• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (11/2/2022)

Updated: Feb 13

(Reviews of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy; Petrov's Flu; The Justice of Bunny King; The Strange Pursuit of Laura Durand; and The Dance)


Cinema-going may not be the most straightforward pastime at the moment. But it's possible to see the latest releases on the big screen, providing you meet the venue's admission criteria and have your mask and vaccination status at the ready.


If you prefer to avoid this rigmarole, 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. Whatever choice you make, think of others to make sure everyone stays safe.


WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY.


With his nomination for Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi became only the third Japanese film-maker to be listed for Best Director at the Academy Awards. However, he was best known for the 317-minute Happy Hour (2015) and the Tomoko Shibasaki adaptation, Asako 1 & 2 (2018), when he released Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, a loosely linked short story triptych that won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.


In `Magic (or Something Less Assuring)', fashion model Meiko (Kotone Furukawa) takes a cab home from a shoot with her assistant, Tsugumi (Lee Hyunri). She is excited because she has just met a new man and Meiko presses her for details of their first date. They had been in e-mail contact over a business proposal before meeting and they had wound up spending 15 hours together.


Although she disapproves of sex on a first date, Tsugumi admits she was tempted and was rather relieved that her companion suggested they should wait. She was also touched by his honesty, as he realised a special bond was forming between them, but felt insecure having been betrayed by his adored ex. Meiko compliments her on glowing with happiness and hopes that the second tryst goes well.


However, something has been bothering her and, having dropped Tsugumi off, Meiko has the cab head back into the city. She drops into the office where Kazuaki (Ayumu Nakajima) is working late and explains to her old flame that he has had quite an impact on her best friend. He is furious with her and orders her to leave. But Meiko refuses to let him off the hook when he insists she has no right to interfere because she cheated on in order to satisfy her curiosity about having sex with a rich man.


As much to protect Tsugumi as to wreak any revenge, Meik goads Kazuaki into admitting that he still loves her. She concedes that she has a habit of hurting those close to her, but recognises that Tsugumi might just be right for him. They laugh when he jokes about having felt at times like a human dildo and they are in the middle of an embrace when Kazuaki's assistant returns unexpectedly to collect her laptop.


Meiko scurries away and Kazuaki is persuaded not to follow her by his assistant, who scolds him for two-timing the woman he has been telling her about. Three days later, Kazuaki walks past the café window where Meiko and Tsugumi. She beckons him inside and introduces him, only for Meiko to admit to being his former girlfriend and declare her undying love.


A distraught Tsugumi hurries off, with Kazuaki in hot pursuit, as the camera zooms in on Meiko covering her face with her hands. As it retreats, however, the camera resets the scene and Meiko leaves the lovebirds together (although Kazuaki seems tense as he suggests they go somewhere else). Wandering into a building site, Meiko takes a picture with her phone and the camera rises up to a low-hanging branch covering the tops of the nearby towerblocks.


Five months after Sasaki (Shouma Kai) prostrates himself to persuade Segawa (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) to give him a passing grade in `Door Wide Open', he is dismayed to learn that the professor has won a prestigious literary award for his latest novel. Bedmate Nao (Katsuki Mori) likes the book, even though she sympathises with Sasaki for missing out on his dream media job because Segawa had flunked him.


A married mother who doesn't fit in with the other women in her class, Nao allows Sasaki to talk her into honeytrapping Segawa in his office. He remembers teaching her French and inquires how she is doing. Producing his book from her bag, Nao asks Segawa to autograph a page about the hero having his testicles shaved that she proceeds to read. When she closes the office door, however, Segawa edges past her to open it again.


Sitting beside her at a desk, he confesses that he may well have been erect when he wrote the passage. But he is more curious to know why she wanted to read that segment aloud. Nao confesses to being weak when it comes to sex and wonders whether she should see a counsellor about her low resistance to temptation. However, she is so touched by his concern that she comes clean about trying to record him saying something inappropriate.


Rather than being angry, however, Segawa is intrigued by Nao's behaviour. He also asks whether he can keep her recording because he has never heard anyone recite his prose so sensually. She is surprised when he declares her to be a woman of remarkable intelligence and sensitivity, as she is so used to being an outsider who is easily dismissed. Close to tears, Nao agrees to send Segawa a copy of their conversation if he consents to masturbating to her reading his text.


She leaves after he agrees and is in the middle of e-mailing the files when her husband and child get home. Five years later, Nao bumps into Sasaki on the bus. He has become an editor at a leading publishing house and asks for her card because she works as a proofreader. She bridles when he jokes about her sending the voicemail to the university administration office by mistake and wonders what Segawa has been doing since he was forced to resign.


As the scandal prompted her divorce, Nao isn't willing to discuss the matter. But she asks Sasaki to make amends by commissioning a novel from Segawa that she can proof. He refuses with a sneer, but he's left wondering what Nao will do next when she slips him her card and gives him a passionate kiss before getting off the bus.


A caption at the start of `Once Again' informs us that the world was forced to return to snail mail and telegrams in 2019 after the Xeron computer virus crashed the system. As a consequence, Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) received a postal invitation to the 20th reunion of her class at Miyagi Girls' High School. She remembers no one there and is musing on how unpopular she was back in the 1990s when someone from her art class spots her and comments on how conventional she has become.


Having spent the night crying in her hotel room, Natsuko consoles herself with a dish from her favourite café before heading to Sendai Station to go home. On the escalator, she recognises Aya (Aoba Kawai), who seems delighted to see her and invites Natsuko to spend the afternoon at her place (as she has to wait in for a delivery).


As they chat on the walk home, Aya reveals that she has two teenage children and Natsuko laments that she lost her job in IT because of the virus. But it's when they settle down to tea that Aya confesses that she can't remember Natsuko's name and, when she expresses her dismay, it transpires that she has mixed up Aya with a classmate named Yuki.


Aya is embarrassed to have panicked herself into making a connection with a stranger, but Natsuko is crushed because she had been Yuki's lover and had hoped to see her again after they had lost touch following her marriage. She tries to leave, but Aya senses her distress and urges her to stay until she feels better.


Realising that Natsuko had set her heart on her being Yuki, Aya offers to role play her so she can explore her feelings. Natsuko recalls how hurt she felt when she caught Yuki with a man and Aya confides that she found her husband's e-mails to his high-school sweetheart and was too charmed by their sincerity to let herself by hurt by his cyber-infidelity.


Letting herself accept Aya as Yuki, Natsuko tells her that she regrets being so understanding about her treachery and wishes she had let her know how badly she had been hurt. She hopes that Yuki has an emptiness deep within her that only she can fill and Aya is about to console her when her son gets home from school.


Natsuko makes her excuses, but Aya insists on walking her to the station. As they stroll, Natsuko asks about the girl she had been mistaken for and Aya recalls lunchtimes at the piano with a classmate she never spoke to outside the music room. She regrets not being able to remember her name, but knows she enjoyed their time together.


On an impulse, Natsuko suggests they pretend to bump into each other again. But, this time, she will play Aya's mystery girl. They clasp hands at the top of the elevator and Aya enthuses about being able to tell her long-lost friend how important she had been all those years ago. She also reveals that she has wasted chances she might have taken and wishes she could stop feeling as though she is slowly being killed by time.


In character (but also speaking for herself to Yuki), Natsuko takes over and thanks Aya for making her feel special when everyone else had spurned her. They part with beaming smiles. But, halfway down the elevator, Aya remembers the name Nozumi and comes rushing after Natsuko to tell her how happy she is that they met and to embrace her for helping her relive a cherished moment.


Sparsely populated and often confined to enclosed spaces, this triptych often feels like a project that was completed in the face of Covid. In fact, the first two vignettes date from 2019, with only the third being filmed after Japan's first lockdown emergency, hence Hamaguchi using the Xeron bug to comment on how dependent people became on the Internet during the pandemic.


Linked with elegant snippets of Robert Schumann piano music and with the Japanese title translating as `Coincidence and Imagination', this often has the feel of one of Éric Rohmer's Moral Tales or Comedies and Proverbs. Yet, it also brings to mind the work of South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, while also owing much to Hamaguchi touchstone, John Cassavetes. Although the conversations have been workshopped, they are largely scripted and the long takes makes them feel as though they have been eavesdropped rather than staged.


The performances in all three stories are admirable, with Kotone Furukawa and Lee Hyunri's gossipy girl talk in the back of the taxi getting things off to an engaging start. However, Furukawa's showdown with Ayumu Nakajima feels more contrived, as she blames him for giving the magic moments she had craved to another woman. The false ending also jars, despite the neatness of the zoom device.


The bookending encounters between Shouma Kai and Katsuki Mori emphasise the central segment's convolutions. But the latter's interaction with Kiyohiko Shibukawa seethes with tension, as his impassive reaction to Mori's inexpertly tentative attempts at luring him into a compromising situation becomes increasingly difficult to read.


But it's the concluding chapter that proves the most engrossing, as Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai make the most of a misunderstanding to unburden themselves of the emotions that have been hamstringing their lives. The premise is straight out of one of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected, but it's beautifully played by Urabe and Kawai, as they gratefully grasp the closure made possible by their mutual compassion.


Once more placing his faith in the power of communication and revisiting his pet preoccupations with fate and duality, Hamaguchi directs with a detached deftness that belies the precision of each shot, as he switches between modes of transport and the contrasting interiors designed by Masato Nunobe. Yukiko Iioka's camera observes with a discretion that gives the cast the space in which to explore their characters. By all accounts, this was conceived as a seven-parter. But, even though this is hardly Hamaguchi most substantial offering, few would complain if the other four tales found their way into a companion piece at some point in the near future.


PETROV'S FLU.


Following a 20-month period of house arrest after he was speciously accused of embezzling funds from his own non-profit Seventh Studio organisation, Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov returns to the screen with Petrov's Flu. An energetic paean to liberty and a well-aimed swipe at abusers of authority, this adaptation of Alexei Salnikov's novel, The Petrovs In and Around the Flu, may prove a little too scattershot for those who admired The Student (2016) and Leto (2018). But it reveals a director who refuses to be cowed by the bullies who tried to silence him.


As Yekaterinburg approaches New Year in the grip of a flu epidemic, comic-book artist Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is hauled off a crowded bus full of passengers longing for the Soviet era to join a firing squad shooting a group of besuited prisoners. Or is he?


He seems unperturbed as he travels on and witnesses an old man being thrown off the vehicle for speaking inappropriately about child brides to a nine year-old girl. As the other passengers grumble about freedom of speech, Petrov is removed from the bus by his neighbour, Igor Artyukhin (Yuri Kolokolnikov), posing as an FSB agent. They drink vodka in the back of a hearse and complain about how the country has gone to rack and ruin. But Petrov is reluctant to give Igor his phone number, as he knows he's trouble.


Meanwhile, Petrov's ex-wife, Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova), supervises a poetry reading at the library where she works. She imagines having torrid sex between the shelves before calling to check that her young son (Vladislav Semiletkov) has got home safely. When a fight breaks out over the length of a poem, Petrova whales the tar out of the instigator before popping her glasses back on to her nose with bloodied hands. When asked if she boxes, she shrugs and claims she picked up some tips from the movies.


Meanwhile, Petrov and Igor have fetched up at the home of Viktor Mikhailovich (Aleksandr Ilyin), who is raging about the conflict with the Muslim world being ridiculous because all religions have been fabricated since Antiquity. He also denounces the concept of democracy and declares a random individual should be plucked from obscurity to rule, as the notion that the majority can't be wrong is ridiculous.


Momentarily, Petrov is plucked from the room by a childhood memory of Vitya's sister, Marina (Yulia Peresild), being dressed as the Snow Maiden and leading him to a party with Father Frost. Yanked back to reality, he takes a painkiller with an expiry date of 1977, as Igor boasts that his initials spell the word `Hades'.


Petrova gets home to find her son playing a computer game. The TV news is running a story about a murdered security guard and Petrova watches for a while before preparing supper. Her son steals a titbit and she accidentally cuts his finger with a knife. In her mind, her eyes black over and she slits the boy's throat. But she snaps back into reality and hides all the knives in a drawer.


Across town, Petrov's friend, Sergei (Ivan Dorn) has a manuscript turned down by an editor who would rather be at the company's festive party. Sharing a lift with an old women's choir (at the start of an 18-minute sequence shot), Petrov feels Sergei's pain - until he reads a story in which he is depicted having a crush on the hunky garage mechanic he hoses down after his shift. He's even less well disposed towards him when he claims that nobody would care if Petrov was alive or dead.


So, when Sergei announces that his only chance of becoming a great writer is to commit suicide, Petrov accedes to his request to push his finger on the trigger and proceeds to burn his manuscripts in a gas explosion. Or does he? As we see Petrov waking up in the front seat of a van, with no idea how he got there.


By the time he pays a visit to Petrova, she has been out to stab a man she has followed on to a factory minibus. She finishes him off in the playground in front of a high-rise estate and his body slips down the children's slide, as she puts the blade back into the pocket of her green coat. This spews out blood when the washing-machine goes into a rinse cycle, while Petrov is taking a shower.


The doctor has just called to check on their son, who has developed a fever. He wanders in on his parents having sex and his mother ushers him out of the room. She has just told Petrov that the security guard who was killed had borrowed books on De Sade and the Nazi concentration camps and deserved to die. But he doesn't connect her with the crime.


Wandering out of the bedroom in a post-coital daze, Petrov tries to work on his comic-book, but has a reverie about being dressed in an itchy red jumper by his naked mother (Varvara Shmykova) and father (Ivan Ivashkin) for a walk through the snow to the bus stop.


Worried about her child's fever, Petrova tells Petrov to call an ambulance. He gets lectured by the operator for wasting the time of the emergency services and notices that his voice is in sync with the pair of false teeth that he had picked up when the old man had been ejected from the bus. Unwilling to go to the pharmacy after dark, Petrova gives her son the ancient aspirin that Vitya had given him and promises he can go to the New Year party if he recovers.


Petrov becomes concerned that the fever has worsened and he rushes his son down to the car. It breaks down en route to the hospital and he has to carry the boy in his arms. He is stopped in his tracks by a bright light, which seems to sweep the child up into the air, as if he was being abducted by aliens. Or is he?


Relieved that this has only been a dream, Petrov checks on his son. He thinks back to the nightmare he endured at the New Year party when his mother hadn't made him a costume and he kept being teased for being dressed as an ice hockey player without a helmet. The Snow Maiden had been kind to him, as had one of the small girls in a snowflake costume. But he had been miserable and his mother's hectoring attempts to make him have fun had only made things worse.


On waking, Petrov hears Petrova and her son arguing about whether he's fit enough to go to the party in his Sonic the Hedgehog costume. Leaving the boy to enjoy himself, Petrov mingles with some parents in the foyer. Igor finds him and he winds up being smothered by Vitya before being bundled into the back of the hearse. He manages to get away, however, and helps his son change out of his costume. They play catch with Sonic's spiky head in the underground car park and Petrova (who has just put her green coat in the wash again) lets out a howl of anguish as the camera looks down on her crouching in a corner.


A monochrome flashback to 1977 shows Petrov's childhood friend, Sasha (Yuri Borisov), meeting Marina (Yulia Peresild) at a party. She is Vitya's sister and was the Snow Maiden who held Petrov's hand at the party. When she meets Sasha's parents, she declares her intention to move back to Nevyansk and has to be talked into staying and playing the Snow Maiden at the party Sasha is organising.


She also starts giving English lessons to a very mature teenager named Igor and quickly begins sleeping with him. When she gets pregnant, she can't bring herself to tell Sasha on the day of the party and calls her mother from the theatre office (where she had been harangued by Petrov's mother in an earlier flashback). She can't get a word in edgeways because her mother is bemoaning the fact that Vitya has blown six rubles on aspirin. Having been kind to the young Petrov during the performance, Marina staggers off with morning sickness and vows to get an abortion.


At the end of an eventful day, Petrov gets back to his apartment. He wanders through the rooms and appears at the window of one, which seems to be a model. Clicking on the TV, he sees the hearse driver (Nikolai Kolyada) who had helped Igor abduct him telling a reporter how the corpse he was carrying had clambered out of the coffin and run off towards the bus stop before he could stop him. The film ends with the camera following the resurrected fellow (Husky) along a snowy street and being greeted by the cackling conductress.


Very much the work of a someone standing up for himself, this is a daring, dizzying and quite frequently disconcerting riposte to those who had drummed up the dubious charges against him. Serebrennikov has clearly packed proceedings with political allusions that will be more readily apparent to Russia watchers than the average arthouse aficionado. But, even if many of the barbs aimed at the Kremlin fly over your head, this complex, convoluted and heroically iconoclastic picture is worth sticking with.


Scripted before Covid became an issue, the action has a prophetic aura, as Semyon Serzin lurches around a dystopian city that feels locked down. But the contagion owes more to bone-deep disillusion than airborne germs, as the monochrome coda reveals how the problems facing Petrov and his circle are rooted in a Soviet Union where `perestroika' would still have been considered a gulagable word.


Serzin is splendid as the hangdog everyman sleepwalking between increasingly bizarre interludes, while Chulpan Khamatova revels in the role of the vigilante librarian who gives the term `ochi chernye' a whole new meaning.


Cinematographer Vladislav Opelyants must also have had a ball switching between formats to depict past events from both Marina and young Petrov's perspectives, while editor Yuri Karikh works wonders piecing the images together (including some later scenes in which characters fleetingly appear naked). Production designer Vlad Ogai also merits praise for the atmospheric (and alternately meagre and elastic) interiors, while sound mixer Boris Voyt cannily captures the collective kvetching of a squalid country ill at ease with itself, its history and its rulers. Not that you'd know from composer Aidar Salakov's accordion score, however, which imparts a jauntiness that is often at odds with the kind of soul-crushing ennui that might even have polaxed Nikolai Gogol or Fedor Dostoevsky.


Keeping up with the surreal Joycean shifts between memory, dream, nightmare and reality requires commitment and the occasional cutting of some slack. But Serebrennikov (who had previously produced a stage version of this gleeful extravaganza for the Gogol Centre in Moscow) has more than earned the right to be as justifiably furious, radically aggressive and disarmingly tender as he likes.


THE JUSTICE OF BUNNY KING.


Twelve years after making the 2009 short, Brave Donkey, New Zealand-based Gaysorn Thavat makes her feature bow with The Justice of Bunny King. Owing much to the style of emotive melodrama that Ken Loach has favoured since teaming with screenwriter Paul Laverty, this is a well-meaning slice of social realism that relies heavily on the excellence of its lead to distract from the shortcomings in the scripting.


Recently released from prison and struggling to make a living squeegeeing car windscreens at an Auckland interchange, Bunny King (Essie Davis) is determined to regain custody of her children, Reuben (Angus Stevens) and Shannon (Amelia Baynes). However, social worker Miriam (Penelope Crosby) keeps reminding her that she will only be limited to supervised visits until she gets a steady job and finds a home of her own.


Bunny gets her hopes up when sister Grace (Toni Potter) persuades husband Bevan (Errol Shand) to let her live in their garage. However, she feels compelled to intervene when she sees Bevan behaving inappropriately with teenage stepdaughter, Tonyah (Tomasin McKenzie) and is thrown out on her ear.


She exacts her revenge by vandalising Bevan's car, but has to accept an invitation from fellow squeegee merchant, Semu (Lively Nili), to live with his family. Desperate to find accommodation before Shannon's birthday, Bunny tries to convince Miriam that she is renting Semu's house. But she is so ashamed when his mother, Iosefina (Anapela Polataivao) catches her in the lie that she moves out.


Throwing caution to the wind, Bunny steals Bevan's car and invites Tonyah to run away with her. They spend a night in a luxury apartment that Bunny had viewed, but they go on the lam after she discovers that her kids have been relocated after she had paid them an unsanctioned visit. Loading up the car with shoplifted presents and party decorations, Bunny barricades herself and Tonyah into a social service office with Trish (Tanea Heke) in the hope that they will allow her to celebrate her daughter's big day.


While the climactic siege tugs on the heartstrings, it's scarcely plausible and such resorts to soap operatics characterises Sophie Henderson's second screenplay after Curtis Vowell's Baby Done (2020). Yet, such is Essie Davis's commitment, that viewers familiar with the Tasmanian from such recent outings as Jennifer Kent's The Babadook (2014) and Shannon Murphy's Babytooth (2019) will keep rooting for her in spite of her increasingly reckless (and highly unlikely) actions, as she keeps falling foul of a system that refuses to accept that she is entitled to a second chance and just might be a victim herself.


She's well supported by Thomasin McKenzie and Tanea Heke in the denouement, as she fills a waiting-room with balloons and streamers while trusting that negotiator Jerry Goodman (Ryan O'Kane) will keep his word and not bring in teams of sharpshooters. McKenzie gets to accuse her stepfather before hightailing it in his motor in what passes for an upbeat fade out. But Thavat can't quite pull this off and her uncertainty at other moments of heightened emotion leaves this feeling like a teleplay.


Nevertheless, it's involving enough study of life on the margins, with Ginny Loane's camerawork keeping the impulsive Davis at the centre of the action. Rosie Guthrie's production design is also highly effective, as Thavat contrasts the garage with Iosefina's cosy home and the luxury apartment with a crackable security code. Costumier Kirsty Cameron also makes a telling contribution with the blue trouser suit that Bunny is given to help her look more respectable at interviews, as it emboldens her to exploit people's readiness to judge by appearances.


Karl Steven's score is a touch too insistent in its eagerness to elicit an emotional response from the audience. But Thavat is most hamstrung by a tonally wayward storyline (to which she contributed with Gregory King) that skirts around the issues from Bunny's past that seem to be the cause of her ongoing problems.


THE STRANGE PURSUIT OF LAURA DURAND.


Despite the Weird Wave sending the odd ripple, remarkably few films from Greece country reach UK cinemas. Neither of Dimitris Bavellas's previous outings, Positive Stories (2010) and Runaway Day (2013), got here. But it would be nice to see them, if only to compare them with The Strange Pursuit of Laura Durand, which is a disarming rattlebag of stylistic pastiches, filmic in-jokes and fourth-wall breaches.


Approaching middle age at a speed that suits neither, Antonis Titsanis (Makis Papadimitriou) and Christos Fertakis (Michalis Sarantis) are struggling to pay the rent on the Athens apartment they share when not playing with their band, Speed.28. Antonis has rare access to his young son, while Christos is trying to ignore a possible lung cancer diagnosis. So, when they get what they take to be a call for help from their favourite 1990s softcore porn star, Laura Durand (Anna Kalaitzidou), they hit the road to find her.


Having made a Dark Web request for information, the pair meet Laura's former agent, Vertigo (Danis Katranidis), who gives them a potted history of her career (complete with suicide attempts) before giving them a map marked with her most recent sightings across Greece. Selling Antonis's vinyl collection to fund the trip, they are sent from a squat in a ruined disco to the beach yoga camp to find Laura's onetime cinematographer, Steve Gerekos.


Camp leader Chrysanthos (Alexandros Logothetis) claims to have no knowledge of the Greek American dp. But, when Christos spots a light meter in his quarters, he is distracted by Sunbeam (Mary Mina), while Antonis is menaced by some of Chrysanthos's henchmen for prying and they are forced to flee on a scooter.


Driving on in their van, they find the Garden of Earthy Delights, which is a remote manor house occupied by Virginia (Ivonni Maltezou), which has a Bride of Frankenstein streak in her hair. She invites the boys to spend the night and catches them snooping in a room with a portrait of her former housekeeper, Jasmine (who resembles Laura), and a projector that clicks into life to show her cavorting on the beach.


Over supper, Virginia admits that Laura stayed in the house and that she and her husband, Giorgos (Kostas Laskos) had flings with her. When he caught them together, however, he became so jealous that Laura fled and he crashed his car into a lamppost. Following a night of eccentric dancing, Cristos wakes to find himself alone on the sofa. Creeping upstairs, he sees Antonis spooning Virginia on her bed, while George lies hooked up to a life-support machine in an adjoining room.


Heading towards the Runways to the Vertigo of Imagination, Antonis evades questions about where he spent the night. He also forgets to mention that they are out of petrol and he has a bizarre vision after he faints when Christos threatens to thump him.


Hitching into the parched countryside, they reach a ghost town with dozens of VHS cassettes lying in the dust. Striding on through the heat, they reach a concrete bunker, where they are welcomed by Takis (Nikos Hatzopoulos). He is also a devoted Laura fan and breaks the news that the map they have been following was part of a publicity stunt devised by Vertigo. Takis also reveals that Laura is no more and informs them that they are fools for having sought her.


Returning to the ghost town, the pair slump on a sofa, just as a postman cycles up with a letter for Takis. They open it and discover that Laura has been living just a few blocks away from them in the capital under the name Panagiota Verleti. Knocking on the door, they are met by her muscular husband, Aggelos (Kris Radanov), while she holds a baby.


She recognises them as unthreatening admirers, however, and slips away to meet them. They hand her the light meter and she uses it to transport them to some 8mm footage of them walking along a beach and chatting. As they turn to back from the tideline, Antonis and Panagiota fade away, leaving Christos by himself.


Whether this means his biopsy report was bad news isn't made clear, but this closing shot is one of many neat visual touches with which Bavellas decorates this shaggy dog story. The most amusing is the bleeding of colour from the interior of Virginia's house (until the morning after), while Antonis's nightmare feels like something out of one of Alejandro Jodorowsky's trippier pictures. However, the tracking lines across the creaky videotapes are also lovingly achieved, while a spectral Laura's hovering appearance over Antonis's bed is joltingly effective.


Cinematographer Ramon Malapetsas's views of the Greek countryside are less flashily functional, while composer George Boussounis (who also cameos as purchaser of Antonis's records) specks the action with witty musical cues, most notably lapsing into Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western mode during the desert trek sequence.


Yet, for all the wackiness and the willingness of Michalis Sarantis and Makis Papadimitriou (who impresses as much as he did in Argyris Papadimitropoulos's equally disquieting Suntan, 2016), this feels more like a meandering succession of sketch-like set-pieces than a linear narrative. The detour to the yoga beach misfires somewhat, as does the big reveal in Takis's lair. Moreover, Bavellas rather glosses over the fact that Laura was trafficked from Hungary as a minor and suffered a breakdown because of her degrading experience. But no one does odysseys like the Greeks and this one is worth seeking out if only for Yvonni Maltezou's wonderful turn as the kookily merry widow.


THE DANCE.


Irish documentarist has made a fine impression with Silence (2012), Song of Granite (2017) and Henry Glassie: Field Work (2019). He presents another study of an artist at work in this record of the eight-week rehearsal period in a community hall on the Dingle Peninsula, during which choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan fashions his new show, MÁM.


Worthy of Frederick Wiseman, Colm Hogan and Keith Walsh's camerawork manages to be both discreet and intimate, as it captures the inspired intensity and trusting generosity of a collaboration between the 12 Teac Damsa dancers, concertina maestro Cormac Begley and the European musical collective, s t a r g a z e.


Switching between folk and classical, traditional and the avant-garde, the segments evolve through an exchange of ideas that allows Keegan-Dolan's underlying concept to take on a physical and an emotional life of its own.


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