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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (14/6/2024)

Updated: Jun 15

(Reviews of Freud's Last Session; Àma Gloria; Rosalie; and The Moor)


FREUD'S LAST SESSION.


Anthony Hopkins played C.S. Lewis in Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands (1993), which was adapted by William Nicholson from his own play. Now, Mark St Germain has reworked his own 2009 off-Broadway work - which was suggested by Dr Armand M. Nicholi, Jr.'s tome, The Question of God - for Matthew Brown's Freud's Last Session, in which Hopkins essays Sigmund Freund, while the part of Lewis passes to Matthew Goode. A closing caption reveals that a young Oxford don did pay Freud a visit shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and admits to a certain dramatic licence in concluding that he was Lewis. But, as speculations go, this is as plausible as the contents of the discussion that ensued between two men holding markedly different views of faith and truth.


Intrigued by The Pilgrim's Regress (1933), Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins) invites author C.S. Lewis to visit him at 20 Maresfield Gardens, the Hampstead house where he had been living since leaving Vienna in June 1938. Taking the train from Oxford on 3 September 1939, Lewis leaves lover Janie Moore (Orla Brady) with reassurances that he will be safe in London. Despite being in pain with oral cancer, Freud also promises doting daughter, Anna (Liv Lisa Fries), that he will be fine and that she should lecture to some students as planned.


Passing Anna on his way in, Lewis apologises for being late and ponders the implications of the fact that Freud's Chow dog, Jofi, appears indifferent to him, when the psychoanalyst relies on his reaction to visitors to assess their personality. Getting down to brass tacks, Freud expresses his displeasure with the way in which Lewis had depicted him in his satire on John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678). Moreover, he is dismayed by the fact that such an original thinker had abandoned Theism and converted to Christianity.


Prying into Lewis's past, Freud asks about his relationship with his father and he admits that they were never close because he was dispatched from Belfast to boarding school in England after his mother died when he was nine. He does recall with fondness, however, a forest scene created in a biscuit tin by his older brother, Warnie. This would inspire their land of Boxen, but Freud also has a woodland recollection to share, as he liked to run away from his strict Jewish father, Jacob (Tarek Bishara), and enjoy the beauty and solace of nature.


When not slipping into reveries about the esteem in which he had been held in Viennese society, Freud keeps dropping morphine into whisky to ease the pain from his mouth. He has also been fiddling with the radio to get news of Neville Chamberlain's ultimatum to Adolf Hitler to withdrew his troops from Poland. Shortly after they hear that war has been declared, air raid sirens sound and they grab their gas masks and hurry to the nearby church, whose crypt has been designated as a shelter.


The wailing of the siren and the sense of panic cause Lewis to have a shell-shocked recollection of his experiences on the Western Front during the Great War. Freud calms him down and amuses him after the `all clear' is sounded by examining the stained glass windows with such intensity. Lewis explains the contents of each tableau and smiles when Freud corrects the parish priest after he mistakenly identifies a statue of St Dymphna.


Needing more medicine, Freud calls Anna to call at a chemist because Dr Max Schur (Peter Warnock) might not be able to make a house call. She is lecturing male students who had hoped to hear her father and has to convince them that she is an eminent child psychologist in her own right. Anna also has to deal with the disappointment of her American friend, Dorothy Burlingham (Jodi Balfour), who had wanted her to tell her father the truth about their lesbian relationship.


Back in Freud's study, he asks Lewis about The Inklings and his friendship with fellow academic, J.R.R. Tolkien (Stephen Campbell Moore), whose work he considers brilliant, even though he thinks he should focus more on reality than fantasy. Lewis mentions their literary meetings at the Eagle and Child public house and how Tolkien had challenged his non-belief by urging him to examine the facts. After hours of poring over rare volumes in the Bodleian Library and studying the Bible at home, Lewis surprises Janie by admitting that he might have been wrong about God.


This revelation that the Gospels can't be myths because they're insufficiently artistic

prompts Freud to recall a moment in which his own eyes had been opened and he had understood the wickedness of Nazism. Shortly after the Anschluss, the Gestapo had come to Berggasse 19 and taken Anna into custody instead of himself. He had given her a cyanide tablet to use if the ordeal became too daunting. But she had been released and he had consented to leave Austria because he had seen the beast and recognised that people hidebound by a misguided sense of moral certainty are the darkness and the apocalypse.


Freud also recalls the bond he had forged with a Christian nanny, who used to take him to church on Sundays. His father had thrown her out when he had spotted him blessing himself and he had forbidden his son to pray for him. With his jaw giving him pain, Freud lies on his own `transformation couch' and has a fever dream in which he is wheeled along a hospital corridor and sees things that relate to his hang-ups. One is the sight of Anna in bed with Dorothy and they get into an argument about Anna's morbid dependency upon her father after Dr Bembridge (Aidan McCardle) criticises her for being unprofessional when Freud orders her to leave the institute and search for a chemist to make-up his prescription.


Despite the discomfort, Freud lights up a cigar and makes a pointed reference to oral pleasure and how everything good is related t sex. Lewis is amused that it has taken this long to raise the subject, but is nettled when Freud asks if he has a male or female partner. His mind goes back to when he was 19 (Rhys Mannion) and was heading into the trenches with fellow Ulsterman, Paddy Moore (George Andrew-Clarke). They had promised to take care of each other's single parent should anything happen. So, when Moore is killed and Lewis is rescued from a pit in No Man's Land, he gets to meet Janie, when she visits him at the hospital. She had claimed not to need his charity, but they had become lovers and Freud teases him by asking if he had become a born-again virgin after he had converted.


The doobell rings and Freud asks Lewis to take Jofi for a walk in a nearby park, while he speaks with Ernest Jones (Jeremy Northam), a confidante he has known for many years. He informs Freud that a new psychiatric clinic is opening in Bury and Jones is keen for Anna to join him in the faculty. Even though she has no formal qualifications, she is highly regarded. But Freud guesses that Jones is also hoping to propose to Anna and he declares that she has agreed that she is not yet fit for a sexual relationship. Jones implores Freud to let Anna live her own life and reminds him that it is 18 years since Dorothy had confessed to her liaison with Anna while undergoing therapy in Vienna. Freud had told Lewis that he found nothing unnatural about homosexuality, but was not so well disposed towards lesbianism and wants to hear nothing about his daughter's `attachment disorder'.


Exploding with rage, Freud orders Jones to leave and Lewis is surprised to find his host in such ill humour. He is perusing a statue of Momus, the sad god who became the spirit of satire after he had been sent to Earth to criticise the handiwork of the gods. Dismissing the implication that a collection of religious statues sits awkwardly with his theories (`I'm a passionate disbeliever who's obsessed with belief.'), Freud challenges Lewis that intelligent people should be able to see through the fallacy of an all-powerful deity. He defends his faith without wishing to offend the great man. However, Freud refuses to be mollified and insists that God exposed His own folly by failing to kill Lucifer, as He allowed him to triumph. Politely, Lewis suggests the argument that a loving God would banish suffering fails to take free will into account. But Freud snaps back that God lacks power, goodness or both because he took his daughter and five year-old grandson when they had their whole lives in front of them.

Lewis tries to help Freud remove a prosthetic mouthpiece that is paining him and is surprised to learn that he usually only allows Anna to touch it. He asks about his doctors and wife, Martha, but Freud is evasive and says he and Anna trust each other, which is why he had psychoanalysed her. Dismayed, Lewis accuses Freud of putting his own needs above those of his daughter by manipulating Anna so that she remains at his beck and call. He calls him a coward for fearing both losing Anna and death. But Freud reminds Lewis of his terror in the church and wonders if that is the behaviour of someone who is looking forward to meeting his maker.


He suggests we are all cowards when it comes to death and concludes that humans are condemned to stumbling from error to error until they finally reach truth. With this, he ends the audience and urges Lewis not to miss his train. As he leaves, he bumps into Anna, who had been charging around trying to find a pharmacy before she decided to call on Dr Schur. She asks Lewis if he had survived his meeting and he jokes that they had each defended their entrenched positions. Dorothy rushes up and Lewis leaves them to enter the house together, where they sit holding hands as Freud digests the contents of George VI's speech on the radio.


On the train, Lewis examines the gift that Freud had slipped into his pocket. It's a copy of The Pilgrim's Regress, which has been inscribed with the words, `From error to error, one discovers the entire truth.' Captions reveal that Lewis would go on to write The Chronicles of Narnia during a successful academic career, while Anna would become a pioneering child psychologist with Dorothy at her side. As for Freud, he had committed suicide with the aid of Dr Schur on 23 September. He was 83.


It was a Sunday when war broke out. So, Anna Freud would probably not have been lecturing to students and dashing around London trying to find an open chemist's shop. It's also unlikely that the housekeeper would have been scouring shelves for tinned goods when trading hours on the supposed day of rest were strictly regulated. But such unlikelihoods are the only notable demerits in a film that has more than just Anthony Hopkins in common with Fernando Meirelles's The Two Popes (2019), which was based on Anthony McCarten's play about a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce).


The screenplay by St Germain and Brown might have been a bit clearer in its depiction of Lewis's unconventional relationship with Janie Moore. But the scenarists clearly felt it was more important to devote time to Tolkien in order to lure in his acolytes, just as it was to focus exclusively on Freud's bond with Anna and leave his wife firmly in the margins. There's little point criticising such choices, although the frequency of the flashbacks and the cutaways dissipates the tensions that arise between Lewis and Freud in the course of their discussions. Similarly, the structure fragments the rapport between the two men, so that they remain strangers trading barbs and bon mots. Had such a meeting ever occurred, Lewis would undoubtedly have been respectful towards the more eminent man and would have responded to his outbursts with tact. But the digressions disrupt the momentum of the discourse, with the consequence that each new topic feels like it is being plucked from a prepared list of conversational gambits rather than flowing on naturally from what has gone before.


To an extent, this problem is exacerbated by Matthew Goode being so understandably deferential towards Anthony Hopkins, who is on commanding form as a man who won't allow physical discomfort to prevent him from lording his presumed intellectual superiority over his guest. Hopkins is, of course, a more familiar figure and so is Freud. Thus, despite opting to eschew a Germanic accent, the white-bearded Hopkins is able to exploit his plausible resemblance to Freud to impose himself on Goode, who could be anybody looks-wise, as Lewis is significantly less recognisable. That said, it's almost impossible to overlook that you are watching an 86 year-old master of screen acting running through the trademark tics in his exceptional repertoire.


Not that Goode doesn't have his moments. He does a nice line in quiet quips that ensure Lewis doesn't come across as a worthy Christian apologist, while (notwithstanding the odd flicker of peevishness) his stillness and restrained facial expressions enable him to withhold Lewis's reactions to Freud's more provocative snipes and leave the audience to ponder quite what the Irishman makes of the Austrian. And vice versa, as Freud is so wrapped up in his own agony, dread, domestic dysfunction, and unshakeable rectitude that he doesn't trouble himself with forming an opinion of a visitor whose staunch belief so offends his sense of cerebral superiority that he urges him and his co-religionists to `grow up'.


This isn't all about religious faith and rational thought, of course. Sex also has a prominent part to play, both in the repartee and the subplot. However, this isn't always well integrated, with the sequences showing Anna chasing around to please her parent adding little to our understanding of their dynamic. Liv Lisa Fries plays the part well, but St Germain and Brown rather treat Anna as an afterthought - an indicator of Freud's flawed fragility rather than a woman who defied the conventions of her time with intelligence and courage.


There are echoes here of Brown's The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015), which explored the relationship between Cambridge mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). But the stakes seem higher because the characters are better known and everyone knows what will happen over the next six years. Brown's not intimidated by big ideas and it's a pleasure to watch something like this in the current market for English-language films. Yet, while Luciana Arrighi's setting is as adroit as Ben Smithard's cinematography and Coby Brown's score, there's always the nagging suspicion that the dialogue isn't as crisp as it might be; debate not as rigorous; the storytelling not as sharp; and the personal, thematic, and historical insight not as deep. Which is a shame, as the intentions are as noble as the performances.


ÀMA GLORIA.


Born in 1979 of Georgian descent, Marie Amachoukeli started off as a writer on a couple of shorts, Christian Schwochow's Tantalus (2005) and Maëva Poli's La Traversée (2007). She next teamed with Yoann de Montgrand on L'Abre d'Hugo (2007) and Cyprien Vial on Madame (2008). These shorts led to a collaboration with Claire Burger and Cynthia Arra on Demolition Party (2013), and with Burger and Samuel Theis on Forbach (2008) and It's Free For Girls (2009), which presaged their Caméra d'or-winning feature debut, Party Girl (2014).


In the ensuing decade, Amachoukeli has produced an installation for the Opera De Paris entitled Hypno, co-scripted Vladimir Mavounia-Kouka's animated short, La Femme à cordes (2010), Vincent Mariette's Les Fauves (2018), Franco Lolli's Litigante (2019), and Héléna Klotz's Amour Océan (short, 2022). She has also served as script consultant on Vial's Bébé tigre (2014), Julia Ducournau's Raw (2016), Elsa Diringer's Luna (2017), Clément Cogitore's Sons of Rameses (2022), and Sonja Prosenc's Family Therapy (2023).


It's been a long and winding road. But every lesson learned is readily evident in Amachoukeli's exceptional solo feature bow, Àma Gloria. It's such a shame that Raw is the only one of the aforementioned titles readily available to view in the UK, as it would be fascinating to follow the evolution of such a distinctive talent. But such is the way of a film world that has managed to lose touch with those who genuinely care about cinema at a time when screening options have never been more varied.


Six year-old Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani) has just been given a new pair of glasses and walks back to the Parisian home she shares with her widowed father, Arnaud (Arnaud Rebotini), with her adored Cape Verdean nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego). She insists on playing chase before bathtime, but usually does as she's told. Although she enjoys school, she's happier reuniting with Gloria at the gates and going to the park to play.


On the day she scrapes her palms after falling from a climbing frame, however, Cléo learns that Gloria is going to have to return to her island because her mother has died and she needs to take care of her own children on Santiago Island. Cléo watches through the banisters, as Arnaud promises Gloria that he will let his daughter spend the summer in Cape Verde to help ease the pain of separation. But she has to run away from the car after her father is late collecting her from school before he agrees to keep his word.


The smile is huge, as Cléo rushes through the airport doors to greet Gloria. It's late at night, and the grin remains, as they travel home. As she settles into the bedroom she is going to share with Gloria, Cléo blurts out that the house is tiny. However, she means no harm and muses that she only has memories of Gloria, as she shows her photos of her family.


Daughter Fernanda (Abnara Gomes Varela) is pregnant and grateful for the necklace that Cléo has brought as a gift. But younger son, César (Fredy Gomes Tavares) resents Cléo, as she is the reason his mother has been away for so long and returned as a stranger. On the beach, fisherman friend, Joachim (Domingos Borges Almeida), also chides Gloria when she refers to Cléo as her Parisian daughter and reminds her that she will go back to her life of privilege once the visit is over.


Gloria is using some of the money she has earned in France to build a beach-side hotel. However, the foreman is obstructive and claims she has no idea of the costs because she doesn't live in Cape Verde. Cléo tags along with Glora everywhere she goes, even to Nanda's ultrasound appointment. She lets the child feel her bump, but notices how much attention her mother shows Cléo while she is trying to write a letter home.


After Cléo chats to Arnaud on Gloria's cracked phone, we see the third animated interlude, after the first had shown a raging sea after Gloria had received her bad news and the second had shown why Cléo's memories were all of Gloria, as she had raised her since the death of her own mother. But the third shows how inseparable they have become and how all the special moments in the girl's life, such as her first steps, have all happened with Gloria around.


On the day of the funeral, Cléo walks with the family. But, at the graveside, she learns that Gloria's mother died of cancer and a wave of sadness for her own lost mum causes her to sob uncontrollably, as Nanda and César look on begrudgingly. In order to cheer Cléo up, Gloria takes her to the beach and teaches her to swim in the sea. Feeling proud of herself and having got the giggles playing with Joachim, she runs off to join in a football match with some older boys. She lingers on the periphery (as she had during a game of dodgeball at school), until she turns to see that Gloria has gone. Wandering into the woods, she sees her canoodling with Joachim and doesn't quite know what to make of things.


Nanda goes into labour and Gloria leaves Cléo with César. He roots round for the envelope of cash that she had brought with her and strides off to play with his mates. Cléo tags along and watches the boys jumping off a low cliff into the sea. César struggles to clamber back on to the rocks, but Cléo remains in awe, as she is allowed to join in a dance, as night falls. Cursing because he has to carry Cléo home, César tells a pal he barely knows his mother. But he beams when she shows him photos of his new nephew and even looks on indulgently with Nanda, as Cléo cradles little Santiago.


Over the phone, Arnaud is impressed by Cléo's tan and the fact that her front teeth have started to grow. However, he breaks the news that he has found a new nanny and Cléo is coming to terms with this when she hears Gloria singing her favourite lullaby to Santiago. When she protests, Gloria reminds her that songs belong to everyone. She realises that the same is true of Gloria, when she sees her parading Santiago at the christening party. At first, Cléo is busy handing out bowls of soup to the guests, but she sits with her head in her hands, as she sits on the edge of the celebration and tries to fathom where she fits into the scheme of things.


Cléo is allowed to hold a candle during the baptism and asks Gloria why the old woman conducting the ceremony has a pair of scissors. She explains that they are there to cut the wings of evil spirits wanting to harm the baby and, shockingly, Cléo invokes them and urges them to kill Santiago so that Gloria can come home with her.


After an animated segment shows a blindfolded girl stumbling under billowing sheets, Cléo watches Gloria admonish Nanda for going out with her friends when she should be studying. She also incurs César's wrath when Gloria demands to know who stole the money from the yellow envelope and Cléo protests her innocence. When Gloria dozes off, Cléo gently runs her fingers along her arm. However, Santiago keeps crying and Gloria yells at Cléo when she finds her shaking him to make him stop.


Devastated at being told off, Cléo runs to the beach. Carefully placing her spectacles on a rock, she jumps into the sea with César's pals and they haul her on to the rocks, after she plunges into the animated depths. On arriving home, she's sent to her room, where Gloria asks her why she's behaving so badly. Sobbing, the child admits that she wanted Santiago to die so that she could have Gloria to herself. Rather than admonish her, however, she wraps Cléo in an embrace because she understands. Nevertheless, she makes her apologise to Nanda and kisses the infant's hand to show she cares.


Packing for the trip home, Gloria gives Cléo her whale tail pendant and tells her that they have to let each other go and be happy. She makes her promise never to stop loving her and smiles as she bids farewell with high fives against the car window. Letting her sleep on the journey, Gloria keeps the goodbyes simple, as she entrusts Cléo to her escort at the doors of the airport. She toddles across the tarmac and doesn't see Gloria start to cry, even though she has a last look back over her shoulder.


Although there is much to discuss about the post-colonial subtext of this fine film, there is only one place to start. Surely, six year-old Louise Mauroy-Panzani deserved more than a Lumière Award nomination for Most Promising Actress for a display of wondrously nuanced naturalism that even tops the excellent performances of Cécile Ducasse in Claire Denis's Chocolat (1988), Victoire Thivisol in Jacques Doillon's Ponette (1996), and Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz in Céline Sciamma's Petite maman (2021)?


Sciamma's company has produced this bittersweet delight, which has its roots in Ousmane Sembène's Black Girl (1966), which centred on a young Senegalese maid finding it difficult to acclimatise to the French capital. Although there are overlapping politico-cultural themes, the focus here falls less on post-colonial guilt than on a lonely girl who has lost her mother and has to learn the harsh truth that the best way to love someone is to set them free. Yet Amachoukeli never forces the lessons on Cléo or the audience, as she meticulously paces a rite of passage that takes place in contrasting homes in Paris and Tarrafal, in which Gloria and Cléo respectively don't belong. There are even a couple of classroom sequences that are evidently indebted to Nicolas Philibert's charming documentary, Être et avoir (2002).


Despite the temptation to concentrate on Cléo's perspective, the film doesn't neglect the confusion felt by Nanda and César, who have clearly missed their mother's guiding hand. The script doesn't make it entirely clear who has been caring for the pair, as Nanda is still at school, even though she's about to become a mother herself. The baptism would suggest that there's an extended family, but we're left to presume that Joachim been keeping an eye on them, even though his relationship with Gloria is also left vague.


Similarly, we never discover what keeps Arnaud away from home so frequently. Despite doting on his daughter, he doesn't always handle matters with much finesse and his clumsy revelation that he has found Gloria's replacement inspires the two desperate misjudgements that could easily have resulted in the story having a very different ending. Some might see such optimism as a bit of a cop-out, but Cléo still has much to contend with in the weeks and months that follow. As does Gloria.


She is played with immense empathy by the debuting Ilça Moreno Zego, as Gloria surprises herself by finding out how attached she has become to Cléo and how much things have changed at home in her absence. Such emotions are delicately conveyed in Pierre-Emmanuel and Marie Lyet's paintbrushy animation, which was inspired by the abstract designs of colourists Peter Doig and Félix Vallotton in a bid to channel Cléo's impressions of Gloria's homeland (and her own conflicted emotions) through her naive imagination.


Dedicated to Laurinda Correia, the Portuguese caretaker of the building in which Amachoukeli had grown up, this has the feel of a deeply personal film. But it's also deftly modulated, with everyone being given the Renoirian benefit of the doubt for their actions. The direction of Mauroy-Panzani is pitch perfect, with cinematographer Inès Tabarin filling the screen with the big eyes that are framed by the thick-lensed glasses that make the impetuously sincere, but unthinkingly entitled Cléo look simultaneously younger and older and more innocent and knowing than she actually is. It's beautifully done and it's hard to think of another film that has captured so plausibly and poignantly that daunting childhood moment when one realises that there's more to life than onself.


ROSALIE.


Having made a favourable impression in chronicling the relationship between Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan in her debut feature, La Danseuse (2016), Stéphanie Di Giusto goes further back in time to the 1870s for a sophomore outing, Rosalie, which has been inspired by the life of `La Femme à Barbe', Clémentine Delait. For all its good intentions, however, this thoughtful period piece makes a couple of storytelling choices that are so anachronistically contrived that they almost topple it into novelettish melodrama.


An old soldier suffering from back problems, Abel Deluc (Benoît Magimel) has fallen into debt with Barcelin (Benjamin Biolay), a factory owner in Northern France. In order to resolve matters, he agrees to marry Rosalie (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), as her father, Paul (Gustave Kervern), is offering a generous dowry. In spite of her literacy and skill with a needle, she has had no suitors and prays to St Wilgefortis that the match will work, even though Abel is almost twice her age.


Barcelin accepts the payment, but is intent on ruining Abel, as he reckons his café in the town causes lost hours through drunkenness. He watches on, as the bride and groom return from the church along a row of workers' cottages. The hem of Rosalie's dress drags in the mud, but she is more distressed the fact her father leaves as soon as the simple ceremony is over and urges her to do her womanly duty.


Missing her mother, Rosalie hopes to start a family, as she longs to have someone love her unconditionally. But Abel is appalled to discover that she has thick hair on her chest and back and accuses her of deceiving him. She explains that her father had tried shaving her to prevent people from learning her secret, but she had decided it was easier to let it grow. Abel wants her to go home, but she makes a good impression on his customers with her cheery nature and the couple decide to see how things go after she runs away and he finds her hiding in an abandoned mill in the woods.


Having seen illustrations in a book beside her bed, Abel becomes more accepting. But Rosalie reads a story in the paper about a Lobster Woman drawing crowds and bets 40 francs with Jean (Eugène Marcuse) that she can grow a better beard than he can. Abel is furious and pays a visit to local prostitute, Clothilde (Juliette Armanet), but can't bring himself to discuss his problems.


As he works as a taxidermist on the side, Abel takes a stag's head to Barcelin, who has heard gossip from the factory. Fearing that Pierre (Guillaume Gouix) and the others will humiliate her, he pleads with her to call off the bet. But she wins and the café fills with people wanting to see the bearded lady. Even Jeanne (Anna Biolay) and the local women start patronising the bar and Rosalie makes plans to decorate, buy a piano, and hire more staff. Abel is worried the novelty will wear off, so Rosalie has her picture taken and gives an interview to the photographer (Serge Bozon), who is impressed by her poise and acceptance of her situation.


Angered by a drunken Pierre calling Rosalie a `monkey woman', Abel forces his face into a puddle. But he continues to patronise the café and Jean is amused when Rosalie refuses to be intimidated by Barcelin, when he comes to see for himself. He thinks she should go to the city and become famous, as does the photographer. However, she is content with her lot, especially as Abel has let her rub balm into the wounds in his back and has allowed himself to be curious about her body.


However, he loses his temper after she hosts a party at the café and Clothilde pays her a compliment as she sells postcards. Upset by Abel's suggestion that she goes on tour with a freak show, Rosalie hides from him (even though she knows he would never strike her) and frets that he will never consummate the marriage or give her a child. In a fit of pique, she poses in a corset for the photographer and Barcelin (a lonely man who can't decide how he feels about Rosalie) comes to the café to toss a couple of postcards showing her body hair on the bar.


Shortly afterwards, Barcelin blames Jeanne for starting a fire at the mill and has the local pastor deliver a sermon denouncing the demon drink. Rosalie accuses Barcelin of lying and trying to ruin Abel, but he intervenes when Pierre leads a mob of angry workers to the café, where the women try to examine Rosalie to verify she's a woman.


Barcelin helps Abel to his feet, after he has been held down in the dirt. But he is as crushed as Rosalie when the doctor visits and reveals that the cysts on her ovaries will prevent her from bearing children. Her pain is exacerbated when she is surrounded by Barcelin's hunting hounds on the bridge and he advises her to adopt a more womanly countenance. However, she is content in her own skin and warms to Abel's tenderness when he trims her beard. He also agrees to her plan to adopt Augustine (Peri Bourgogne) from the convent orphanage.


When Barcelin uses the corset photos to block the process, Abel and Rosalie become lovers and he reminds her that miracles can still happen. She had stopped having bad dreams, but wakes with a start after seeing her father shoot her down while performing a fan dance on a theatre stage. Cutting into her wrists (which she then binds), Rosalie goes to the convent to keep a promise to hear Augustine sing at a gala concert. Toasting Barcelin, she collapses as Abel comes to collect her.


Waking in the sanatorium with a shaved face, Rosalie dashes past Abel, who is talking to her father. She runs to the bridge and throws herself into the river. As she plunges into the depths, however, she feels Abel wrapping his arms around her - leaving us to wonder whether they will perish together or rise to the surface having been reborn.


The ambiguity of the subaquatic conclusion goes some way towards salvaging a picture that had started sinking in a mire its own making around about the hour mark. Clearly, Stéphanie Di Giusto and co-scenarists Sandrine Le Coustumer and Alexandra Echkenazi convinced themselves that their narrative was running a little too smoothly and decided to toss in some complications (as all the best screenwriting coaches would have advised). But the convolutions they devise are so shamelessly novelettish that it becomes difficult to take the story seriously. A petit bourgeois woman in Rosalie's position in the 1870s would simply not have posed for cheesecake snaps, as she would have known what the response would be in a parochial community that is so in thrall to the whims of a bigwig employer who has made his views on bars and bearded ladies very plain from the outset.


The flakiness of the locals is corny in the extreme, but rather understandable given that there are livelihoods at stake. But the scripting triumvirate don't stop there. Rosalie has to be stricken with ovarian cysts to dash her dreams of motherhood and who just happens to be on the board of trustees at the orphanage (which would ordinarily be all too happy to reduce its numbers) than the very factory owner whose insecure masculinity has been threatened by Rosalie's body hair?


Yet, even then, the writers aren't done, as they still have to subject Rosalie to two momentous brushes with razors. It's almost as if the trio (and credited collaborators Romain Compingt and Jacques Fieschi) have lost faith in both the scenario they have so meticulously established and the characters in which they have persuaded viewers to invest time and emotion. It's shoddy work. But, such is the excellence of Nadia Tereszkiewicz and Benoît Magimel that we stick with them.


There's a curious overlap between Dodin Bouffant - the character Magimel played in Trần Anh Hùng's The Taste of Things - and Abel Deluc, as each man is conflicted about publicising what makes the woman he loves special, whether it's the culinary skills of Juliette Binoche's Eugénie or Rosalie's hirsuteness. But it's the imposing intensity of Magimel's screen presence that makes each man more interesting than the storyline actually paints him.


Rosalie is also sketchily delineated, but her vulnerability and vitality are deftly captured by Nadia Tereszkiewicz, whose eyes reveal so much. As her confidence grows, the contrast between the softness of the strawberry blonde beard and the frills on Madeline Fontaine's dresses is neatly done, especially as Rosalie is the only character permitted to wear anything other than workaday colours. Events prevent Magimel and Tereszkiewicz from having much chemistry, with the sudden eruption of crepuscular passion being rather unconvincing. But they admirably convey Abel and Rosalie's pain, loneliness, and desperate need for this wretched relationship to work.


Recalling David Farrar's hunting squire in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Gone to Earth (1950), Benjamin Biolay makes a silently venomous villain. But surely a man with his power would treat a creditor whose métier he despised more decisively. We aren't told how Abel became indebted to Barcelin, but, if he was so convinced that drink was affecting the performance of his workers, he would simply close the café instead of extending deadlines and business to boom (even though this would include the likelihood of recouping his money).


While Barcelin adds to hissable intrigue, the secondary characters are little more than ciphers. More might also have been made of the historical setting, as France would still be feeling the effects of defeat in the war against Prussia and the ensuing Commune in Paris. But the primary purpose of the period evocation is to drive home the points about difference, acceptance, toxic masculinity, mob mentality, standards of beauty, and body positivity that Di Giusto wants to make about post-millennial life.


Laurent Ott's production design, Christos Voudouris's cinematography, and Nassim Gordji Tehrani's editing are all fine, as is Hania Rani's score. But it's hard to avoid the feeling that this could have been considerably more intellectually and emotionally involving if more care had been taken over the plot.


THE MOOR.


When it comes to film, the name Cronin immediately brings to mind the Londoner who made the epic social studies, Sooner Later (2007) and A Time to Stir (2020), as well as such valuable cine-documentaries as `Look Out Haskell, It's Real!' (2001), Film As a Subversive Art: Amos Vogel and Cinema 16, Mackendrick on Film (both 2004), and a trilogy on Peter Whitehead (2006-15). But that was Paul Cronin.


Then, there's Lee Cronin, the Irishman behind the horrors The Hole in the Ground (2019) and Evil Dead Rise (2023). But it's Chris Cronin who is responsible for The Moor, a chiller thriller riffing on the crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley that draws on a familiarity with the terrain and meteorology around Huddersfield, the West Yorkshire town in which Cronin and screenwriter Paul Thomas grew up.


In 1996, 11 year-old Claire (Billie Suggett) leads the younger Danny (Dexter Sol Ansell) out of an alleyway in a Yorkshire village. She promises him some Opal Fruits and a Sherbet Dib-Dab if he goes into the corner shop and distracts the owner with a story about searching for his dad while she fills her bag with goodies. Claire makes her getaway past a man at the door. But, while she hears the shop bell tinkle, there's no sign of Danny and she's gripped by fear when the shopkeeper informs her that her friend left with his father.


A montage of press cuttings and lost child posters follows, as we learn about the `summer of terror' that culminated in the apprehension of a man who was accused of having buried the bodies of his victims on Holme Moor. Now, 25 years later, Claire (Sophia La Porta) has been lured back to the village by Danny's father, Bill (David Edward-Robertson). He is concerned that the killer is about to be released (because the police botched the inquiry and he was only sentenced for a single life span) and he wants Claire to use her podcast to publicise the situation, as he doesn't trust the media that had covered the case with insensitive sensationalism.


Claire conducts some interviews with people who lived through the murders, including Becky (Mia Vore), Ashad (Duggal Ram), and Tracey (Margaret Brearey ). She also speaks to Thornley (Bernard Hill), the detective who led the investigation, who is sympathetic to Bill's cause, but unfolds five Ordnance Survey maps on the floor to show Claire the size of the area he will need to search for clues as to where Danny was buried.


Feeling guilty for her friend's disappearance, Claire overcomes her fear of Holme Moor to join Bill on a search with ranger, Liz (Vicki Hackett). Straying away by herself, Claire stumbles into a gully on the edge of a peat bog and finds a child's shoe, which Bill seals in an evidence bag. However, the police don't regard this as a significant clue and refuse to delay the release of the perpetrator.


Hoping to narrow the search, Bill consults Alex (Mark Peachey), a dowser who uses a swinging pendulum to identify likely locations on the map. Claire is sceptical, but Bill has even more faith in Alex's psychic daughter, Eleanor (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips), whose pathway to the nether world is monitored by Thomas, who protects her from malign spirits. Such is the intensity of the experience when Eleanor contacts the other side that Alex has to make her recite places of Pi, as she is a maths student and the numbers help her reconnect with reality.


Thornley is worried that Bill is getting in over his head and Alex is reluctant to allow Eleanor to join them on an expedition. But, when following an intense session in which she pinpoints a location that Bill had never thought of searching, she insists on coming along to help. Having chatted to some archaeologists digging on the moor, Bill suddenly knows all about the 5000 year-old runic carvings on the standing stones dotted around the expanse. He also tells his companions about sacrifices made by the bog dwellers to pacify malevolent spirits.


Mist and gloom has accompanied the searches on every trek. But rain sets in and Liz produces a tent for emergency shelter. As they huddle inside, Eleanor begins to feels someone trying to contact her and she becomes scared when she can't feel Thomas protecting her. Hearing a noise, Bill and Liz head outside with torches and momentarily lose their bearings, with Liz's radio device failing to work. Claire is frightened by Eleanor's seizure and can't understand why Alex isn't reciting Pi to coax her back into consciousness.


Luckily, Alex jolts back to normal when Bill and Liz return and Eleanor comes round. She is determined to keep searching, as the weather has cleared by morning and they realise that they had pitched the tent at the centre of a stone circle. After a while, the party chase after Eleanor when she bolts off on her own, as though being tormented. By the time they catch up with her, she has fallen down a ravine and beside her in the slime can be seen the outline of a child's body.


Although there is a sense of closure in the village after Eleanor is helicoptered to safety and news of her discovery spreads, Bill is still determined to find Danny. However, Thornley calls Claire to inform him that the killer has absconded while out on the moor helping the police find burial sites. Unwilling to take a chance, Claire loads up her car and heads home. Time passes and she discusses her emotions on her podcast, as she admits that she has been bottling up her guilt and needs to come to terms with what happened and move on.


The screen goes black, only for jerky footage from Claire's bodycam to flash on to the screen. She is back on the moor, with Bill frog-marching her at the end of a rifle. Although she pleads with him to stop, he has come to the conclusion that there had been a mistake 25 years earlier. In the Stone Age, people suffocated sacrificial victims and buried them in the bog to placate an evil entity. Bill reckons that he had heard a voice when Eleanor was entranced in the tent claiming that Danny had been taken in error and that Claire was the one the beast had wanted.


Having shot a sheep by a dolmen, Bill turns the gun on Claire and orders her to keep walking. She pleads with him not to succumb to irrational thoughts, but his mind is made up. Reaching the spot he says the voice revealed, he fires in the air and Claire begins to sink in the bog. Although we can hear her voice pleading, we can only see the images captured by her camera, as figures start to emerge from the mud. One boy approaches Bill and the screen goes black again, as Claire meets the fate she had avoided for so long.


For about an hour, this is an admirably atmospheric thriller about the scarring emotional legacy of an unthinkable crime. Those familiar with TV interviews with Winnie Johnson, the mother of 12 year-old Keith Bennett, will have an inkling of the excruciating pain endured by the loved ones of the victims of the Moors Murderers and Cronin and Thomas go some way to showing how such killings impact upon communities and individuals alike.


But the story never recovers from the introduction of the supernatural element and it begins to flounder once it strays into folk horror. We're spared some of the more tiresome clichés of what can be an eerily effective sub-genre. However, in going for Blair Witchy scares, Thomas lacks the restraint that Nigel Kneale (one of the masters of the form) displayed in creating the likes of the Quatermass serials (1953-59), The Stone Tape (1972), and The Woman in Black (1989), which he adapted from the novel by Susan Hill.


Latching on to sombre moorland hues, cinematographer Sam Cronin (the director's brother) makes outstanding use of the environs and the shifting weather conditions that are as treacherous as anything under foot. Nir Perlman's rumbling score and Andrew Layfield's expert sound design reinforce the sense of unease, which is actually cleverly modulated by the performance of Vicki Hackett, as the ranger who trusts her instincts and her kit right up until the moment she realises she is dealing with forces beyond her ken. Sophia La Porta and Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips do well enough with rather prosaic characters, while Bernard Hill brings gravitas to what proved to be one of his final roles.


David Edward-Robertson also impresses as the grief-stricken father fixated on doing right by his son. However, even he struggles with the coda, which suddenly relies on the bodycam that had barely merited mention during the previous expeditions. Editor Pawel Pracz (who also co-produces) must share some of the blame with Thomas and Cronin here, as the sudden lurch into the denouement makes it feel tacked on. The earlier vox pop sequences are also awkwardly integrated. There's no doubt that Cronin (who had made 10 shorts before his first feature) has an eye and a feel for ambience. But this veers off course after a solid start and gets bogged down long before Claire does.

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