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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (15/3/2024)

Updated: Mar 17

(Reviews of Monster; The New Boy; Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell; and Janey)


MONSTER.


Now in his sixties, Hirokazu Kore-eda is the latest in a long line of humanist Japanese film-makers. Returning home after making The Truth (2019) in France and Broker (2022) in South Korea, he sets himself the challenge of working

from a screenplay by another hand for the first time since his outstanding 1995 debut, Maborosi. With its Rashomon-like structure, Monster, may not be one of Kore-eda's major works. But its manipulation of perspectives and assumptions coaxes viewers into reassessing their role in the storytelling process.


Saito Mugino (Sakura Andô) lives in Suwa in Nagano Province with her tweenage son, Minato (Soya Kurokawa). When a nearby building catches fire, he asks her whether it's possible to transplant a pig's brain into a human and mentions that the idea came from his fifth-grade teacher, Hori (Eita Nagayama). At the dry cleaners where she works, Saito hears a rumour that Hori was at a hostess bar in the torched building and she wonders if he's odd or just lonely.


Having caught Minato cutting his own hair, losing a shoe, and putting soil in his school water bottle, Saito tries to use his late father's birthday to find out what's going on in his life. But he refuses to talk at the shrine in their apartment with her in earshot. When he fails to come home, Saito finds him singing `Who is the monster?' in a darkened railway tunnel. She asks about his bruised ear on the drive home and is horrified when Minato opens the car door and rolls out into the road.


When Minato accuses Hori of calling him a pig-brained monster and pulling his ear until it bled, Saito goes to the school to complain. Principal Fushimi (Yûko Tanaka) is preoccupied because her grandson has just died and Saito is dissatisfied with the half-hearted apology that Hori makes at a formal meeting, in which the senior staff bow deeply and urge Hori into showing more sincerity.


Convinced that Hori has continued to bully her son, Saito returns to the school and demands that Fushimi (who she has seen tripping an unruly child in the supermarket) takes her claim seriously and deals with her like a human being rather than making displays of old-fashioned civility. Seeing Hori, she chases after him and demands his dismissal after having accused him of starting the recent fire. However, he counters by stating that Minato is a bully and a disruptive influence.


After finding a lighter in Minato's room, Saito goes to see Yori (Hinata Hiiragi), the classmate her son has supposedly picked on. He seems cheerful until she corrects his spelling in a letter wishing Minato a speedy recovery from a cold. She spots a burn on his forearm and insists on taking him to the school, where he avers that he is not being bullied by her son. When the principal tries to leave the room, Saito follows and asks her to show some compassion, just as she can sympathise with her because her husband had accidentally reversed over their grandson.


Shortly after Hori makes a public apology for taunting and striking, he is dismissed. But he's back at the school on the day Minato throws himself off a staircase and Saito is at the end of her tether when she comes to collect him. At bedtime, he tells her that he has seen his father and he passed on a message. He also asks his mother not to feel sorry for him. But, as a typhoon blows up outside, Saito finds Minato missing from his room, with the floor covered in drawings of a monster.


At this juncture, we return to the night of the fire and start to see the same events from Hori's point of view. He is on a date with girlfriend Hirona (Mitsuki

Takahata) and is spotted near the hostess bar. She teases him about taking his job too seriously and says no one remembers their elementary school teacher. When he enters his classroom to find Mitano throwing stuff around, he tries to calm him down and accidentally bumps his nose, which starts to bleed and the kids look on in shocked silence.


When Saito's complaint comes in, Fushimi and the senior male teachers rehearse his apology and he is struck by the fact that the principal ensures a photo of her deceased grandson can be seen from her disk. As she was on compassionate leave when he started, he doesn't know her and he's surprised when a colleague informs him that her husband took the blame for the accident when she was actually at the wheel.


Concerned about Yori, Hori goes to his home and is taken aback when his father, Shoda (Akihiro Kakuta) says he's got a pig's brain and needs sorting out. He's further perplexed when he overhears Yori singing the monster song in the

washroom after seeing Mitano beating a hasty retreat. When one of the girls shows him a dead cat in the playground and claims Mitano had been playing with it, Hori asks her to share her accusation that the boy had killed the cat with the principal. However, the conversation is misconstrued by another teacher and Hori is pinned against a wall for inappropriate behaviour.


When Saito hires a lawyer to sue the school, Fushimi hangs him out to dry and forces him to apologise in front of the fifth-grade parents. As he leaves, he accuses her of using him as a scapegoat (like her husband) to protect her reputation, but she doesn't rise to the bait. Articles appear about him in the press and Hirona keeps her distance, as kids leave pig brains on his doorstep.


Desperate to clear things up after Fushimi dismisses him with the words `what actually happened does not matter', Hori returns to the school and tries to reason with Mitano. But he falls downstairs and Hori is accused of having pushed him. When the typhoon strikes, Hori is transferring his goldfish in a bowl when he slips and water splashes a pile of unmarked homework.

Recognising Yori's writing, he notices that his spelling errors make up the characters of Mitano's name and he rushes round to the house to tell him that he understands what has been going on. But the boy is already missing and Hori joins Saito in searching for him by the railway tunnel. Ignoring warnings about mudslides, the pair find an old carriage and force open a window and call out to Mitano and Yori.


After we see Fushimi visiting her husband in jail, we return to the night of the fire, when she sees Yori drop a lighter as he runs past her on a bridge. He uses his phone to film Hori at the scene and sends a link to Minato in bed. At school, Minato orders Yori to stay away from him because he's a bit eccentric and he doesn't want to get bullied by association. But he feels an affection for him and sneaks time alone, even though he cuts off the locks of hair that Yori had stroked during a moment in the music storeroom.


When their classmates try to force Yori to kiss one of the girls, Minato starts chucking things around to protect him and Yori smiles quietly in recognition of his action. As a reward, he shows him the railway carriage where he hides and they have fun pretending to be the crew. Wandering through the woods, they find a dead cat and Yori insists on cremating it. Minato asks if he set light to the hostess bar because his father was there, but Yori only declares alcohol to be bad.


On the day bullies lock Yori in a toilet stall, Mitano slips away without freeing him and Hori thinks he must have been the culprit. When they discuss the

incident, Mitano claims that they can trust Hori as he's kind, although Yori takes exception to his frequent joke about the need for boys to act like men. He tells Yori to stop believing he's got a pig's brain and to resist his father's efforts to `cure' him so that his mother comes up. When Yori asks about Mitano's father, he implies that he died while on an illicit tryst with another woman.


Decorating the carriage, they spend hours drawing and playing in the woods, where Minato teases Yori for knowing the names of all the flowers. They devise ways of putting each other's names into their homework. But Minato is dismayed when Yori announces that he's being sent to live with his

grandmother and changing schools. They hug, but Minato suddenly feels awkward and pushes Yori away and speeds off on his bike. Moreover, when he gets teased for being lovey-dovey with Yori because he refuses to gang up on him in an art lesson, Minato loses his temper and pins Yori to the floor. Hori stops the fight and agrees not to report them if they make up like men.


Heading to the carriage, Minato waits for Yori to come. But he never does and this is the night that Saito finds him in tunnel and he jumps out of the car on the way home (after he had tried to apologise for not being as much of a man as his rugby-playing father). As we fast forward through events as Minato copes at school with Yori's absence, we pause to see him rush round to the house when he texts to say he's back from his grandmother's . His father proudly tells Minato that Yuri has been cured and met a nice girl while he was away. But Yori confides that he's just the same and Minato listens through the door as his friend is punished.


With Hori having been sacked and ejected after trying to confront Minato on the stairs, he is overheard apologising on the balcony outside his classroom by Fushimi. He admits to having fibbed about Hori and she confesses that she has also told lies. Joining the principal in the music room, he volunteers that he likes someone but it worried they can never be happy and she reassures him that everyone is entitled to feel good. She hands him a trombone and picks up a French horn and tells him to blow hard to let out any negative feelings. The sound they make echoes around the school.


On the day of the typhoon, Minato finds Yori asleep in a filled bath and he drags him out of the water. They go to the carriage, which seems to capsize during the storm. As we see Fushimi peering down into a rushing stream and Saito and Hori make a dash through a safety cordon to get to the railway coach, the boys clamber out of a window into the sunshine. Yori wonders whether they've been reborn, but Minato reassures him that they are the same as they have ever been, as they run through the long grass whopping at the joy of being alive.


TV veteran Yuji Sakamoto won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes for this nonlinear rite of passage. Yet it never really hangs together because the convolutions are so archly self-conscious. There's a deliberation about the way in which the information is doled out that leaves viewers with no option other than to draw erroneous conclusions before being put right in a final reel that blithely adopts an omniscient perspective. No one likes a whodunit in which the telltale clue appears out of thin air and this approach to constructing a narrative is predicated too much towards teaching the audience a lesson rather than allowing them to participate in the process.


Sharing a school setting with Hong Kong director Nick Cheuk's Time Still Turns the Pages and certain themes with Lukas Dhont's Close (both 2023), this remains an intriguing story because Minato and Yori are so well played by Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiiragi and so well directed by Kore-eda. There's nothing cutesome about their relationship or trite about the anguished soul-searching that the former endures in order to come to terms with who he is. But Hori is much less convincingly drawn, as he is the pivot around which the dramatic conceit turns. Consequently, Kore-ada almost requires Eita Nagayama to give two separate performances that he stitches into a whole in the editing suite.


More might have been made of the scenes with Mitsuki Takahata's seemingly reluctant girlfriend, as they are the only ones in which Hori is not having to react to events not of his own making. Similarly, despite the excellence of Yûko Tanaka's enigmatic performance, the subplot involving Fushimi's dead grandson and blame-taking husband hardly feels like a commensurate situation to Hori being scapegoated for the good of the school.


Even Sakura Andô's bullish display rings hollow, particularly in the scenes in which she browbeats the principal and her kowtowing staff. Of course, children hide secrets from parents and Saito has plenty to contend with in holding down a job and seemingly ensuring that Minato continues to love his father, even though he appears to know that he seemingly died during an adulterous assignation. But the tenaciousness of her bid to ruin Hori and browbeat his superiors into showing some human emotion feels forced because we know next to nothing about her personality and little more about how well she actually knows her child. That said, Yori's relationship with his father is like something out of a soap opera, as is the business of the girl and the dead cat.


Ryûto Kondô's cinematography is admirable, whether in the confines of the school rooms and the shabby the railway carriage or in the open spaces where the boys can be themselves. The late Ryuichi Sakamoto's piano score also makes a poignant contribution, with the haunting blasts of the brass instruments reinforcing the overall sense of discordancy. But, in spite of the odd expected passage of emotional delicacy, the gimmicky strategies employed on this dissertation on the socialisation of children and the elusive nature of happiness means it falls far short of such exceptional Kore-eda outings as After Life (1998), Nobody Knows (2004), Still Walking (2008), Like Father, Like Son (2013), and the Palme d'or-winning Shoplifters (2018).


THE NEW BOY.


Since Warwick Thornton emerged as the leading Indigenous Australian film-maker with Samson and Delilah (2009) and Sweet Country (2017), he has been

joined in his endeavours by the likes of Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins, Tracey Moffatt, and Wayne Blair. However, he reinforces his position with The New Boy, a magic-realist wartime parable that draws on Thornton's own experiences at Salvado College, a Catholic boarding school in the country's only monastic town, New Norcia in Western Australia.


Having been felled by a boomerang by two mounted cops in the Great Sandy Desert in the early 1940s, a nameless Aboriginal boy from an unspecified tribe (Aswan Reid) is taken to a remote Benedictine monastery in South Australia. Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett) is hiding the fact that the last monk, Don Peter, has been dead for a year and she reassures Sister Mum (Deborah Mailman) that they are doing right by the handful of orphans in their care by keeping them out of a system designed to `breed out the blacks'.


The women are helped about the place by George (Wayne Blair), an Indigenous handyman who recognises that the New Boy is going to prove a handful. However, he allows him to taste his marmalade at breakfast and Sister Eileen makes no attempt at forcing him to wear a uniform like the other boys. She also leaves the New Boy to sleep under his bed, where he consoles himself by conjuring sparks of light that dance between his fingers.


With his dark brown eyes and mop of blonde hair, the New Boy stands out from Matthew (Tyrique Brady), David (Laiken Beau Woolmington), Steven (Kailem Miller), James (Kyle Miller), Henry (Tyzailin Roderick, and Michael (Shane McKenzie-Brady). They have all adopted Catholicism and gather in the chapel to witness Sister Eileen baptise Johnny (Tyler Rockman Spencer) before the 13 year-old is sent to work at a nearby sheep station because so many of the region's young men are in uniform. Watching silently as Johnny trudges down the long dusty road, the New Boy is content to remain outside the group, especially as being accepted requires having his head plunged into a bowl of sheep dip to kill the lice making him scratch. But Michael, as the new head boy, is determined to whip him into shape. However, he backs off when one of the bigger boys tries to pick a fight and the New Boy decks him with a single punch.


Sister Mum (who became a nun after her two children died) tells the New Boy that he can come to her if he needs reassurance. But he goes his own way, whether eating with his fingers or hugging trees when the nuns accompany the boys on an afternoon ramble. He also watches Sister Eileen as she sits beside Dom Peter's grave and fills him in on the news and the fact that she keeps writing to the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in his name.


Although they get some schooling, the orphans also have to earn their keep. While they're out helping George build a stone wall, however, Michael gets bitten by a snake and he is fading when the New Boy bends over and sucks out a mouthful of black liquid. George is awed by the newcomers powers, but warns him to behave himself, as he doesn't want his cosy position jeopardised.

He supervises the gathering of the olive crop and the New Boy is fascinated by the machinery that turns the fruit into oil. He also helps with the wheat, which requires some of the local men to help with the heavy lifting. Feeling more at home, he clambers on to the table to dance when he hears a jaunty tune on the radio and Sister Eileen watches with an indulgent smile, while Sister Mum sways in her own room tearfully clutching a photo of herself with the two daughter who may well have been `stolen' from her.


Shortly afterwards, a truck arrives carrying a large packing case. When the driver insists on Dom Peter signing his docket, George distracts him while the nuns make a big display (behind a closed door) of trying to coerce the unhinged old cleric into appending his signature. Sister Eileen is thrilled to have been entrusted with a large wooden crucifix from Occupied France and has George erect it in the chapel. She also asks him to slaughter a lamb so they can have a feast and she gets tipsy on red wine as they celebrate.

The New Boy is awestruck by the figure of Christ, whose hands are affixed to the cross by heavy metal nails. Indeed, he is so taken by the statue that he clambers up it to cling to Christ, as he had done the trunk of the boab tree. Moreover, his hands start displaying the stigmata and Sister Eileen struggles to understand what is happening when he suddenly says, `Amen'. But she is furious when she discovers that he has laid an offering of live snakes before the altar.


Lighting strikes after the New Boy revives one of the dead snakes and George and the boys have to extinguish a fire in the field. Once again, the New Boy comes to Michael's rescue, as he has been overcome by the smoke, and Sister Eileen looks on in amazement as he uses one his fireballs to bring him round. However, she has to bind the New Boy's hands when he removes a nail from the crucifix and drives it through his palms. But she takes this as a sign of his readiness to embrace the faith, as she carries him pietà-style to his bed.

Although he continues to eschew shoes and clothing, the New Boy seems to be coming to terms with his surroundings. But the infatuation with Jesus prompts him to remove him from the cross and drag him across the compound (passing a white stone statue of the Virgin Mary) to the dormitory, where the New Boy tries to heal his wounds and dresses him in his unwanted clothes. He looks on as George bangs the nails back into place and feels aggrieved when he bars him from joining the others in the fields, as he feels his Aboriginal ways will be a bad influence.


Confused as to whether the New Boy has been sent to inspire or test her, Sister Eileen decides to baptise him. She gives him the name Francis. But, in cleansing him of his sins, she also removes his supernatural powers and he curls up under the bed when he realises that he can no longer generate sparks with his fingers. George presents him with a pair of shoes and Francis starts wearing clothes and combing his hair, as he takes his place in the community. But his future remains uncertain, as he strives to reconcile two very different worlds.


A hint of Ralph Nelson's Lilies of the Field (1963) informs this thought-provoking, if occasionally awkwardly episodic clash of cultures. Like Sidney Poitier's itinerant worker, 11 year-old Aswan Reid's incomer is mistaken for a gift from God by the nun (Lilia Skala/Cate Blanchett) seeking to keep a struggling institution afloat. Prone to little white lies to help her cause and the odd tipple to ease her fears, Blanchett's Sister Eileen may be part of the supremacist initiative to eradicate the Indigenous population, but she treats the boys with a fairness and affection that is shared by Deborah Mailman's Sister Mum. As someone who has presumably exchanged his heritage for a degree of comfort, Wayne Blair's handyman is also complicit in the pernicious programme.


But Thornton opts not to explore the racist aspect of the story or the ramifications of the colonial connection in any provocative depth. Instead, he allows them to moil in the background, as Sister Eileen and the New Boy come to an arrangement that allows them to muddle along until either Dom Peter's death is discovered (perhaps when the crucifix is returned) or the orphans go their separate ways.


Doing much of his acting with his eyes, Reid is intuitively watchful, with Thornton keeping his camera close enough to peer under the cherubic halo of unruly blonde hair to catch the flickers of wonderment and defiance. As she wears a wimple for all but one scene, Blanchett also has to rely on expressions in order to convey the doubts and dilemmas she largely keeps to herself and the brave face she puts on for the boys and adults alike. But, while her faith is forever being tested, Sister Eileen is convinced of the rectitude of her vocation and never once contemplates that the New Boy may already possess a powerful spirituality that owes nothing to her belief system.


Sister Mum and George are more attuned in this regard and Mailman and Blair provide stealthy support in suppressing past associations. But, while the orphans are given names, they lack individual personalities, with the sting quickly being drawn from Michael's antipathy towards the New Boy. However, the monastery and its environs are also treated as characters, as Thornton switches (almost in the manner of Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, 1978) between lyrical images of cornstalks swaying under blue skies and bleached out shots of scorched scrub while illuminating murky interiors with well-directed shafts of sunlight.


Nick Cave and Warren Ellis contribute an evocative score, although the mix of Indigenous instrumentation and orchestral strings never sounds particularly Fortiesish. Indeed, notwithstanding the breeding out policy that sparks the magical-realist story, the time period is almost an irrelevance and only becomes significant when the limitations of Sister Eileen's authority as a woman are exposed (although the special effects for the under-bed fireballs feel suitably quaint). Nevertheless, Thornton uses this hermitic microcosm to comment on modern attitudes and it would be fascinating to know what was contained in the 20 minutes that were excised following this imperfectly scripted, but sincere film's premiere at Cannes.


INSIDE THE YELLOW COCOON SHELL.


Having impressed on the festival circuit with The Mute (2016) and Stay Awake, Be Ready (2019), Vietnamese director Pham Thien An makes an astonishingly assured feature debut with Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell. Spinning off from the latter short, this distinctive road movie makes audacious use of long takes that locate the characters in their milieux. Showing at The ICA in London, this is an intimate, inventive, and involving three-hour treatise on loss and faith, place and purpose, and regret and redemption that is destined for the Slow Cinema pantheon.


Thien (Le Phong Vu) is dining with two friends in a Saigon bar beside a floodlit five-a-side pitch. A wolf mascot wanders into the bar and several others approach the table, as Thien admits that he struggles to connect with the concept of God: `The embrace of faith is ambiguous…I want to believe but I can't. I've tried searching for it many times, but my mind always holds me back.' As some patrons cheer a goal in a 2018 World Cup match on the television, a female rep (Ngo Thuy Tien) tries to interest the trio in trying a new beer. However, she's interrupted by a metallic thud and the camera slowly pans to the street, where two motorbikes have collided head on. A small crowd gathers, but Thien remains seated.


While with a masseuse (Chau Thien Kim) at a spa, Thien is asked to take a call and he discovers that his sister-in-law, Hanh, was killed in the accident that was survived by his young nephew, Dao (Nguyen Thinh). He visits the boy in hospital and does card tricks to distract him when he asks to see his mother. Indeed, Thien keeps putting off breaking the news, even though he has made arrangements to hire a van to take Hanh's body home to Du Linh for burial.


En route, Thien entrusts Dao with an injured baby bird that he found on the ground in the market. But, shortly after the Christian ceremony for his mother, the boy has to bury the bird in the garden of his relative, Trung (Vu Ngoc Manh). As Thien's brother left Hanh on her own, he insists on paying half the costs and Trung asks him to make a donation to Mr Luu (Nguyen Van Lu'u), who had prepared Hanh's shroud. Thien and Dao ride along a rutted rural road to see Mr Luu, who refuses the gift, as he feels it's his duty to help his neighbours. As the camera slowly approaches the window in which Thien and Mr Luu are sitting, the old man reminisces about his time in the military. He shows his visitor documents relating to his service and the camera performs a 360° to show the simplicity of his abode and the various images of the Virgin Mary and his late lamented lover.


The power gives out during a rosary service for Hanh, but no one misses a beat in their prayers. By candlelight, Thien does some magic tricks for Dao and explains that dinosaurs are extinct. The glowing fingers of a luminous alarm clock peer through the darkness, as Thien compares faith to the certainty that a good friend will return borrowed toys. Dao asks if they can visit his mother in Heaven and Thien promises they will go there one day.


After mass, Thien bumps into an old flame who is now Sister Thao (Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh). He comes to the convent after offending her by asking why she became a nun and she is embarrassed when he congratulates her and says she looks good in her outfit. Unable to sleep, he helps Trung capture a fat rooster who has attacked his own tethered bird at first light. They go fishing in the lake and Thien wonders why God acts the way He does, as he confides that brother Tam had entered a seminary only to be told to find a wife rather than a vocation. Marriage had clearly not suited him and he has bolted and now Hanh is dead.


After a top shot into the shallow bowl containing three large fish,

Thien enrols Dao at Sister Thao's school on a misty morning. He is going to try and find his father, but his mind drifts back to a rendezvous with Thao in a grand abandoned house above the village before he had left for Saigon. They had kissed passionately, but she wouldn't let him go further and had explained that she had heard God's call. Thien had got drunk in a karaoke bar and sung sentimental songs out of tune before falling asleep in his gaudily decorated kiosk.


The sound fades as Thien rides through mist-shrouded villages. He runs out of petrol and a passing scooter rider siphons a bottle from his own tank so that Thien can reach Don Sien, where he's been told Tam has a job. Stopping to get his scooter fixed, he shows Tam's wedding photo, but no one recognises him. Over a drink, an old woman (Phi Dieu) asks Thien whether he's searching for his brother or his soul. She claims that her soul once left her body and she learned the truth about human misery and the brevity of existence. Looking into his eyes, she reminds him that there is no point in accumulating riches in this world if one loses one's soul.


Waking from a dream about his path being blocked by a herd of buffalo, Thien wanders out into the darkness. A cacophony of birds and insects accompanies him, as he wanders along the road in the rain until he comes to a small tree covered in butterflies. The next day, he finds Tam's home and meets his partner and baby. She prepares his lunch and they ride out to where he works. Thien holds the baby in its yellow shawl and watches the water cascade down a slight incline.


On waking on his bike, however, Thien finds himself alone. He is chided for being in the way by an old farmer who has no idea who Tam is. Wheeling his bike to the edge of the pond, Thien strips down to his underwear and lies in the cooling water to take stock.


While the choreography of Dinh Duy Hung's camera is often exquisite, it's the landscape and the plays of light, shade, and mist captured by its lens that most beguile in this languorous odyssey. Regardless of the location, Thien feels out of place. But this is hardly surprising, as he feels detached wherever he happens to fetch up, while also being uncomfortable in his own mind. Even his five year-old nephew reinforce his sense of ennui, as he simply can't answer the innocent, but probing questions that also keep troubling him.


Yet, while we spend considerable time with Thien, we actually learn very little about him. He seems to have a good job as a video editor, as he can pay for the funeral, but his life in Saigon is swiftly set aside, as he travels back to the scene of the romance from which he has seemingly never recovered and the starting point of the quest for the estranged brother who is possibly more enigmatic than he is.


Le Phong Vu plays the part splendidly, although the direction does occasionally feel Bressonian, even though the more obvious influence would appear to be Lav Diaz and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, with a little dash of Tsai Ming-liang drizzled in for light relief. With the exception of the endearing Nguyen Thinh, the remainder of the cast are required to flesh out ciphers, although Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh gets to exhibit passion as well as piety.


Blending in passages of solo cello and acoustic guitar, sound editors Vuong Gia Bao and Kin Ying Chong excel in complementing Pham Thien An's endless formal invention in exploring the riddle of the cocoon shell that traps people in the pursuit of material gain at the expense of their psychological and spiritual well-being. Viewers will have to decide whether Thien finds what he is looking for and what lies in wait for him and Dao. But they will also find themselves reflecting on their own preoccupations and priorities.


JANEY.


It's hard to know where to begin with Janey Godley. Her masterpiece is undoubtedly the sign she held up during Donald Trump's 2018 visit to his Aberdeenshire golf course, as truer words have never been written. But, as John Archer reveals in the documentary profile, Janey, she's been through so much that it's something of a miracle that not only can she still smile about it all, but she can also make audiences across her native Scotland and beyond howl with laughter.


Born in 1961 and raised on Kenmore Street in the Shettleston part of East Glasgow, Janey Currie was one of four siblings. Both parents drank and the children were raised in poverty. Moreover, mother Annie turned a blind eye to the fact her adored brother, David Percy, was abusing Janey and her sister Ann throughout their childhoods. It was only in 1993 that the crimes were reported to the police and Uncle David served two years in prison before dying alone.


Leaving school with no qualifications, Janey married Sean Storrie in 1980. Two years later, Annie disappeared during a trip up the River Clyde with her abusive boyfriend and Janey remains convinced that there was nothing accidental about her mother's body washing up five days later. When daughter Ashley arrived in 1986, Janey and Sean were running a pub in Carlton. Indeed, they did so for 14 years before his gangster brothers changed the terms of the tenancy and they decided to flee.


Despite Sean coping with Asperger syndrome and suicidal thoughts and Ashley also having autism spectrum disorder, Janey realised that their best chance of keeping afloat lay in her bid to become a stand-up comedian. Adopting her middle name as a surname, Godley started playing the clubs and began discussing her life rather than cracking jokes on the advice of Stewart Lee. Soon, she was winning awards in Scotland and New Zealand, as she became a familiar face in both countries (as the excellent archive clips revealed).


As Ashley had also gone into comedy, the pair often worked together. Godley hit her peak during the pandemic, when her parodies of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's press briefings went viral. She also excelled in the Alone vignettes produced as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Scenes For Survival webseries. Indeed, Godley became so synonymous with Covid that she was asked to front the government's `Stop the Spike' campaign.


In September 2021, however, The Daily Beast unearthed some historical tweets that Godley readily acknowledged were unpardonably and ignorantly racist. Agent Chris Davis reveals how she was cancelled in a trice and Godley meets with old friend Jimmy Carr to mull over the dangers of saying sorry no longer being enough in the age of social media mob hysteria. They also denounce those in authority who jump on bandwagons.


Just as things seemed as though they couldn't get any worse, Godley was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and best friend Shirley Doig accompanied her to her chemotherapy sessions. In spite of having a hysterectomy, the cancer returned and Godley had to undergo a second course of treatment. In such dire circumstances, the majority would slink away to battle the pernicious disease in private. But that's not Janey Godley's way.


Archer tags along as she and Ashley hit the road with the `Not Dead Yet' tour that plays to packed houses across Scotland, as well as Belfast and London. Bouncing back from being cancelled, Godley also found herself publishing a volume of autobiography and sharing a stage at the 2023 Aye Write festival in Glasgow with Ms Sturgeon, who had also been through the mill by this stage. As no subject is off limits for Godley, she had compared the police raids on Sturgeon's home with those on the pub when Sean was hiding guns for his brothers.


Cancer is also on the agenda and the courage Godley displays in sharing the most intimate details in the most hilarious manner is matched by that of Ashley, who does a turn part-way through the show and is always hand to wheel out her dog Honey in a pram or hold the fort while she recovers from a coughing fit.


Shirley also proves a rock and the scenes in which Janey revisits her former haunts are deeply poignant, but also as amusing as the animal voiceovers that are always a highlight of her shows. As they sit backstage for the last night in Glasgow, Ashley gets emotional, as she fears this could be her mother's last hurrah. But Janey reassures her that she's not finished yet.


And long may she continue to defy the odds, as the fates owe Godley big time. The decision to lay all the cards on the table here pays dividends, as it enables her to come across as not only a fighter, but also someone who is both vulnerable and humble enough to learn from their mistakes. By eschewing talking-head interviews and capturing Janey in casual conversation with Ashley and Shirley, Archer makes it feel as though he is eavesdropping on the everyday, which makes Godley appear all the more relatable. The only misstep is the self-justificatory set-piece with Jimmy Carr, which does neither any favours. Perhaps she'll address this in the Janey: On Screen & On Stage tour that complements the film's release.


Briskly edited by James Alcock in a way that keeps the tragic aspects apart and well-leavened with candid clips from Godley's stage act, this is never melodramatic or mawkish. It's an unflinching and uplifting record of one woman's tussle with adversity. Let's hope someone sends a copy to Trump. Because he still is...


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