Parky At the Pictures (14/8/2020)
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
(Reviews of Casting; Giraffe; Echo; Endings, Beginnings; Sheep and Wolves: Pig Deal; The Living Thames; Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band; and You've Been Trumped Too)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
Adapted by Rainer Werner Fassbinder from his own stage play, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) is rightly considered one of the masterworks of Das Neue Kino. Focusing on the triangle that forms between fashion designer Petra (Margit Carstensen), her long-suffering assistant, Marlene (Irm Hermann), and her inexperienced model, Karin (Hanna Schygulla), this melodramatic masterpiece has influenced such recent features as Olivier Assayas's Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy (2015) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017). Now, Fassbinder's queer classic provides the impetus for Nicolas Wackerbarth's 2017 dramedy, Casting, which has been dusted down for release on a number of digital platforms.
Documentarist Vera (Judith Engel) has been hired by a TV station to make her dramatic debut with a remake of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. She has decided to shift the sexual balance of the piece by turning Karin into Karl. But she is having trouble choosing a leading lady and is under pressure from the network suits to pick a star.
Actress Almut Dehlen (Ursina Lardi) is unhappy at the growing number of callbacks to which she has been invited and her mood is scarcely improved when she is wheeled into make-up by casting director Ruth Becker (Milena Dreißig) for a wig fitting with Hanne (Nicole Marischka) that she doesn't feel she needs. Almut is further disgruntled when introduced to Gerwin Haas (Andreas Lust), who has been hired to be her scene partner for the audition because, Kostja Stahnke (Tim Kalkhof) - who has been cast as Karl - is shooting another project in Vienna. She reins in her frustration on greeting Vera on the set. But her humourless insistence on adhering to her own creative process and her blunt criticism of her line readings causes Almut to give up in despair.
While waiting for the next candidate to arrive, Hanne asks Gerwin about his acting experience. He informs her that he has virtually given up because he dislikes the way in which people at all levels of a production are out for themselves. But Hanne insists he is talented and hints that Vera could do a lot worse than cast him as Karl. As a consequence, he ups his game when reading with Mila Ury-Tesche (Marie-Lou Sellem), but she is confused as to why Vera has bowdlerised a classic about lesbian love and why she is auditioning with Gerwin when he is so much older than Kostja.
Vera slaps Gerwin down when he protests about Mila's rudeness, but she takes offence when the actress suggests that her approach to the material offers kitschy insights into love. Keen to justify herself, Vera asks Mila if she's in a relationship and she becomes teary in admitting that her affair with a married man had broken down. Out of the blue, Vera asks Mila to say the line, `I want to die', and she does so with an air of resignation, as she realises that this potential role of a lifetime is going to prove to be anything but.
Discussing the performance, Ruth is eager to call Mila's agent and confirm the booking, as the shoot is due to start in four days. But Vera isn't convinced and dismisses protests that she is cutting things fine by reiterating that this is how she works (even though this is her first fictional film). She is taken aback when Gerwin comes over to say goodbye, as he has only been hired until 5pm and he has to be home for a delivery at the bar he plans to open with his younger boyfriend, Lukas (Markus von Lingen). As she is expecting Luise Maderer (Corinna Kirchhoff) at any moment, Vera coaxes Gerwin into making alternative arrangements and it becomes clear from his phone call that he hasn't told Lukas that he is acting again.
Gerwin and Luise have met before, but she recoils when he and Hanne gush about her performance in Winter Days. She detested the project, which she felt reflected the director's tacky cynicism, and continues to disparage it as Hanne explains that it had moved her deeply. Gerwin tries to lighten the moment, but Hanne reveals that she had lost both parents around the time the film was released and Luise admits that might colour one's judgement of what she considered to be manipulative sentimental crap.
On stage, Luise insists on reading from pages rather than acting straight away. She's unimpressed by the dialogue and discomfited by Gerwin acting on stalks beside her. Vera orders him to dial it down, but he has got it into his head that he has a shot at the role and wants the director to see what he's capable of. Eventually, with Luise and Vera feeling uncomfortable with the level of Gerwin's performance, he's dispatched to prepare another scene, while they work on a monologue.
Backstage, Gerwin overhears producer Manfred (Stephan Grossmann) telling Ruth that his superiors want Vera to cast Annika Strassmann (Andrea Sawatzki). Thus, when Luise comes into the kitchen with a good feeling that she has nailed to part, Gerwin can't resist taking her down a peg by mentioning that Annika is due to audition the next day. Convinced she's done enough, Luise asks Vera to confirm her in the role, but she protests that she can't make the decision alone and Gerwin turns the knife by noting that Luise is a lot older than the 37 year-old Petra. When Luise declares that women shouldn't be judged on age and looks alone, Vera makes a half-hearted effort to agree and Luise storms out in disgust at the way the industry treats older actresses.
Next morning, Manfred holds a meeting with Vera, who is annoying prop man Dragan (Dragan Vasic) by rejecting every chair and phone he has shown her. He tells her to make a decision on Petra and mentions that the bosses are keen to cast Annika. However, she doesn't do auditions and Vera is reluctant to plump for her without having seen her at first hand. As they wait around backstage, Ruth breaks the news that Kostja has cancelled and Hanne tells Vera she should consider Gerwin for the role.
She makes him try on Karl's white jacket and ignores Ruth's claim that he is too obviously gay for the role. Coaxing Gerwin into avowing to be bisexual, Vera starts to come round to the idea that he might just be perfect casting, even though he's too old for the part. But she notices that his ear tips redden when he gets animated and, when Ruth and Hanne join in the teasing, Gerwin snaps that he doesn't want to be in the film becasue he's given up acting to open a bar with his lover.
Later that morning, Manfred brings Annika to meet Vera and she is surprised to learn that she has to do a read through, as she was under the impression she had already been awarded the part. Hanne fusses over Annika's pet dog before Vera asks her to tone down Annika's garish make-up so she comes closer to her conception of Petra. When she comes to the set, Manfred asks gaffer Abel (Abel Acker) to soften the light on Annika's face and everyone fusses round her. But Vera cuts her dead after she returns from a loo break in the middle of a scene and tells her that she doesn't come close to her conception of Petra.
Annika sidles off and Hanne gets so emotional about the way in which Ruth lays into Vera for being stubborn and clueless that she quits on the spot. As Manfred is threatening Vera with all sorts, Annika returns and delivers one of Petra's speeches to Vera as though she was actually accusing her of ruining her life. Feeling she has made her point, Annika turns on her heel and leaves.
Gerwin sits with Vera in a dressing room, as she curses for allowing herself to be talked into remaking an iconic film simply because it would have been Fassbinder's 75th birthday. She wishes she had held out to make her own project and confesses that she took it to boost her confidence as an ageing mother. When he confides that he has faith in her, Vera asks Gerwin if he'd like to be Karl and she bosses him around like Petra to see how he responds. As he kisses her shoes, she offers him the role and, feeling back in control of the situation, she struts back to the stage, leaving Gerwin beside himself with delight.
His joy proves short-lived, however, as Manfred is so fed up with Vera that he's ready to pull the plug. Ruth concurs that Vera is impossible to work with, but Gerwin insists that she is merely showing artistic integrity in sticking to her guns. Realising he stands to lose a big break, Gerwin persuades Manfred into letting him call stage actress Tamara Lentzke (Victoria Trauttmansdorff) and he spends the night reminiscing about their past exploits while drinking with Abel and best boy, Thomas (Toby Ashraf).
They are still boozing when Vera arrives on the set with her cinematographer, Siri (Anne Müller). She is less than impressed and withholds a smile when Tamara turns up and can't remember ever having met Gerwin before. Sensing that he's in a vulnerable position, she shouts him down when he tries to make suggestions for the scene and ignores his snide remark that she's not fit to touch Fassbinder. With Tamara also on the attack, they continue the scene in which Karl threatens to leave Petra and Vera orders Gerwin to drop to his knees and retrieve the banknotes that Tamara has taken from her purse to increase his humiliation. When she calls `cut', however, Vera reassures the sobbing Gerwin that she is pleased with his work and that she is happy to continue with him in the role.
After hours, Manfred and Ruth hang out with Gerwin and the crew. As they get drunk, Manfred learns that Kostja has dropped out and that Vera had talked Ruth into keeping quiet until she had cast Petra. When Gerwin thanks them for having faith in him, Manfred stalks out with rage and promptly fires Ruth for not keeping him informed of what was happening behind his back. Gerwin sneers that he's not sorry to see her go. But he gets his own comeuppance on Monday morning when Manfred arrives on set with Kostja.
He is a cocky young man who immediately informs Vera that he finds the language stilted and that he intends throwing in some slang. A stunned Gerwin looks on, as Manfred asks him to play Petra in a read through and Kostja cracks a homophobic remark about having his ass grabbed. Still in a daze, Gerwin watches Manfred order Vera to drop scenes that make Petra unlikeable, as he wants the audience to empathise with her. But he snaps out of it to play the scene with such commitment that Vera is gripped, as he kisses Kostja on the lips and exposes his shallowness as a human being.
At a pre-shoot party, commissioning editor Susanne (Susanne Beier) takes all the plaudits for getting the project to camera (when she's actually done next to nothing). Unable to watch, Gerwin skulks off with a beer and finds Vera's infant son crying on a bed on the set. He picks him up to soothe him and refuses to hand him over when Vera comes to check on him. She thanks him for everything he has done for the production and he hisses that she owes him, as he passes her the child.
Vera casts him opposite Tamara as the delivery man and, to everyone's approval, Gerwin nails the scene in which Petra is insulted when he correctly guesses her age as 62. Despite the applause, he begs Vera for a second take, as he knows he can be better. But the film ends, with Gerwin waiting in the wings, so, we never get to see what he had in mind for his parting shot.
There's always a risk involved when broaching a sacrosanct work like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, but Wackerbarth and his estimable ensemble not only emerge unscathed, but they also manage to do so with a considerable amount of credit. Andreas Lust is particularly impressive as Gerwin, the has-been who engineers a niche for himself, only to overplay his hand and wind up being grateful for a repaid favour. Judith Engel is equally good, as the documentarist who struggles to retain control when real life intrudes upon her dramatic debut and exacerbates the impact of her Hamlet-sized bout of indecision.
Naturally, Wackerbarth and co-writer Hannes Held are deeply indebted to Fassbinder. But they have also concocted a smart satire that deflates the pomposity and preciousness of creative egos, while also debunking the processes that allow screen magic to happen. They also do their bit to discredit the myth of auteur theory by revealing the extent to which even TV-movies are made by hierarchical committees. It would be fascinating to know how much actor-turned-director Wackerbarth was given his head in only his second feature outing behind the camera after Everyday Objects (2013), the teleplay Lower Upper Cut (2011) and a clutch of shorts. One thing is for certain, he wouldn't have had the latitude afforded Fassbinder, who would have been 26 when he filmed his hit play.
Given the fact that the action is confined to a rehearsal space, a corridor and a couple of anterooms, Wackerbarth, cinematographer Jürgen Carle and editor Saskia Metten do well to keep the visuals interesting, as they keep the camera moving and vary the pace of the cutting to prevent the viewer from feeling too settled. But this is very much about the writing and the performances, with Wackerbarth and Held exploring a range of socio-sexual issues while also lamenting the current fixation with youth, status and image in a business that no longer prioritises talent, suitability and artistry.
Despite thanking Valeska Grisebach in the closing credits of Giraffe for her `dramaturgical guidance', Danish sophomore Anna Sofie Hartmann feels more indebted to Agnès Varda and Chantal Akerman's experimental excursions to the United States and Angela Schanelec's elliptical studies of women in transition. Coming five years after Hartmann debuted with Limbo (2014), this docu-fiction is showing on MUBI as part of its selection of recent titles from the Locarno Film Festival.
In June 2018, ethnologist Dara Holmer (Lisa Loven Kongsli) returns to Denmark from Berlin in order to embark upon an interview project for the Lolland Falster Museum. As work is about to begin on a tunnel to Germany known as the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link. Dara is keen to meet Lollanders like Leif and Birte Nielsen, who will have to leave the farm that has been in the family in 1927 to make way for a new highway. While Dara takes pictures of old buildings before they are demolished, a Polish cable gang digs up the nearby roads. Despite having a boyfriend, she notices the strapping Lucek (Jakub Gierszal) when he passes on the bridge at the end of the day and likes what she sees.
At one half-timbered cottage, Dara finds lots of photograph albums and the diary of Agnes Sørenson, a librarian who had regretted moving to Lolland alone. She speaks to Knud Fulstrup (Knud Knudsen), the farmer who had bought the land in 2005, but he knows nothing about Agnes and is more concerned about the fact that stones keep appearing in his soil each year and he has no idea where they come from. Returning to the cottage after spending time cataloguing artefacts that have been found during the house clearances, Dara reads more of Alice's journal and discovers she was having an affair with a man named Gorm.
Lucek and his workmates throw stones into the sea and discuss trips home. He bumps into Dara after he has been swimming during a thunderstorm and she urges him to be careful. She invites him to her lodgings and they sleep together. Over lunch, he tells her to stop staring at him, but assures her that he has no problem with their 14-year age difference. They discover they will both be in Lolland until the autumn and makes plans to see each other again.
Having met someone who went birdwatching with Agnes while trying to find mention of her in the local archives, Dara looks through more snapshots in an effort to get to know her better. She does the same with Lucek and visits his digs and reads to him on the beach. He spends much of his leisure time with his workmates, who are at loggerheads with their employers over hourly rates and call in the local union rep to help them out. Over beers, the older men talk about their families and the fact that they have to work abroad to send them to college.
Dara's friend, Käthe (Maren Eggert), works on the ferry and she is intrigued by Agnes's diaries and what Dara might do with the information. She is a great people watcher and we hear the stories she weaves around a man sailing to Sweden, a pair of South Asian sisters going to a theme park and a possibly lesbian couple who seem to have slipped into a cosy routine. While Dara is in Berlin going to dinner parties and watching avant-garde theatre with her boyfriend, Lucek learns that it will take 18 months to resolve any legal case brought against their employer and he is dismayed when his colleagues vote to return home.
Having lingered to see Dara, Lucek is disappointed when she says she can't just end her other relationship because he says he loves her. Käthe sees him on the ferry, as he drinks a lonely coffee on the deck. Dara reads about Agnes also falling out with a friend named Peter and how dull the days became as she realised she would probably spend the rest of her life alone. Continuing with the project, Dara has reluctant fun with the other members of the team, when they dance in a bar.
Lucek sends her a video message to show her the village where his grandparents live and contrast it with the soulless tenement in which his mother resides in Warsaw. When Dara comes to write her report on the house that Agnes had occupied for 44 years, she ignores the hermitic life into which she had stumbled through the journals and sticks to the bald facts in concluding that the property lacks the notable features to spare it from demolition. She places Agnes's belongings in an underground storage facility and the screen fades to black, as she takes the elevator back to ground level - even though her own future is still somewhat up in the air.
Apart from the opening shot of a giraffe in the Knuthenborg safari park fixing the gaze of the camera, the eponymous mammal plays no part in Dora's expedition. However, Hartmann uses its presence on Lolland to suggest that creatures can adapt to their surroundings wherever they are and however they might have been altered. Clearly, for the non-professionals being interviewed for posterity, the prospect of leaving the homes in which they have raised their families is devastating and Birte Nielsen can't finish her sentence, as the emotions well up. Yet, some lives are lived in such seclusion that they barely register with those around them, as was the case with Agnes Sørenson, who has been all but forgotten in the 14 years since her death (a span that equates with the gap between Dara and Lucek).
They are splendidly played by Lisa Loven Kongsli and Jakub Gierszal, with the Norwegian on Binochean form as the woman approaching 40 who is caught between two lovers and can't decide whether to follow her heart or her head. Given the dispassionate manner in which she consigns Agnes's cottage to oblivion, it's tempting to suggest she will pick up the pieces in Berlin. But Hartmann artfully uses the video message from Poland to sew seeds of doubt. She also utilises Karin Betzler's production design and Jenny Lou Ziegel's cinematography to evocative effect, as she captures the passing of a way of life and contrasts Dora and Lucek's living conditions.
The latter recall the London lodgings of Jeremy Irons and his cohorts in Jerzy Skolimowki's excellent Moonlighting (1982) and imply that working conditions for Polish labourers abroad haven't improved much over the last four decades. However, the comparison also raises the issue of how much of Europe had been knocked down and/or built up by Poles in recent times and how many ephemeral memories from outwardly workaday lives have been lost forever in their wake - and how many new memories have been forged in their place. But Hartmann leaves us with so much to ponder in this intimate, mournful, but deceptively dense treatise on tradition and progress and dislocation and decontextualisation in a time of globalisation, migration and ubiquitous, but unheard communication.
Having related what are essentially conventional linear stories in Volcano (2011) and Sparrows (2015), Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson takes a very different tack in Echo. Adopting the structural conceit behind Kevin Macdonald's Life in a Day (2011) and Christmas in a Day (2013), Rúnarsson seeks to fashion a film in which `reality will be captured, initiated and staged' across 56 vignettes with a linking seasonal theme.
1) An expensive estate glides through a car wash. 2) A line of people in identical tabards scour a snowy landscape around a volcano for a missing person. 3) While a young woman points out the birds eating bread to her infant son, her mother complains about a neighbour parking on their drive. 4) An undertaker stops arranging the taffeta inside a young boy's white coffin to take a phone call from his own child. 5) Roused from a sunbed, a black sportsman takes a call from his family back in the United States.
6) Appalled by the torching of a traditional farmhouse, a farmer refuses to sell eggs to the grandson of an old friend who is planning to build a holiday let on the land. 7) A mother de-ices her windscreen while her baby cries in a carry seat. 8) A police detail barges past a clergymen and some activists to arrest two asylum seekers claiming sanctuary in a church. 9) A building manager discovers that his Polish labourers have gone on strike over pay rates. 10) While working in his shop, a knife grinder listens to a woman denouncing exploitative capitalism on the radio.
11) In a school gymnasium, a tweenage girl refuses to accept a telling off for breaking the nose of the boy who was bullying her. 12) A librarian informs his parents over the phone that he refuses to eat whale meat for Christmas dinner. 13) Sitting on the stairs, a proud mum watches her growing daughters perfect a hip hop dance routine in their bedroom. 14) Two nurses reassure an addict disowned by his family that the mobile dispensary will be open over the holidays and delight him by giving him a small present. 15) Father Christmas enters a school Nativity scene to offers everyone Coca Cola before the cast sings `Good King Wenceslas', while their parents film the show on their phones.
16) Contestants in a body beautiful competition strike poses on stage for the judges. 17) A young girl plans a surprise for her piano teacher father, only for the daughter of his new girlfriend (who just happens to be his star student) to ruin everything by being a much more accomplished player. 18) The owner of a greenhouse business complains in vain over the phone to a bank employee who can't overturn a loan decision made by a computer. 19) Two butchers surrounded by dangling carcasses jiggle along to `Jingle Bells', while cutting meat in a slaughterhouse. 20) Browbeaten by his teenage daughter and his disapproving wife, a man buckles and buys inside and outside Christmas trees.
21) A pair of young girls dart between the four elderly people taking an aqua aerobics class in an outdoor pool. 22) While cleaning a display case full of stuffed birds at a museum, a sobbing mother discovers that her ex-husband has bought tickets to fly their children home for the holidays. 23) Santa keeps the line moving at a department store grotto, but makes sure each parent gets a treasured snapshot on their phone. 24) A volunteer loads up his van from trolleys of unsold food. 25) Four old friends nursing hangovers ferment fish in the garage because the owner's wife won't let him cook the foul-smelling dish indoors.
26) Two boys kick a ball around beside the long line waiting in the rain outside the Red Cross food bank. 27) Members of a small crowd sing `Silent Night' and exchange hugs of peace beneath a golden Christmas tree in a town square. 28) A mother takes pictures at her father's graveside, as her mother informs her young daughter that they will all end up being buried in the same plot. 29) While her stressed parents get dressed to go out, a small girl amuses herself in the bath. 30) On either side of a dividing wall, the older and younger members of a family exchange fond embraces as the bells strike midnight, while a pair of lovers indulge in a passionate kiss.
31) An affluent man in a chic home opens a bottle of wine and chuckles at some text messages, as he sits down to a microwave supper. 32) While grandma amuses her relatives by trying out a virtual reality headset, two younger members of the party slip next door to Skype with friends. 33) Having spent the day cooking and cleaning, a dutiful young woman visits the grandfather with dementia who had not been invited from his care home. 34) While his colleague helps someone with a health issue, a call centre operator keeps an eight year-old boy calm while arranging for the police to visit his violently feuding parents. 35) During his sermon at midnight mass, a priest reminds his congregation of their need to take responsibility for their actions and their duty to help others in a world full of poverty, prejudice and injustice.
36) Three drunken friends play Monopoly and one argues that he should be entitled to an instalment plan to pay his fine for landing on the bank square. 37) In an indoor swimming pool, a circle of new parents follow the instructor in getting their babies used to the water. 38) While having his hair dyed, a would-be lothario talks to his hairdresser pal about a woman he fancies. 39) A minor altercation over a parking space in a narrow street gets out of hand when a woman goes live on Facebook to accuse a perfectly respectful middle-aged male of abusing her. 40) Watching over some fornicating sheep in a cavernous indoor pen, a sister urges her artist brother to patch up with their farmer father because they both get subsidies from the government.
41) Rows of people pound on treadmills in a large urban gym. 42) A woman feels aggrieved when her male companion abandons her at a club because she has pointed out that an old acquaintance keeps giving him the eye. 43) A man trudges across a desolate landscape to toss a Christmas tree on a giant bonfire. 44) Another man gets enthusiastic about the loud and colourful firework he is about to purchase. 45) While waiting at a bus stop on the edge of a housing estate, a smartly dressed woman recognises a girl she used to bully at school and feels put out that her apology isn't more fulsomely accepted.
46) A resident at an old people's home shuffles into the TV room with her upright walker in time to see the prime minister's speech. 47) The same broadcast causes an argument between two men at a New Year party and one complains that nothing will ever change in Iceland while socialism is spurned. 48) As a bonfire begins to burn, it lights up the darkness and a previous unseen crowd becomes visible. 49) While fireworks shoot into the night sky, some kids grab some discarded beer and feel grown up. 50) Cowering under the sofa, an elderly dog looks around anxiously before the noise of the celebrations causes him to slink away.
51) As everyone else in the courtyard lets off fireworks, three figures standing away from the rest content themselves with waving sparklers. 52) A woman gives birth and her baby boy howls heartily, as she pulls her taciturn partner towards her to share in the miraculous moment. 53) Gulls fly off the coast as a new day dawns. 54) A man changes a roadside crashing car display that is designed to make people wear seatbelts so that it shows no casualties so far in the new year. 55) Binmen haul wheelies to their wagon. 56) A boat is buffeted by a choppy sea, as birds circle overhead.
Naturally, this breakdown fails to do justice to the ingenuity and dexterity of this ambitious project. However, it gives you an idea of the range of topics and tones that Rúnarsson has crammed into his 79-minute running time. Each segment was filmed with a static camera, while the running order was determined with Dane Jacob Secher Schulsinger during editing. Some of the juxtapositions are amusing, others stark. But nothing has been left to chance, as this moving image mosaic captures situations and emotions that will be familiar to anyone with a few Yuletides under their belts.
As with any anthology, some scenarios are better than others. Among the best are the touching exchange between the nurses and the junkie, the excruciating piano recital, the harrowing reaction of the cleaner who realises that all her carefully laid plans are going to be for nought and the heartbreakingly one-sided conversation between the granddaughter and the locked-in old man who perhaps understands more than he is able to convey.
The pick, however, is the country conflagration that a farmer's young girl is eagerly recording with her phone, while her grandfather recalls meeting his future wife there at a party. His reverie is interrupted by his neighbour's grandson, who boasts that he has laid the fire to save the expense of renovation when he can buy a prefab from Poland that will be authentic enough for the city slickers he intends to rip off with his holiday scheme. No wonder the farmer refuses to sell him the spare eggs he barters for milk with an old friend and one can feel him reining in his contempt when the rube sneers that cash is surely better than produce.
On the downside, the firework-related entries are largely damp squibs. But only the confrontation over the parking space misfires completely, as it leaves a sour aftertaste of misogyny. Yet it reinforces Rúnarsson's contention that technology has taken over our lives to the extent that we can't enjoy being with friends and family without seeking a distraction on one screen or another. He also highlights the sad fact that so many people spend Christmas alone.
Given the brevity of the episodes, the performances by the mostly non-professional cast are commendably persuasive in allowing Rúnarsson to give the impression that he has managed to eavesdrop on such diverse slices of life after plonking down Sophia Olsson's camera in just the right place each time. In this regard, production designer Gus Olafsson deserves particular praise for having come up with 56 atmospheric and contrasting settings, while it's a shame that Sigur Rós alumnus Kjartan Sveinsson's haunting score is so sparingly used. No doubt Icelanders will spot a thousand and one allusions that outsiders will have missed. But this has the universality, insight, intelligence and humanity to suggest that it could become a familiar part of future festive viewing schedules if an enterprising British broadcaster (if we still have one of those) just took a punt.
When your mother was a founding member of The Groundlings and you started performing on stage at the age of six, it should come as no surprise to learn that Drake Doremus is an advocate of improvisation. Since making his directorial debut at the age of 23 with Moonpie (2006), he has continued to favour a post-mumblecore style in alternating between such romantic dramas as Like Crazy (2011), Breathe In (2013) and Newness (2017) and sci-fi romances like Equals (2015) and Zoe (2018). His latest offering, Endings, Beginnings, definitely falls into the former category. But the scenario also contains faint echoes of his sibling rivalry road movie, Douchebag (2010).
Having abruptly quit her job in Los Angeles and split from her four-year boyfriend, Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler), Daphne (Shailene Woodley) moves into the pool house belonging to her sister, Billie (Lindsay Sloane), and husband, Jonathan (Shamier Anderson). Struggling to find a new job, she works part-time at the vintage clothing shop owned by her painting pal Ingrid (Kyra Sedgwick) and endures the Christmas disapproval of her mother, Sue (Wendie Malick), who is happily shacked up with new beau, Carl (James Trussart).
At a New Year party, Daphne meets both Jack (Jamie Dornan) and Frank (Sebastian Stan) and feels drawn towards each of them, even though they are very different personalities. As she had told the latter she isn't drinking because she's going through a six-month period of self-reflection, he sends her a playlist of music to suffer by. Then, Jack comes to Abigail's shop and asks Daphne for a date and she goes on the proviso that they just remain friends. He seems nice enough, but he has decided to devote himself to writing and doesn't envisage himself ever becoming a father.
Haunted by an encounter at a nightclub, Daphne tries to remain celibate. But Frank keeps texting and she feels obliged to meet up with him in a bar. He explains that Jack is his best friend and that he doesn't want to drive a wedge between them if there's anything going on. Yet, no sooner has Daphne assured him there isn't, they start kissing passionately and hurry back to his place for sex. She's embarrassed when Ingrid chides her and confused when Frank and Jack bombard her with texts about not wanting to ruin friendships or break hearts. Feeling guilty, Daphne agrees to see Jack and he slips in a few digs at Frank's reliability before relating a break-up story that Daphne finds so relatable that she tumbles into bed with him.
He's not as good between the sheets as Frank, but Daphne feels comfortable with him. However, she decides she has outstayed her welcome with Billie and moves into a new house, where she is spooked on her first night by a phone message from the man involved in the nightclub episode she is trying to forget. She deals with the shock and lies to Jack when he asks if she is still texting Frank. They run into each other at a dinner party, but confine themselves to meaningful glances across the room. When Jack goes to Philadelphia, however, Frank uses his corgi as an excuse to call on Daphne and they are soon rolling around on the floor with Bartholomew watching bashfully from the settee.
They go on a road trip along the coast and make out in the car near Big Sur. Frank introduces Daphne to some friends in a band and she enjoys listening to them. But, as she sings REM's `Losing My Religion', she gets suspicious about Frank's furtive whisperings with his druggie pals and they drive home in stonyish silence. On arriving home, she realises she's forgotten Billie's baby shower and gets a frosty reception. As he's none the wiser, Jack is delighted to see her again and tells her that they feel right together.
In a bid to get closure on the night her boss drugged and assaulted her. Daphne persuades Jack to go dancing in the same nightclub and she walks up to Jed (Ben Esler) at the bar and glares at him before asking Jack if they can leave. She insists she's merely hungry, but he half-senses something is wrong. However, he's too wrapped up in the news he has landed a scholarship in Rome to delve too deeply and it's only when Daphne discovers she's pregnant that she feels she has to tell Jack about her dalliance with Frank.
Jack accuses her of being sloppy and urges her to stop blaming her messed-up life on the fact that her mother slept around. He asks her to leave and Daphne pours out her heart to Ingrid, who swears she will be fine whatever decision she makes. She opts to keep the child and is heavily pregnant at Sue and Carl's wedding, when her mother tries to explain that she drifted from man to man because she was trying to find someone who would be good for her daughters.
Summoning the courage to call her previous employer and explain her hurried departure. Daphne feels better about herself, especially after she bumps into Frank and gets to tell him that her daughter may be his. She also writes a regretful note to Adrian and places it inside an expensive book. But he's gone travelling and she's pleased he is doing what he wants with his life. Sue calls with some baby clothes and they patch things up over tearful smiles. As she's also close to term, Billie keeps dropping round and the sisters sit together as Daphne reassures her that everything will be fine because they are loved.
Offering glibly patronising advice for the lovelorn, this is a persistently resistible melodrama that is nowhere near as insightful, significant or artistic as Doremus and writing partner, Jardine Libaire, think it is. The pair presented their actors with backstories and encouraged them to work together on developing their characters and their interaction. But, whereas Mike Leigh would then rehearse and refine the situations, Doremus seems to have rushed his cast in front of the camera and promised them that everything would be sorted in the edit.
The studied speech patterns, the jerky nature of the camerawork and the skittish of the editing are all supposed to convey an impression of the life being caught in the raw. But the mosaic feels far too calculatingly constructed, with the brevity of the fussily jump-cut scenes making them too flimsy for the narrative heft they are supposed to sustain. As a consequence, the audience becomes increasingly conscious of the fact that they are watching performers feeling their way through action that has been conceived and blocked with arch insouciance.
In fairness to Shailene Woodley, she puts an interestingly downbeat spin on the stock character of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, as she struggles to deal with the unendurable burden of a date rape while handpainting old teapots, buying ice creams for her adoring niece, playing pinball in shabbily chic arcades or creating perfect harmonies with a trendy rock chick. But, the moment she comes into contact with Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan, she becomes a cipher who is flopped on to a big soft bed for some inexpert love-making by the bushy Jack or flung on to a rock hard floor for a good hard rut by Frank's well-hung stubbly bad boy.
It's all a bit embarrassing and one feels desperately sorry for Trevor the dog, who is making his big screen debut and has a right to expect more. Wendie Malick does her best to redeem the situation with a couple of well-judged speeches, on her wedding day and when she invites Woodley to come and stay whenever she needs someone to do a bit of babysitting. But, for all Doremus's dramatic deliberation and aesthetic affectation, this is often as gauche as the gaudy Day-Glo lettering used for the charmless ménage's text messages.
SHEEP AND WOLVES: PIG DEAL.
Special rates on Disney+ will have made if difficult for most rivals to get a lockdown look-in when it comes to animation. But who can blame parents for forking out for a Disney subscription when the competition is as bland as Vladimir Nikolaev's Sheep and Wolves: Pig Deal? Released two years after Andrei Galat and Maksim Volkov's equally anodyne Sheep and Wolves (2016), this CGI sequel spins out the slenderest of storylines and, in the process, shamelessly steals a key plot device from the Asterix the Gaul books.
Following a poorly animated flashback narrated by Mami the Gypsy hare (Vanessa Gardner), Gark the dark wolf (Major Attaway) decides to attack the village in which sheep and wolves live in harmony because the concept of carnivores and herbovores being equal nauseates him. Grey the wolf (Graham Halstead) is informed of the plot by Simone the Arctic fox (Melissa Hope) and Josie, a crocodile who has been transformed into a ewe by one of Mami's magic potions. Encouraged by Belgour the ram (Tyler Bunch) and and his devoted partner, Bianca (Kate Bristol), Grey prepares the village defences to resist the onslaught.
However, Bucho the ram (Tyler Bunch) despairs of his charges when they keep botching the simplest training exercises. Moreover, a stranger wearing white gloves keeps sabotaging the schemes devised by Ziko the ram (Billy Bob Thompson) and Grey tells Belgour that he's not fit to be a leader in a time of crisis. The sage ram disagrees, however, and Grey and Bianca decide to risk all by rescuing Mami from Gark's lair so that she can brew a potion that will help the villagers to repel the invaders.
Everyone's hopes are boosted when Josie is used as a guinea pig and acquires super strength. But Dum (Marc Thompson) is so obsessed with Josie and her voracious appetite that he fails to keep guard over the potion on the eve of the showdown. Consequently, two of Gark's agents are able to spike it with another concoction that turns the villagers into pink piglets. Distraught at discovering his best friend, Skinny (Jason Griffith), has been undermining his plans, Grey fears the worst when he is slammed into a cell.
Fortunately, Mami manages to broker a peace deal by convincing Gark's followers that they have so much in common with their supposed foes that they would be better off being friends. Moreover, Grey and Skinny patch up to escape from captivity and face off with Gark. But he makes the mistake of drinking the entire cauldron of strength potion, without knowing that two vials had dripped into it, and he is reduced to a figure of fun when he turns into a little grey piggie in mid-charge.
All ends happily and one has to hope that such contentment precludes the need for a further visit to this cosy hillside haven of harmony. There's nothing wrong with the message, of course, which takes on a curious new relevance at a time of pandemic when everyone has to take shared responsibility for each other's welfare. Even the (originally 3-D) computer-generated graphics are fine, even though they're nowhere near as sophisticated in their depiction of fur texture than their bigger-budgeted Hollywood counterparts.
There are amusing scenes, as Mami sells sheep and wolf merchandise from a barrow and Bucho struggles to turn his neighbours into a fighting force. But the mediocre English-language dubbing merely serves to emphasise the fact that the principal characters are short on charm, while the overall storytelling lacks wit and vim.
THE LIVING THAMES.
With a heatwave raging in the middle of a pandemic, it's all too easy to let one's focus narrow. But, back in 1858, the combination of the hot summer sun and the effluence in the River Thames proved so unendurable that Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was persuaded by `the Great Stink' to engage Joseph Bazalgette on an epic civil engineering project that would clean up the waterway that had contributed to three recent outbreaks of cholera. A century after the initiation of the plan to sluice the `Monster Soup' into the North Sea, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames to be biologically dead. As Dorothy Leiper reveals in her documentary, The Living Thames, however, this verdict proved to be mercifully wide of the mark.
Having commended the admirable work being done by splendid people along the length of the river, David Attenborough introduces us to Chris Baines, the President of the Thames Estuary Partnership, who came up with the idea for the film and who acts as our guide along the tidal river from Teddington to the North Sea. At Richmond, Baines meets Jason Debney, the co-ordinator of the Thames Landscape Strategy, who waxes lyrical about the natural and architectural glories of the Arcadian Thames before describing how boardwalks are being used as part of the area's flood management scheme.
Baines is ferried across to the Isleworth Ait, where Cliff Watson and Mandy Timpson of the London Wildlife Trust explains how access to the island is controlled to allow groups to study the flora and fauna. He visits Kew Bridge during Tidefest and learns about piscine conservation from Steve Colclough of the Institute of Fisheries Management and Joanna Barker from the Zoological Society of London. In addition to smelts and European eels, they also mention the seal communities that live along the Thames in encouraging citizen scientists to volunteer for the various groups carrying out research projects.
Having learned from archaeologist Fiona Haughey that the river is a self-excavating trench, Baines learns how people interact with the Thames from estuarine scientist Amy Pryor. She urges Londoners to avoid putting face wipes down the loo and join up to the One Less campaign to reduce the number of plastic bottles being discarded into the water. These initiatives would also make life easier for Phil Stride, who is overseeing the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is due to cost £4.5 billion and reduce the strain on Bazalgette's network by removing polluting rainwater and sewage through a 25km pipe stretching from Acton to the Abbey Mills Pumping Station.
Enthusing about the historic buildings lining the banks of the Thames, Baines meets Richard Beet, the skipper of the Massey Shaw Fireboat that not only played a role in battling blazes around St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz, but which also rescued 500 trapped soldiers from the beach at Dunkirk. On the jetty, he also hears from Anna Moscrop about the harbour porpoise project being conducted by Marine Conservation Research. He makes more wildlife discoveries at Deptford Creek, which is close to where Elizabeth I had knighted Sir Francis Drake after he had sailed around the world on The Golden Hind.
Donning a pair of thigh-high wading boots, Baines enjoys meeting some excited primary school pupils on a field trip before chatting with Peter Massini, the leader of the Greater London Authority's Urban Greening Team, about maintaining the ecological balance between the river and its banks. This leads him to an encounter with AJ McConville, the co-ordinator of Thames River Watch, which is monitoring litter in the river with a view to identifying where it comes from and where it ends up.
At the Thames Barries, Baines hears about its workings from Engineering Manager, Steve East. He also learns about the role played by soft defences from Dave Webb and Neil Dunlop from the Environment Agency. The latter tells him about the bubblers that pump oxygen into the Thames to maintain the water quality and, as a consequence, there are now 126 species of fish in a river that was once given the last rites.
On leaving the city limits, Baines drops in on Mike Jones at Bazalgette's wonderfully preserved Crossness Pumping Station on the Erith Marshes, which Nikolaus Pevsner described as `a Victorian cathedral of ironwork'. Nearby, anthropologist Adam Guy explains about the area's biodiversity, while Michael Heath boosts the work done by the Thames 21 litter-picking initiative. Geography teacher Gordon Davis is a keen supporter and Baines meets some of his past and present students, who keep coming back to help out.
At Gravesend, Baines hears from Tanya Ferry about the work being done by the Port of London Authority, which is currently sponsoring the Thames Vision project. On a visit to the RSPB Reserve at Northward Hill in Kent, he also learns about the Greater Thames Futurescape initiative to preserve habitats and wetlands from programme manager Jonathan Mycock. Crossing to the Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve on the Essex shore, he hooks up with Rachel Haylock Jones from DP World London Gateway and Steve Roach from the RSPB to learn how commerce and conservation co-operate. Excited by the potential for the reconstruction of natural environments in this past of the estuary, Baines comes to journey's end in Leigh-on-Sea, as he sails out to Maplin Sands with cockle fisherman James Bates.
Filmed over two years and closer in tone and style to the BBC's Coast programme (2005-15) than a feature documentary, this is very much an educational and advocatorial tool. Baines isn't a professional presenter and his interviewing style is a bit stilted. But he warms to the task and his enthusiasm courses through the film and is complemented by the commitment of his guests. Cinematographer Clive Gill has an eye for landscape and wildlife and his images are capably edited in a son et lumière kind of way by Dorothy Leiper.
For those stuck indoors at the moment, this makes for a pleasingly informative excursion. We should be grateful that there are so many specialists and amateurs committed to keeping Father Thames rolling along and it would be nice to think that this odyssey will boost their numbers. Perhaps, when the circumstances permit, Leiper and Baines can make a complementary recce from Thames Head in Gloucestershire through the valley to Teddington Lock, as there's a lot going on there, too.
ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND.
The Band have long been guaranteed their place in documentary history, as The Last Waltz (1978) - Martin Scorsese's record of their `farewell' performance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on 25 November 1976 - has frequently been cited as the best concert movie of all time. There were those, however, who complained that the focus fell too squarely on the quintet's lead guitarist and one can expect to hear similar gripes aimed at Daniel Rohar's Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, as not only has this musical chronicle been based on the 76 year-old Robertson's autobiography, Testimony: A Memoir, but it has also been executive produced by Scorsese, for whom Robertson wrote the scores for Raging Bull (1980), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019).
An only child, Robbie Robertson discovered late in his youth that his biological father wasn't mother Dolly's husband, Jim Robertson, but a deceased Jewish gambler named Alexander Klegerman. However, he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a musician because Dolly regularly took him back from Toronto to the Six Nations Reserve where she had been raised to ground him in tribal rhythms and refrains.
At 13, however, Robertson discovered rock'`n'roll, which he considers to have been his personal big bang. Bruce Springsteen pops up to reveal that he had the same revelation, as we learn that Robertson quickly formed his own band and was playing with The Suedes when they found themselves on the same Toronto bill in 1959 as Ronnie Hawkins and The Hawks. Blown away by the Arkansas combo's rockabilly style, Robertson stuck to them like glue and wrote to songs, `Hey Boba Lou' and `Someone Like You', for their next album.
He also befriended drummer Levon Helm and he acted as a mentor when the 16 year-old Robertson moved to the Mississippi Delta and soon found himself in the compatriot company of bassist Rick Danko and keyboard players Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. Hawkins recognised that his fledglings would soon take flight and Levon and The Hawks landed in New York in 1965, where John Hammond introduced them to Bob Dylan, who needed a new backing band to help him go electric from acoustic folk. As Robertson recalls, it was a sobering experience to be booed everywhere they played, but Dylan was delighted with them, as they had his back while he broke with his past.
Mickey Jones took over on drums after Helm quit to work on an oil rig and George Harrison recalls the hostile reaction of British fans when Dylan came out to do the second half of the touring show with The Hawks. Dylan himself has nothing but praise for the `gallant knights' who put their heads in the lion's mouth for him, although Robertson recognised that the experience tightened the bonds with his bandmates. Having met French-Canadian journalist Dominique Bourgeois in Paris, Robertson sought a family base and followed Dylan and manager Albert Grossman to Woodstock in upstate New York, where they bought a property that became known as Big Pink.
Robertson built a small studio in the basement and it was here that Dylan recorded the famous `Basement Tapes' in May 1967 after Hudson, Danko and Manuel moved into Big Pink. These sessions inspired Robertson to write songs like `The Weight' and, when Grossman suggested that they cut an album, he summoned Helm back from the Gulf of Mexico and The Band was formed in time for Music From Big Pink (1968). Eric Clapton joins Taj Mahal and Springstein in acclaiming it a landmark LP and, with Cream about to break up, Slowhand realised where his destiny lay.
Photographer Elliott Landy recalls the unusual level of harmony between the brothers in the band. But plans to tour had to be shelved when Danko broke his neck in a car crash and he only recovered in time for the recording of the second studio album, The Band (aka The Brown Album, 1969). Containing tracks like `The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' and `Up on Cripple Creek', it boosted what road manager Jonathan Taplin calls ``Americana' and confirmed their place in the vanguard of the changing American music scene, even though, as Peter Gabriel suggests, they were never became huge stars individually, as their strength lay in the sum of all the parts.
Van Morrison recognised a bit of American mythology in the lyrics, while Scorsese compared them to the works of Herman Melville and guitarist Jimmy Vivino claims that each song was like a miniature John Steinbeck novel. George Harrison remembers hanging out with The Band and Robertson telling him that he wrote differently to suit Helm, Manuel and Danko's vocal styles. Yet, when they finally came to play live in San Francisco in 1969, the memories of the Dylan tours came back to haunt Robertson, who needed to be hypnotised by Pierre Clement in order to overcome his stage fright.
With Clapton desperate to join The Band, success rather went to the heads of Helm, Danko and Manuel, whose drink and drug use became increasingly excessive. Robertson nearly fell out with Manuel when he totalled a car with Dominique as a passenger, while Danko and Helm were also involved in high-speed accidents. A period of sobriety followed, during which time they wrote and recorded Stage Fright (1970). However, Manuel and Helm started experimenting with heroin prior to the sessions and, when David Geffen invited Robertson to record for him and move to Malibu, California, he took up the offer and left Big Pink.
Geffen hoped to sign Dylan and used Robertson as bait. He talked the rest of The Band to go west and the result was Dylan's Planet Waves album and the tour that was immortalised on Before the Flood (both 1974). More studio albums were recorded at the Shangri-La Studio (the former location of the TV series, Mister Ed), but Rohar jumps forward to the tour without Dylan and Manuel's heroin meltdown in Cleveland, Ohio that led to them playing live as a foursome for the one and only time. Hawkins regrets how much the rhythm section had changed and producer John Simon remembers Robertson telling him that he was tired of touring with a suitcase full of heroin and had plans to write scores for Ingmar Bergman.
Dominique suggests that Robertson was too fixed on following his vision to brook distractions and he was beginning to tire of Manuel's unreliability and Helm's paranoid complaints about management and musical issues. Realising that they needed a break to re-set, Robertson suggested a swan song before a healing hiatus and Taplin brought in Scorsese to make a documentary. Guests like Hawkins, Dylan, Clapton, Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and Dr John signed up for the gig and the rest is history. And, as far as this film is concerned, the rest is silence, as Robertson laments the passing of Manuel, Danko and Helm.
A sad footnote to add to the fact that Manuel took his own life is the bitterness that Helm aired in his 1993 tome, This Wheel's on Fire, and took to the grave. Friend Larry Campbell contends that he felt he had a right to share in the songwriting royalties, as they had always worked as a combo. But Hawkins and Taplin leap to Robertson's defence in stating that he wrote the songs, while the others simply contributed to the arrangements. This issue might have been explored with audio of Helm making his point, but it's blatantly slanted in Robertson's favour and he gets to seem like the forgiving soul of a wayward friend with his story about holding Helm's hand on his deathbed in 2012.
Don't misunderstand, Robertson's a decent man and he was the creative heartbeat of The Band. Indeed, he and Hudson often had to fight to keep everyone together and it seems like no accident that ex-wife Dominique should have gone on to become a therapist specialising in addiction recovery. But he might have let this one stay on the pages of his memoir rather than airing them in what is otherwise a riveting watch that should send viewers scurrying to their record collections or to sites where this wonderful music that often bucked prevailing trends by melding bygone styles can be obtained. With Brian Grazer and Ron Howard joining Scorsese in the executive suite, the quality is almost assured and Rohar and co-editor Eamonn O'Connor have done a splendid job in telling the essentials of the story.
There are gaps and absentees, the most glaring of which is the reclusive Hudson, who is alive and well in Woodstock. Rohar is also slightly hindered by the lack of cine footage of The Hawks in their heyday and he has to make extensive use of monochrome photography. Moreover, no mention is made of the four studio - Cahoots (1971), Rock of Ages (1972), Northern Lights - Southern Cross (1975) and Islands (1977) - and one live (Moondog Matinee, 1973) album produced while Robertson was still on the strength. It's understandable, however, that he would gloss over Jericho (1993), High on the Hog (1996) and Jubilation (1998), which his erstwhile bandmates recorded without him (and which makes his avowal that `everybody just forgot to come back' after The Last Waltz all the more pertinent and poignant). But this is a solid introduction to an undervalued outfit, who, saw action on the barricades of at least three musical revolutions.
YOU'VE BEEN TRUMPED TOO.
Much has happened since Anthony Baxter attempted to release You've Been Trumped Too back in 2016. Most notably, of course, Donald J. Trump has become the 45th President of the United States and he has successfully employed legal intimidation to persuade distributors and exhibitors alike to distance themselves from Baxter and his documentary. Now, as Trump gears up for a second tilt at the White House, Journeyman Pictures has stood up to the threats and has courageously made Baxter's exposé available on various digital platforms from 18 August. Unfortunately, as the following 2016 review attests, this significant film struggles to make the most of its opportunities.
A follow-up to You've Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter's 2011 record of Donald Trump's bid to bully the Balmedie locals hindering the construction of his Aberdeenshire golf resort, this could not be more timely. But, in catching up with residents who resisted the bludgeoning bluster and eliciting their views on Trump's suitability for the American presidency, Baxter too often relies on recaps and repetitions, which start to seem like stunts when the scene shifts from the Scottish coast to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio that hosted the National Republican Convention in July. Given the speed with which Baxter has turned the picture round, it seems perfidious to cavil. However, in taking the fight to Trump, he needs to have something more potentially damaging in his armoury.
When Trump first encountered Baxter in the wilds of Belhelvie, he refused to speak to him as he didn't consider him a legitimate reporter or film-maker. However, as You've Been Trumped has since been shown on the BBC, Trump's people have clearly decided that an interview in Trump Towers would allow him to set the record straight. He fusses about the clip pinning the microphone to his lapel and sends a minion to fetch a more becoming one from his desk. As he waits, he asks how things are in Scotland and a series of split screens reveals that life is harder than ever for 92 year-old Molly Forbes and her son Michael.
Molly is less than delighted to learn that she reminds Trump of his own mother (who hailed from the Hebrides) and tuts that he must have treated her very badly. She hopes for the sake of America and the world that he is not elected, as he is an overgrown child who only thinks of himself and how to get his own way.
During the construction of an access road to the golf course, the main pipe carrying water from a well to the Forbes properties was damaged. Baxter raised the issue with Donald Trump, Jr. and some of his acolytes during the making of the first film. But, despite reassurances that the unacceptable situation would be rectified, nothing was ever done. Consequently, by 2013, Molly has become reliant on bottled water for drinking and cooking and supplies from the nearby burn for strip washing and flushing the toilet.
Baxter is appalled to see her hauling buckets from a wheelbarrow and he cross-cuts footage of Trump praising his mother's cleanliness in dismissing Michael's smallholding as a `pigsty' that embarrasses the nation. Neighbour Mickey Foote brands Trump a disgrace for letting Molly sink into such degradation, while MSP Andy Wightman claims that Trump has an obligation under Scottish law to repair the damage caused by his workers. By refusing to honour this duty, therefore, he displays a disregard for the legal network that is hardly becoming for a future president.
While Trump is busy announcing his candidacy in June 2015, the indomitable Molly attends a village get together and reminisces about her time as a Land Girl during the Second World War. She recalls her pride in the 30-strong dairy herd she tended and Baxter uses old Ministry of Information clips to reaffirm how she did her bit for her country in her own quiet way. Baxter also suggests a love for animals that he rather maladroitly contrasts with Donald, Jr.'s big game-hunting exploits in Zimbabwe, when he was filmed shooting at elephants and brandishing a tail. Junior defends his hobby while riding with Baxter on a golf buggy, as he claims to donate shoes to the locals in return for his sport. But Baxter doubts whether such boasts about charity and conservationism carry much weight, bearing in mind what the Trump Organisation has done to the dunes and fields of Balmedie.
More effective is the challenge to Trump's hustings promise to revive the American job market, as his assertion that his golf complex would employ 6000 local people looks far wide of the mark, given that there are only 95 current members of staff. Residents Susan Munro and David Milne join Baxter in decrying former First Minister Alex Salmond's folly in buying into Trump's propaganda and Wightman laments that too many strained truths have been accepted as gospel during this sorry episode.
Determined to present Trump supporters with this damning evidence, Baxter flies to Washington and shows tourists outside the White House pictures of Molly's plight. Two white woman and a black man shake their heads in dismay and pledge not to vote for a man who could leave an old lady in such distress. On a roll, Baxter flies to Birch Run, Michigan and speaks to those protesting outside the venue in which Trump is mocking John McCain for being a captured war hero. One woman invites Baxter to nearby Flint, where another water crisis is intensifying and Trump has opted to hide behind the state governor rather than follow the lead of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in meeting those claiming that their water supply has been poisoned.
In fairness to Donald Trump, he has nothing to do with the cause of this emergency. But Baxter ties it back to Molly's problems when the well dries up in the depths of winter and her radiators stop working. She huddles beside an electric fire and Baxter goes to see Junior at the golf course, who is backed by employees Sarah Malone and George Sorial, who parrot the party line under his watchful glare. Baxter recalls how his last effort to get the pipeline fixed resulted in his arrest and notes that the charges were dropped and that he received an apology from the local constabulary. But Trump insists during their Trump Tower interview that Baxter must have done something to merit detention.
Moving on, Baxter asks Junior about the strident nature of the Trump correspondence with the Forbes family and Malone scoffs that her engineers know a good deal more about drainage than Michael's wife. But Junior once felt the same way about Michael and a rusting tractor in his yard. He had joked that he would give Michael the golf course if he ever got the machine going again. Well, he has and Wighton avers that a spoken contract of this sort is binding under Scottish law and that Junior should really relinquish control of the course.
Meanwhile, Baxter has gone to see Trump speak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wisconsin at the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. After the razzmatazz, he announces that he is going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of America. But, in cross-cutting and split-screening between this contentious speech and Molly leaving church bemoaning the fact that Trump intends only letting the good ones in through a single door, it would appear that she (or is it documentary writer/producer Richard Phinney?) forgets the line in St Matthew's gospel about entering the sheepfold through a narrow gate?
Baxter redeems himself, however, by contrasting Molly visiting the war memorial bearing the name of her brother-in-law with Trump boasting about the size of the guns on the Wisconsin and how great the Second Amendment is. But, when Baxter tries to approach Trump after he proclaims that everyone will have victories coming out of their ears after his military reforms, he is blocked by minders and a second attempt at a crash barrier falls on deaf ears.
Such was the international news coverage, however, that Trump probably heard that Michael and several of his neighbours had started flying Mexican flags in solidarity with the country he had so blithely demonised. John Munro is happy to staple one to the fence opposite the entrance to the course and exiled American journalist, Suzanne Kelly from the Aberdeen Voice, recalls how Trump won two of the local papers to his cause during the initial battle over planning permission for the resort. But when he ridiculed the congenital arthrogryposis endured by South African-born New York Times reporter, Serge F. Kovaleski, Kelly started a campaign to have Trump banned from the UK.
We see a clip of her being interviewed by an irate Bill O'Reilly on Fox News and footage of MPs denouncing Trump during a debate on the petition in Parliament. But it fails to trigger a ban and Trump emerges from his helicopter to scold the sore losers among his Scottish neighbours. Walter Forbes arrives to see the police operation and Michael wonders if the taxpayer is picking up the tab in order to keep a loud, but orderly protest out of The Donald's earshot.
But the local bobbies are quite prepared to do Trump's bidding, as the case of social worker Rohan Beyts demonstrates. She lives in a lighthouse abutting the golf course and was arrested for relieving herself in the dunes when she was caught short while walking. Wightman is aghast that PCs Kennedy and Gillies knocked on her door late at night and informed her that there was sufficient visual evidence (obtained by one of Trump's security team) to go direct to a charge. Eventually, the case was dropped, but the heavy-handed tactics of Trump International and the collusion of the Scottish police leaves a foul odour.
After proving that his tractor in fine fettle, Michael shows Baxter the letters he has received from around the world supporting his stance. He is baffled why Trump is so popular when so many Americans have written to warn him about his antics. So, Baxter suggests that Michael and Sheila (who has never been out of Britain before) should attend the Republican Convention to see Trump's appeal at first hand. Michael packs his Forbes tartan kilt and is introduced to those for and against the Republican candidate by Stefanie Spear of Ecowatch. He is not impressed by the empty promises, but notes that it is easier to get running water from a temporary drinking fountain in Cleveland than it is in Balmedie.
While he is Stateside, the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal breaks and Baxter intercuts highlights from the Convention with shots of Michael and Sheila being bemused by the brouhaha on the streets. They buy a Trump Whoopee Cushion and meet with Oklahoma delegate John Kucewicz, who says he doesn't recognise the Donald Trump Michael describes. Nevertheless, he promises to raise the issue of Molly's water supply when he next meets him and shows a good deal more concern than right-wing pastor Tom Vineyard, who can't get away fast enough in order to greet the incoming Trump helicopter.
Bored with the furore, Michael pays a visit to USS Cod and recalls how his Uncle George was killed by friendly fire aboard the submarine Unbeaten in the Bay of Biscay. After chatting with the tour guide, he dons his kilt to meet with three female Trump supporters, who insist they no longer feel safe in their own country and hope that the property tycoon-turned-reality TV star comes to power in order to protect them. Michael is also given a lecture on the merits of temporarily halting all immigration by Virginia delegate Jim McKelvey. But Michael fears that he will cause wars by shooting his mouth off and predicts that 90% of all Americans would soon come to hate Trump as much as most Scots do.
Michael and Sheila listen to Trump's acceptance speech with some die-hard opponents outside the Convention centre. Emboldened by his trip, Michael takes it upon himself to repair the pipe to the well. He digs a trench under Trump security surveillance and discovers the shoddiness of the plastic plumbing undertaken by the contractors. Molly is delighted to have running water again, but horrified to learn that oily sludge has been polluting her supply for half a decade.
Trump, meanwhile, has finally paid a visit to Flint, where he receives a cool welcome and slips away as quickly as possible. Yet his agents in Balmedie remain as unapologetically aggressive as ever and send Michael a letter regarding his recent act of trespass. Wightman considers it typical of the way that Trump responds to anyone who crosses him and Baxter relates the case of Vera Coking, an Atlantic City widow whose house prevented him from expanding the car park at his casino.
As if Trump was eavesdropping, a letter from the local council arrives eight weeks before polling day regarding plans for further redevelopment of the area. A rather trite animation shows millionaire dwellings springing up on Forbes property, as Wightman points out that Trump had openly lied about applying for compulsory purchase orders on the land adjoining the golf course. Molly and Michael clearly have no intention of surrendering, however.
A closing caption reveals that Scottish officials refused to rule out the use of eminent domain injunctions should Trump seek to expand his resort. Another notes Junior's ambition to join his father's cabinet in order to manage national parks and encourage more hunting, while a final caption quotes Trump's contention that Baxter has propagated lies and nonsense. Yet, he was quite happy to be interviewed by Baxter when he felt it would benefit him. Clearly FBI director James Comey .is not alone in having experienced a Trump flip-flop. But it is interesting to note how little of this exclusive interview Baxter and Richard Phinney have opted to use in their film. Perhaps they could (and should) post the full encounter online.
Slickly edited and laudably ambitious in its scope, this is less likely to whip up outrage than its predecessor, as audiences will now be much more familiar with Donald Trump and his modus operandi. Yet, despite his occasionally lacklustre efforts to emulate the doorstepping tactics of Nick Broomfield and Michael Moore, Baxter has done a decent job in bloodying the Donald's nose, even if some of the blows might have been better directed.
Baxter has never made any pretence of presenting an agit-prop account of Trump's battle with the Balmedie naysayers and his advocacy is often potent. However, he is sometimes guilty of padding this unashamedly partisan feature with rehashed material and overly familiar news clips, while the drawn-out scenes of Michael and Sheila in Ohio increasingly feel like a good idea that didn't quite pan out. Nevertheless, the question at the heart of the film remains valid: if this is how Trump deals with a frail old Scottish woman, how will he treat impoverished Americans, desperate migrants and, for that matter, foreign leaders? Clearly, Baxter and the residents of Balmedie hope they never get to find out. But, four years on, if he fails to get re-elected, it seems a racing certainty that Trump will eventually turn his attention once more to the east coast of Scotland and those who have dared to cross him.