye for body language met with Adelson in Paris, who was relieved to make the sale at $83 million. However, as Harai avers (and Bouvier doesn't deny), he played games with Rybolovlev's adviser, Mikhail Sazanov, and claimed to still be negotiating with the owners who want $125 million for the painting. After an series of e-mails, Bouvier reports that he has swung the deal for $127.5 million and ensures that Rybolovlev knows that he had to use all of his bartering skills to win the day.


London art reporter Georgina Adam is amazed that Bouvier has gotten away with his $45 million mark up. But she is also aware that he has untold art treasures secreted away in his Geneva freeport and former CIA field agent Doug Patteson explains that these secure warehouses are often used for the storage of goods to keep them out of the clutches of national tax authorities because they are considered to be still in transit.


Wittman claims that a love of art has become a front for the furtive transference of money and that the relationship between Bouvier and Rybolovlev was based on greed. They pooled their know-how to operate in the art market and Bouvier earned a billion dollars in selling 37 paintings to the oligarch.


Bouvier's pal, Bruce Lamarche, has no problems with freeports being used to hide art from the public. But Dianne Modestini wishes `Salvator Mundi' could be experienced by genuine lovers of beauty and it worries her that it will never be seen again. However, when the New York Times ran a 2014 article that alerted Rybolovlev to the extent to which Bouvier had fleeced him, he threatened to destroy the Swiss's reputation unless he sold the art collection to recoup his losses.


Schachter finds the situation hilarious because Bouvier hadn't so much defrauded the Russian as taken advantage of his trust to make a profit. However, by using his clout with banks, businesses and auction houses, Rybolovlev succeeded in stymying Bouvier's operations and entangling him in a web of lawsuits from which he has yet to extricate himself.


Meanwhile, Rybolovlev asks Christie's to sell his collection for him and, as a consequence, `Salvator Mundi' goes on the market. Beard explains the shrewdness of branding the picture, `the Male Mona Lisa', in the hope that it could capture the public imagination in the same way that `La Giaconda' had done in 1963, after the Kennedys had charmed André Malraux into lending the painting to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Consequently, Christie's produced a welter of material to forge an emotional bond with the picture and even hired Leonardo DiCaprio to stand awestruck in front of it in a promotional video.


Alison Cole from The Art Newspaper commends Christie's on their efforts and reminds us that they simply had sell at the optimum price rather than engage in debates about authenticity. In order to drum up interest and convince potential buyers they were buying a unique item, Christie's sent `Salvator Mundi' on a world tour that reinforced that this item could secure an historical legacy.


On the morning of the auction in 2017. Beard went on a TV news show and predicted it could sell for a record of over $180 million. However, in the week of the auction, a previously unknown bidder was added to the list and deposited $100 million with Christie's as a gesture of intent. We see several of the contributors rewatching the bidding process, which ended with a winning call of $400 million.


As the world's media reacted, the focus turned on the role of Dianne Modestini and she was trolled amidst a frenzy of accusations from overnight art experts. The most vocal was Jerry Saltz, who not only denied the attribution, but who also declared the picture to be poor quality. She countered by saying he was exploiting the story to boost his own profile and Koefoed allows them to trade erudite insults about each other's motives. But, having put her files about the picture online for people to make up their own minds about her actions and choices, Dianne leaves the director in little doubt with a fixed stare into his lens that she has nothing to reproach herself for.


In the concluding segment, `The Global Game', begins with Wittman and Patteson claiming that the intelligence community was intrigued by the sale and sought to discover who paid the sum, how and why. Journalist David Kirkpatrick was tipped off that the buyer was Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who had also recently bought a yacht and a French chateau while cracking down on cousins who he claimed had defrauded the government. Adding to the oddness of the acquisition was the fact that MBS's branch of Islam forbids the depiction of any of the prophets, which made this a sacrilegious painting.


As no one confirmed these claims, the whereabouts of `Salvator Mundi' remained a mystery until Schachter announced that it was aboard a Saudi yacht, When it docked in the Netherlands, the trail shifted to the Louvre, which was about to host an exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death. Feelers had been put out to secure the picture for the show, but negotiations were proving tricky.


Stéphane Lacroix of the Paris Institute of Political Studies explains that MBS is aware the Saudi is about to lose its oil revenues and needs to find a new way of making money. Hence the building of a tourist site at al-Ulla and a new emphasis on culture. French firms are invited to participate in this transformation and MBS comes to Paris in 2018 to coax Emmanuel Macron's government into accepting `Salvator Mundi' as part of an image-burnishing exercise. The painting is subjected to top secret examination at the museum, but experts like Jacques Franck are appalled that the Louvre is going to give it pride of place when its authenticity cannot be ascertained.


Ultimately, the exhibition opts for a copy and leaves the media to speculate about why the Modestini restoration is not on view. Yet, Dianne is made aware of a Louvre publication that traces the history of `Salvator Mundi' and details the tests that lead the museum to confirm that it is a genuine Da Vinci. When Antoine Harai tries to obtain a copy, he is informed that the volume was linked to the loan. But, as this didn't happen, the books have been pulped and the Louvre is eager for the contents to remain under wraps.


Didier Rykner, the editor of La Tribune de l'art, reveals that the Louvre refused the owner's request to put `Salvator Mundi' in the same room as `Mona Lisa' in order to put it on the same plane as a civilisational masterpiece. Various speakers opine that it will make a grand reappearance at the choosing of MBS, who may even see something of himself in the image. For Dianne Modestini, however, she wishes it was on public display so that she can move on with her life, as `Salvator Mundi' has rather taken it over.


It's hardly earth-shattering news that the art world is riven with tax-dodging charlatans seeking to gain respectability through culture. Who does Andreas Koefoed think commissioned the masterpieces everyone is currently fighting over in the first place? However, he does a solid, if occasionally sneering job of chronicling the scandal that never rocked the art establishment as much as it perhaps should have done, as it was as intrigued as everyone else to see how it all turned out.


No one emerges from the film without some mud sticking to their reputations and that includes some of the more crowing talking heads, who can't resist bigging themselves up as honest brokers in a sea of ordure. It's possible to feel some sympathy with Dianne Modestini, as she is so defiantly insistent that she was just doing her job and honouring the memory of her husband. But the refusal to share the extent of her fee does her few favours, although she and the likes of Luke Syson and Martin Kemp are not helped by the sneaky way in which Nicolás Nørgaard Staffolani edits in reaction shots that may not necessarily have been provoked by the events with which they are juxtaposed. This is particularly shoddy after Koefoed had mocked the Christie's video showing people emoting to a picture they aren't actually looking at.


It's interesting that this level of smugness is only levelled at those on the lower rungs of the power ladder, as Koefoed and co-writers Andreas Dalsgaard, Christian Kirk Muff, Mark Monroe and Duska Zagorac have evidently decided that discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to oligarchs and princes who are not especially renowned for shrugging and moving on when they are slighted.


As was the case with My Rembrandt, the snipes at the rich and powerful are nowhere near as interesting as the artistic detective story and it's a shame that the academic debate is essentially limited to soundbites that don't quite work with Sveinung Nygaard's pseudo-thriller score. There's also far too little news footage from the different strands of the breaking story, with the result that the analysis is always hindsightful in the case of a discourse than can only trade in likelihoods rather than certainties.


Adam Jandrup's photography is commensurate with the slickness of a production that recycles the known with brisk efficiency. But it never quite does justice to the fascinating topics under review, as it's just as guilty of allowing ego to cloud judgement as the head-turned experts it bashes, sorry, exposes when they're not the real villains of the piece.


THE COLLINI CASE.


Few modern writers will have a better insight into the workings of the Nazi mind than Ferdinand von Schirach. The onetime lawyer is the great-grandson of Heinrich Hoffman, who was Adolf Hitler's official photographer, while his paternal grandparents are Hoffman's daughter, Henriette (who served as the Führer's secretary) and Baldur von Schirach, the leader of the Hitler Youth movement who was jailed for 20 years at the Nuremberg Trials for deporting thousands of Jews while acting as the Gauleiter of Vienna.


Combining his historical and legal knowledge, Von Shirach's bestselling novel, The Collini Case, has been adapted for the screen by Christian Zübert, Robert Gold and Jens-Frederik Otto for director Marco Kreuzpaintner, who had made a middling impression with the fantasy saga, Krabat (2008), and the romcom, Coming In (2014), after making such a promising start with the coming out drama, Summer Storm (2004), and the people trafficking thriller, Trade (2007). He makes a decent fist of accessibilising some complex vergangenheitsbewältigung issues. But this courtroom procedural requires more gravitas than flourish and, consequently, it never grips or disconcerts as much as it should.


In 2001, inexperienced lawyer Caspar Leinen (Elyas M'Barek) is assigned to defend Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero), after the Italian is accused of shooting German industrialist Hans Meyer (Manfred Zapatka) and stamping so violently on his head that brain matter was deposited on his shoe. Meyer had been a mentor to Leinen in his youth and his granddaughter, Johanna (Alexandra Maria Lara), considers it a betrayal of their friendship that he has accepted the case.


Law school professor Richard Mattinger (Heiner Lauterbach) urges Leinen to stick to his guns, but progress is slow because Collini refuses to speak. Prosecutor Reimers (Rainer Bock) accompanies Leinen to the autopsy and Johanna uses her funeral eulogy to shame him for being so ungrateful after Meyer had taken a half-Turkish waif into their family. But Leinen's attempt to disbar himself is rejected and he has no alternative but to represent Collini, who seems more interested in the fact that Leinen is estranged from his father, Bernhard (Peter Prager), than he is about justifying his actions.


Mattinger invites Leinen for a day's sailing to coax him into accepting a manslaughter charge in return for a confession. But evidence about the Walther P38 weapon reminds Leinen about seeing such a gun in Meyer's library when he was a boy and he persuades the judge (Catrin Striebeck) to give him four days to visit Collini's home village of Montecatini. Convincing pizza delivery driver Nina (Pia Stutzenstein) to act as his interpreter, Leinen also asks Bernhard to read through the documents he has secured chronicling Meyer's past.


Stunned by what he learns in Tuscany, Leinen recalls Meyer giving him a car for passing his exams. He also flashes back to making out with Johanna in the garage during a blissful summer before her family had been killed in a crash. But he knows where his duty lies when Mattinger and Hannah ask him to suppress evidence about 19 June 1944 in order to protect Meyer's reputation and the future of his company.


Returning the car that Meyer had given him, Leinen introduces historian Karin Schwan (Bettina Lohmayer), who reveals that Meyer (Jannis Niewöhner) had served with the SS in Italy. Reimers is taken aback and Mattinger also pretends to have no prior knowledge of the claim. He also puts Claudio Lucchesi (Sandro Di Stefano) on the stand and he recalls how his father had been forced by Meyer to translate at the reprisal killing of 20 villagers after two Germans had been killed by a Partisan bomb in Pisa.


When Lucchesi mentions the eight year-old Fabrizio trying to intercede on behalf of his father, Collini agrees to testify about how Meyer had restrained him after getting him to pick out his father, who was added to the quota. The courtroom falls silent, as a flashback shows Meyer handing his Walther to an adjutant to finish off Collini's wounded father with three shots to the head.


Yet, when the sitting resumes, Mattinger reveals that Collini and his sister had tried to bring a charge against Meyer in 1969, only to have it rejected, as the tribunal ruled that a war crime had not been committed in Montecatini. When Leinen asks Collini why he hadn't been honest with him, he replies that he had promised his sister that he wouldn't pursue the case as long as she was alive. However, she had died two months before the shooting and Collini insists that he owed it to his father to seek the justice he had been denied.


This prompts Leinen to do more digging and he returns to court to put Mattinger on the stand, as he had been involved in the drafting of the Dreher Law on 24 May 1968 that manipulated the definitions of murder and manslaughter to ensue that those accused of wartime crimes could evade prosecution under the statue of limitations. Initially trying to be flippant to unsettle Leinen, Mattinger eventually agrees that Eduard Dreher, one of the many Nazis to have flourished under Konrad Adenauer's regime, bent the rules to protect his peers and that modern German law should acknowledge the abuse. But, before a judgement can be passed down, Collini commits suicide in his cell and Leinen has a vision of Fabrizio and his father in the street when he attends his client's funeral.


This trite bookend undermines the closing captions revealing how the Dreher Law allowed countless war criminals to remain at liberty. But Kreuzpaintner seems curiously obsessed with such flourishes throughout this otherwise serious-minded drama. The boxing cutaways and the montages of Leinen trying to make sense of the evidence are self-consciously flashy, while the more over-emphatic flashbacks to 1944 feel as if the producers had decided to get as much wear out of the Nazi uniforms as possible after having gone to the expense of getting them made.


Josef Sanktjohanser's production design is as effective as Jakub Bejnarowicz's fluid photography. But Johannes Hubrich's editing often feels as gauche as Ben Lukas Boysen's score. Yet, if the script meanders in places - the subplots involving Johanna's dead brother, Leinen's suddenly useful father and the pizza girl in the short skirt feel somewhat extraneous - the standard of the acting is uniformly good.


Elyas M'Barek is particularly good as the rookie lawyer whose loyalties keep being torn, while Franco Nero is the model of reticent dignity, as he allows the law to take its course. The dependable Alexandra Maria Lara plays the class card with haughty elegance, while Heiner Lauterbach revels in the opportunity to smug it up as the professor who seeks to subvert justice by arranging for a ex-student he doesn't rate to handle a potentially combustible case.


The Dreher Law most certainly doesn't ranks among the Bundestag's finest hours and Von Schirach's condemnation of it clearly comes from a deeply personal place. It's a pity that Kreuzpaintner opted to use such clichéd gambits in exploring it.


COPILOT.


German director Anne Zohra Berrached has made a solid impression on the festival circuit with Two Mothers (2013) and 24 Weeks (2016). She's set to reach her biggest audience to date with Copilot, a fictionalised account of the relationship between Turkish student Aysel Sengun and the Lebanon-born Ziad Jarrah, who would go on to pilot United 93, the plane that crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on Tuesday 11 September 2001.


Asli Bilgin (Canan Kir) first sees Saeed Awad (Roger Azar) in the mid-1990s when he chickens out of a fairground ride. They meet again at university over a game of spin the bottle, in which he confesses to regretting studying dentistry because Germans never smile. On a trip to the beach, Saeed coaxes Asli into having a dip and she calls him `Horsey' as he carries her on his shoulders. She squeals when he dumps her into water and they kiss.


During their first year together, Asli discovers Saeed's ambition to become a pilot, even though his mother disapproves. They play around with Asli being the wings and co-pilot and soon decide to get married. While his family is delighted, however, her mother, Zeynep (Özay Fecht). so detests Arabs that she forbids the union. Affronted at being snubbed, Saeed chases after Mrs Bilgin on the campus to protest that he is just as good a Muslim as she is and Asli is mortified at having placed them all in such a predicament.


Up to this point, Saeed had been as secular as Asli and she is surprised when he starts spending more time at the mosque. Similarly, when his friend Fares (Nicolas Chaoui) gets married, Saeed uses his speech to voice his support for the Palestinian cause and Asli is hurt when he pushes her away when she tries to make love on the beach at dawn.


Two years into the relationship, Asli and her tabby cat Horsey move into a flat next to a brothel, whose blue light flashes through her window. She has promised her mother that she has stopped seeing Saeed and is concentrating on becoming a medical researcher, but he keeps in touch from Hamburg, where he is studying aeronautical engineering.


Embarrassed when Asli comes on a surprise visit and his roommates mumble about whether her smoking is `makruh' (offensive) or `haram' (forbidden), he suggests they should split up because he wants a family that her mother would never permit. However, she proposes they get married and they have a clandestine ceremony, in which she promises to be a dutiful wife and keep her husband's secrets. The next morning, though, she is taken aback to find Saeed praying when she wakes up.


Now into their third year together, Asli supports Saeed when he gets into an argument with Fares's family about taking a loan with interest to sustain his restaurant. Her best friend, Marisa (Gina Stiebitz), is confused when Asli fails to defend her after Saeed denies that his views are anti-Semitic. But she is aware of her vows to be loyal to her husband. Thus, when she discovers that he is going to Yemen and needs her to trust him and tell no one of his whereabouts, she agrees.


He arranges for her to visit his family in their enormous house on the outskirts of Beirut. But the warm welcome from mother Suleima (Darina Al Joundi) quickly cools when Asli refuses to betray Saeed's trust and it's only when she is woken in the night by a vision of herself that she shows his parents a letter from Yemen and they are furious with her from withholding the information. However, she is as much in the dark as they are and a trip to Hamburg yields no clues.


Some time into the fourth year, Saeed returns. Asli refuses to let him in, but he sweet talks her and she is concerned when she sees the wound on his shoulder. He tells her nothing about what he has been doing, but promises that he is going to re-train as a pilot and leave the past behind him. She is scared when a man comes to the door and argues with Saeed in the corridor. But he assures her that he has changed and even shaves off his beard, even though he still disapproves of her drinking and smoking. Just as they are playing happy families with three imaginary children around a new kitchen table, however, Saeed drops the bombshell that he has been accepted by a flying school in Miami.


Fares is surprised his friend has gone to Florida, as he had started cursing the US as the Great Satan. But, during their fifth year together, Asli flies to see him and is pleased to find him looking fit and relaxed. She doesn't ask who is paying for the course, but goes along for the ride when he takes her up in a small plane. He tells her about the people of Melanesia who had believed that the planes dropping rations for US soldiers during the Second World War had come from the gods and she agrees with him that anything is possible in their blissful future.


On the morning of an operation on her throat, Asli gets a call from Saeed. He tells her he loves her, but she has to go into theatre. When she comes round, everyone on the ward is watching TV coverage of 9/11 and she hurries home to see if Saeed has left a message. She goes to the nearest police station so she has witnesses to a call to Saeed's flying school and she listens aghast as she is informed that her husband is probably dead after having flown one of the attack planes.


Her mother shows Asli little sympathy and accuses her of knowing nothing about her husband. Deciding to apply for witness protection, she signs for a parcel that Saeed had mailed on 10 September. She refuses to keep the mementos he has included and only reads his letter of devotion and gratitude in the lift. As she pauses to reflect, the four parts of her reflection in the mirrored wall turn to look at her with expressions that could be pity, empathy or judgement.


Although the closing image feels somewhat twee, this is a considered speculation on the evolution of a relationship between a fundamentalist convert who commits an audaciously shocking act of terror and the wife who has to deal with the wider ramifications and her own recollections. Yet, for all its sensitivity and insight, it never quite convinces, either as a film à clef or as a snapshot of a time and place.


Writing with Stefanie Misrahi, Anne Zohra Berrached strives to show how an intelligent woman could be cowed into self-deception through a combination of socio-religious tradition, cultural conditioning and blind devotion. Yet, despite the exhaustive research and an empathetic performance by Canan Kir, Berrached suggests too little of the emotional turmoil, conflicted curiosity and creeping fear that Aysel Sengun must have experienced as her spouse's behaviour became ever more unpredictable and furtive.


The fact that Saeed's radicalisation necessarily occurs off screen poses problems for Roger Azar that Berrached struggles to solve. Remaining something of a cipher, he veers between stubbled charm, clean-shaven penitence and bearded chauvinism without being able to reveal anything more about his personality or beliefs than Asli is permitted to see. Azar and Kir are also hampered by the decision to improvise much of the dialogue, although the watchfulness this reinforces the sense that Saeed and Asli never really know each other and were bound together more by passion than mutuality.


Jessica Schimmelbauer's production design capably highlights the differences between Asli and Saeed's backgrounds, while Christopher Aoun's camera switches between establishing shots showing Asli as forever being out of place in her surroundings and close-ups of the passivity that she has to adopt to avoid upsetting Saeed and giving too much away to his family and friends. As Evgueni and Sacha Galperine's score contends. this is a desperately sad story on so many levels. But we never really get to see what the compliant wife is thinking, whether she's defying her mother, trusting her husband or fooling herself.


THE BRIGHT SIDE


Although it draws on Anne Gildea's memoir, I've Got Cancer, What's Your Excuse?, Ruth Meehan's feature debut, The Bright Side, also reflects the dedication to `Alacoque & Mago and warrior women everywhere,', as the cited are the 56 year-old's younger sister and close friend, who were lost to cancer far too young.


First seen impersonating Marilyn Monroe in an audition tape for a toilet roll commercial, thirtysomething stand-up Kate McLoughlin (Gemma-Leah Devereux) has something of a death wish. Consequently, she needs goading by her brother, James (Kevin McGahern), into undertaking a course of chemotherapy after an X-ray following a trampoline fall reveals a lump in her left breast.


Having won a prescription pad in a card game at the comedy club, Kate falls foul of pharmacist Andy Bourke (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) when she tries to get a bumper supply of sleeping pills. However, he proves friendlier after her diagnosis and recommends fly fishing as a form of exercise, as it had helped his wife during her illness. Kate learns about her demise from the other members of her chemo group: haughty housewife Fiona McKenna (Karen Egan), abrasive university graduate Tracy Dunne (Siobhan Cullen), religious pensioner Róisín O'Sullivan (Barbara Brennan) and the kindly 50 year-old Helen Richards (Derbhle Crotty), who wishes she hadn't waited until she was 43 before coming out.


As the youngest and angriest member of the quintet, Tracy takes an instant dislike to Kate, while Róisín disapproves of her remarks on religion. But the ever-positive Fiona and the empathetic Helen rally round after an interview on national radio ends in troubling silence when she's asked to confront her illness without the jokes. Róisín forgives the cracks about Catholicism because she knows Kate is putting on a brave face while fighting for her life. Even Tracy becomes a pal after they remove their wigs in front of a prissy pair in a washroom and Kate fools around with lipstick during a make-up lesson at the hospital.


Just as everyone is getting along, however, Kate puts her foot in it after Tracy has her breasts removed and she tries to save the situation by suggesting a fly-fishing expedition with Andy's Casting For Confidence charity. When the time comes, she's not in the mood, as the doctor has insisted on removing her breast, even though the tumour is shrinking and Helen has to talk her down from the roof of the clinic.


Once at the lough, however, Kate enters into the spirit and has a chat about her love life with Róisín and mock-sings `One Day At a Time' while smoking a joint with Tracy, who lost her mother when she was young and dotes on her father, whereas Kate detests her late father and keeps mother Liz (Elizabeth Moynihan) at a Skyping distance. In the dorm that night, everyone gets tipsy and even Fiona joins in the conversation about oral sex before Róisín bursts into tears at the end of an impromptu dance session and wonders how her husband will cope without her.


Having taught Tracy to float, Kate loses a bet with Andy that she can''t keep quiet for 10 minutes. They tumble into bed together after a group outing to the pub, but he's still grieving for his wife and Kate winds up hating herself for having a quickie with the pub landlord. As dawn breaks, she wades into the lough and fights with Tracy when she tries to stop her throwing away a chance at recovery that she knows she might not have.


Sullen silence reigns in the minibus on the way back to Dublin and, as she always does, Kate channels her pain into her comedy. She argues with her brother over her refusal to have a mastectomy before being whisked to a nursing home by Fiona to sit with Tracy. She says dying feels like floating and that's what Kate does when she cycles off the promenade in furious despair and sobs in the sea at the knowledge that she has to fight on.


A montage shows her preparing for her operation. She sends Andy the pink feather earring he had so much admired and he uses it for a lure, as Kate joins him, Fiona, Helen and Róisín on the banks of the lough. As they chatter, she shushes them with Andy's quotation from the Persian poet Rumi about silence being the language of the gods and everything else being a poor translation.


It's a touching way to end a film of great sincerity and humanity, and no little wit and wisdom. The romance between Kate and Andy doesn't work at all, in one of the few missteps taken by Meehan and co-scenarist Jean Pasley. But, even though it implies that Kate's will to survive has been bolstered by the love of a good man, it doesn't spoil things too much and it's good to see the rest of the gang beside them on the shore.


The support playing is admirable, with Karen Egan, Barbara Brennan, Derbhle Crotty and Siobhan Cullen deftly creating fully fleshed characters from the sketchy outlines in the script. For once, it's the male characters who aren't so well written, with both James and Andy being ciphers. But Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Kevin McGahern do their bit in playing off Gemma-Leah Devereux, who excels as the cynical, aggressive and frightened woman confronted with the prospect that she may not get to choose the time of her departing.


Whether delivering her deadpan comic monologues, shaving her head and adopting a range of coloured wigs, spewing insults at the latest person to pee her off, having three-way conversations with her breasts, or providing Fiona with a shoulder to cry on when she suspects her husband is having affair, Devereux makes Kate mesmerisingly credible, frustratingly flawed and furiously alive.


Abetted by cinematographer J.J. Rolfe, editor Colin Campbell and composer Stephen Rennicks, Meehan eschews sentimentality and judges her tonal shifts with quiet assurance for a first-timer. Moreover, she can be justly proud of having honoured the memory of her sister and friend with a pugnacious celebration of sisterly solidarity that will provide solace and hope to thousands of women, as well as those who care for them.


THE PEBBLE AND THE BOY.


Having made progress with Me, Myself and Di (2021) after debuting with the execrable Strangeways Here We Come (2018), Salford director Chris Green takes a step sideways with The Pebble and the Boy. Clearly in thrall to Quadrophenia (1979), this mediocre Mod fodder can take heart from the fact that it's considerably better than Ray Burdis's To Be Someone (2021), another wallow in scooter nostalgia that reunited several members of Franc Roddam's cast.


When his father Phil is killed by a bus, 19 year-old Mancunian John Parker (Patrick McNamee) decides against selling his souped-up Lambretta to Gary (Mani) and defies mother Dawn (Christine Tremarco) by riding to Brighton to scatter the ashes. On breaking down near Stoke, John is grateful to Phil's pal Geoff (Stuart Wolfenden) for repairing his machine. But he has no intention of returning home and is joined on his mission by Geoff's rebellious daughter, Nicki (Sasha Parkinson), who has found two tickets for a Paul Weller gig in the pocket of John's parka.


Having been given free board in a biker pub by the teasingly friendly Zack (Rick S. Carr) and Dionne (Emma Stansfield), a chastened John is set to head north. But Nicki steals the urn and persuades him to strike out for Woking, where one of his dad's mates will be able to help them. Ronnie (Ricci Harnett) and Sonia (Patsy Kensit) are more than happy to give them a loan. However, they insist on disaffected son Logan (Max Boast) travelling with them.


A drunken night's dancing ensues, with Ronnie revealing himself to be a short-fused loser, while Sonia makes a play for John because he reminds her of his father. Nevertheless, Ronnie gives the teens some folding and they fetch up in Sussex after John overcomes another bout of doubt when Dawn calls to say that Phil would be proud of him. At the coast, however, he becomes separated from Nicki and Logan, who spend a night in a hotel, while John crashes in a boat on the beach.


Accompanying Nicki to a clothes shop, John sees a framed Brighton Argus cover story about Mods riding in protest against Margaret Thatcher. The owner knew Phil and gives John a parcel and sends him to the Argus office to get a copy of the paper. However, the clerk can only find a report about Phil being jailed for four years for assault and John is crushed to learn that the man he had idolised was a thug.


While Logan finds himself a girlfriend, John gets a lesson in Mod/Rocker relations from 60s survivor, Danny (Brian Croucher). He also rescues Nicki from some unwanted attention and the absolute beginners sleep together. The next morning, they follow a tip-off about the fishing museum and meet Ali (Jesse Birdsall), who remembers Phil with fondness and reassures John that he got his limp because Ronnie pushed him down some steps and Phil took the blame out of loyalty to his crew.


Relieved to hear that his father was the stand-up guy he remembered, John passes on the Weller tickets to some die-hard fans and scatters the ashes. Taking his leave of Logan, who has decided to stay with Mel (Charlotte Tyree), he fires up the Lambretta to head home wearing the Mod boating blazer that Phil had bought for him.


It's hardly a grand finale, but it does the job and that's very much par for this particular course. Green directs steadily from a self-penned screenplay that offers few memorable moments and even fewer surprises. However, the encounter with the hairy biker and his Welsh wife amuses as much as the contretemps with rabid Ronnie and vampish Sonia doesn't.


Running the gamut between callow and sulky, Patrick McNamee makes a lightweight hero who is upstaged at every turn by Sacha Parkinson. For all her blonde-fringed vivacity, however, it's consistently clear that a bloke created this northern variation on the manic pixie dream girl caricature. The supporting performances are a mixed bag, as are the selections on the soundtrack. But Max Williams's images of the passing scenery and the Mod fettishery are unfussily efficient and Green can take satisfaction that he's one step further away from Strangeways.

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