Parky At the Pictures (17/12/2021)
Updated: Dec 31, 2021
(Part One of the Parky At the Pictures Films of the Year)
The years keep rolling by and the time has come for another end-of-year overview. It hasn't been a vintage 12 months. But, taking the Covid factor into consideration, the UK's distributors, exhibitors, publicists and festival organisers have done a remarkable job in providing audiences with a diverse selection of pictures from around the world.
Film-makers have also managed to keep the cameras turning and all credit must go to all those who have found constructive ways to occupy their lockdown time, whether writing, editing, animating or making Zoom movies. The various streaming platforms also merit a mention, with MUBI having a particularly outstanding 2021. It's not cheap (which of them are), but no one can match the diversity of choice and the commitment to showcasing experimental and world cinema.
The titles that have made this year's cut have all been reviewed on the Parky At the Pictures blog. Keeping with tradition, the list strays from the FDA's weekly release schedule to find room for festival and one-night presentations. Doubtless, the odd noteworthy outing will have slipped through the memory net and some may find the odd choice eclectic in the extreme. Such is the nature of these annual surveys.
Among those unfortunate to miss the Top 20 were Mimmo Verdesco's Alida Valli: In Her Own Words, Edgar Wright's The Spark Brothers, Leos Carax's Annette, Kelly Reichardt's First Cow, Marley Morrison's Sweetheart, Andreas Fontana's Azor, Spike Lee's David Byrne's American Utopia, Danielle Arbid's A Simple Passion, Andrei Konchalovsky's Dear Comrades!, Rade Jude's Uppercase Print, and Greg Cruttwell's The Football Monologues. Also missing are Jasmila Zbanic’s Quo Vadis, Aida? and Victor Kosakovsky's excellent documentary, Gunda, as they were only reviewed for Empire.
Having focused on a tyre with a killer complex in Rubber (2010) and human-canine telepathy in Wrong (2012), Quentin Dupieux returns to the world of wack by using a leather jacket to symbolise a man's midlife crack-up in Deerskin. Faint echoes can also be heard from Wrong Cops (2013), Reality (2014) and Keep an Eye Out (2018), as Dupieux (who also works as a musician under the alias, Mr Oizo) provides a dark deadpan distraction from the dispiriting drabness of the daily grind.
While driving in his car, fortysomething Georges (Jean Dujardin) takes exception to his cord jacket and tries to stuff it down a service station toilet. Following a winding mountain road, he arrives at the house of an old hippie (Albert Delpy), who is selling a deerskin fringe jacket for €8000. Georges is a few euros short, but the veteran is grateful for the sale and throws in an old cassette camcorder to sweeten the deal.
With the `killer style' of his ill-fitting jacket suddenly making him feel like a new man, Georges checks into a remote hotel and uses his wedding ring to pay for the room after his credit card is refused. His arrival is noted from her window by Vic (Coralie Russier), who seems to be the only other resident in an adjoining room. Keen to parade in his new jacket, Georges finds a bar and asks barmaid Denise (Adèle Haenel) and customer Kylie (Marie Bunel) if they are discussing his deerskin, because it attracts attention wherever he goes. He informs them that he is a film-maker and Denise's ears prick up, as she has done a bit of amateur editing, including a linear re-edit of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994).
The next day, Georges discovers that his estranged wife has blocked his access to their joint bank account and he cuts off all ties to his former life by throwing away his phone. He is also surprised to learn from Denise that Kylie came on to him the previous evening because she's a prostitute. Denise quizzes him about his project and he claims that he is keeping himself occupied while waiting for a crew to return from Siberia. His lack of film-making knowledge almost gives him away, but he bluffs his way through and steals a secondhand book on filming to keep up the pretence.
Back in his room, Georges starts having conversations with his deerskin, which turns out to have an attention-seeking streak. Moreover, it has an ambition to be the only jacket in the world and the idea of being the only person to own such an object begins to play on Georges's mind. Having stolen a deerskin hat and a ring belonging to the hotel desk clerk who had committed suicide, he persuades Denise (who has an old editing machine) to view his footage and she is suitably intrigued to agree to become his editor. She also delves into her savings to give Georges some cash, which he promises his producer will repay.
Irked by the stare of gangly teen Nicolas (Pierre Gommé), Georges advertises for people to be filmed handing over their jackets and vowing never to wear another one for the rest of their lives. But he drives off with them in his boot and eventually buries them all in a large hole. Denise is fascinated by the footage and asks Georges about the message he is trying to convey. He invites her to speculate and nod in agreement when she avers that the jacket represents the hard shell that we all have to adopt in order to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows. However, he remains answerable solely to his jacket, which he supplements with deerskin boots, some trousers and a pair of gloves.
When Nicolas annoys him, Georges hits him in the head with a brick. The act seems to spur him on and, when one man refuses to hand over his jacket, Georges kills him. When Vic becomes too inquisitive, he bumps her off, too. Moreover, he pulls the fan off the ceiling and sharpens one of the blades to use as a weapon against those who refuse to hand over their jackets. One woman is impaled through the roof of her car and the footage delights Denise, who offers to become Georges producer when he finally admits to having lied about the crew in Siberia.
Relieved to have Denise's support and her money, Georges continues with his spree. However, while Denise is filming him at the side of a mountain road, Georges is snipered from a distance by Nicolas's father. Instead of being afraid, she removes the jacket, puts it on and keeps filming.
As the credits roll beside an insert of Georges wearing his jacket while approaching a herd of deer, many will be left wondering what on earth they have been watching. But, even those who don't go searching for the asides on masculinity, mental health, technology, provincialism and pseudo-celebrity, there is still plenty to amuse and disturb in this bleak farce.
Topping the list is the typically assured performance of Jean Dujardin, who displays enough charm and vulnerability to make the unhinged Georges empathetic, while also ensuring he remains a complete enigma, even as he switches from venting his frustration with verbal outburst to slaughtering innocent people. Only an actor with Dujardin's savoir faire could make the conversations with the deerskin seem simultaneously witty, piteous and sinister. His je ne sais quoi also allows him to get away with tempering Georges's patronising city swagger and flagrantly manipulative bluster with the childlike excitement he feels at acquiring each new deerskin accessory.
Secreting even more beneath the surface, Adèle Haenel makes a fine foil, as it slowly becomes clear that Denise is anything but a hapless scam victim. Underplaying as deftly as Dujardin, she reveals her contempt for the townsfolk, while proving chillingly less deluded, as she delights in the clumsy slayings she witnesses in her flat. Indeed, her response is key to the credibility of the story that Dupieux scripts, shoots and edits in a mischievous manner that seems to dare the audience into taking it seriously.
19) LA LLORONA.
Despite being acquitted of genocide by a Guatemalan court, former general Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) has his house surrounded by angry protestors. Wife Carmen (Margarita Kenefic) prays for protection, but daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz) is concerned for the safety of her own child, Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado). Bodyguard Letona (Juan Pablo Olyslager) remains loyal, as does housekeeper, Valeriana (María Telón). But strange things start to occur after the rest of the servants leave and Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) is hired to hold the fort.
While Sara wonders why children at school are saying awful things about her grandfather, he begins to hear voices in the night. Having fired a gun in the kitchen during one nocturnal prowl, Monteverde is caught in Alma's room in a state of arousal and Carmen laments that he always had a thing for Mayan girls. When Monteverde requires hospital treatment, Letona organises an armed escort for the brief walk from the ambulance to the general's home. But the flooding of a basement room and an infestation of frogs convinces the occupants that Monteverde is being stalked by the victims of his brutal past, who will not let them rest until justice is done.
According to Latin American folklore, `La Llorona' or `the Weeping Woman' is the grief-stricken spirit of a mother who is doomed to walk the earth for eternity as punishment for drowning her children. Writing in conjunction with Lisandro Sanchez, Jayro Bustamante draws on the legend to comment on the crimes of General Efrain Ríos Montt, the dictator whose reign of terror between March 1982 and August 1983 led to a 2013 conviction for genocide that was overturned on appeal. However, rather than following the conventional route of exploring such tyranny from the perspective of the victims, Bustamante centres his unsettling chamber drama on supernatural occurrences that make the general's nearest and dearest aware of the hideous nature of his murderous activities.
Allowing Nicolás Wong's camera to prowl in bluish light around the Sebastián Muñoz interiors that deftly contrast the differences in the upstairs/downstairs living conditions, Bustamante makes disconcerting use of Eduardo Cáceres's insinuating sound design to cast a horror pall over proceedings. He is also ably served by Julio Diaz as the dictator slipping into dementia, Margarita Kenéfic as the wife slowly emerging from a lifetime's denial and María Mercedes Coroy, as the maid who accusatory passivity helps force her employer into confronting the atrocities he committed against the indigenous population.
It's never made clear whether Alma is a ghost or a survivor, but the ambiguity only adds to the clawing sense of unease. Kudos to Shudder for showcasing this fine film and it's to be hoped that someone picks up Bustamante's earlier outings, Ixcanul (2015) and Tremors (2019), as he is clearly a notable talent.
18) BANK JOB.
Having shown himself to be a disarmingly deft director and a subversively resourceful business operator in his debut feature, How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire (2012), documentarist Daniel Edelstyn renews his partnership with artist Hilary Powell to expose the inequalities of the monetary system in Bank Job. With Powell more of an on-screen presence than in their previous collaboration, this similarly makes a virtue of seeming to be the work of well-meaning amateurs. But Edelstyn and Powell know exactly what they are doing, even if not all of their gambits pay off.
In staging a monochrome re-enactment of a 2014 meeting with the bank manager who refuses to support a film-maker whose previous project had made a loss, Edelstyn reveals how he got the idea to focus on debt and the ways in which ordinary people can fight back against the fiscal machine that is geared towards luring them into taking out loans at ever more ruinous rates of interest. He flies to America to meet Andrew Ross, the author of Creditocracy, and Laura Hanna, the organiser of Strike Debt - Rolling Jubilee. Together, they had raised $750,000 to buy millions of dollars of medical debts and eradicate them. Returning to Blighty, Edelstyn tells Powell he has a plan.
The evolution of the enterprise is told through cod police interviews with the pair, which serve only to show that neither is a particularly adept actor. However, Powell and Edelstyn turn out to be astute activists and they hit upon the idea of selling homemade bank notes in order to raise a sufficient sum to donate to the participating bodies in their Walthamstow neighbourhood and to buy chunks of secondary debt that they can write off.
Following a brief crash course in why and how banks keep customers in debt, Edelstyn and Powell meet the locals they intend helping and whose images will appear on the notes: Gary Nash of the Eat or Heat Foodbank; Farooq and Saira Mir of the PI84U Al-Suffa soup kitchen; Steve Barnabis and Josh Jardine of the Soul Project; and Tracey Griffiths, the head of Barncroft School.
While Powell links with Steve Seddon to design the notes, project co-ordinator Nicky Petto discovers that some former Co-operative Bank premises are available nearby and they renovate them to become the Hoe Street Central Bank (HSCB, geddit?). Green-visored volunteers are sought to screen print the notes under the initial supervision of Spike Gascoigne and the bank becomes a hive of activity, as Edelstyn seeks out reformed debt buyer Roland Roberts to handle the £1.2 million debt portfolio that the project seeks to eradicate.
Boosted by media interest, sales begin to grow and the message behind the campaign starts to spread. Customers explain why they felt moved to help, as anthropologist David Graeber hopes that exercises to question the morality of debt will cause the system to collapse and be replaced by something fairer. The excitement felt by the recipients when they get their cut of the £20,000 raised suggests that this would be as popular as it is desirable an outcome. Academic Johnna Montgomerie and Ann Pettifor's strategies for debt abolition would also get many votes.
The remaining £20k was used to cancel £1.2m debt in the Walthamstow area. It's taken five years of hard work and dedication, but the ends have more than justified the means. But Powell and Edelstyn aren't finished just yet. They feel the need to paint a transit van gold and blow it to smithereens across the river from the City. Clearly, Big Bang 2 is a cornball stunt (complete with jokes about The Italian Job), but the duo have since minted coins from the shredded vehicle to swell the coffers of the ongoing project. Good on them and long may their initiative prosper and inspire.
The film will hopefully produce a raft of domino schemes that will further pull back the curtain behind which the Wizard of Capitalism is lurking and holding the world to ransom. In places, Edelstyn and Powell overdo the shamateurism and an occasional whiff of self-satisfaction overpowers the self-deprecation that pervades proceedings. But why shouldn't it? What they have achieved may not be original, but it's audacious and effective and the intrepid twosome deserve enormous credit for their commitment over a prolonged period to what sometimes must have seemed a risky business.
Reflecting the tendency to indulge in the occasional tonal lurch, the closing sequence couldn't be cheesier, as Powell dashes downstairs, charges through the kitchen and races across the lawn to burst into the garden studio and inform Edelstyn that she's got a brilliant wheeze. Who knows whether that will evolve into the couple's third picture or when we will get to see the results. But it's good to know that they are still out there being urbanely mad as hell and refusing to take it any more.
17) GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER(S).
In March 1190, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, around 150 Jews perished during a pogrom at the King's Tower within York Castle. In punishment, the city's leading families were each fined £66. A century later, Edward I expelled the entire Jewish population from his realm and it was only permitted to return by Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1650s.
As a son of York, documentarist David Nicholas Wilkinson has always been dismayed by the events of the Shabbat Hagadol, 831 years ago. This unease manifests itself in Getting Away With Murder(s), a project that has taken almost two decades to complete and which seeks to understand why 99% of those responsible for carrying out the Holocaust were not even questioned, let alone charged, during the aftermath of the Second World War.
As an aerial shot shows the extent of the vast Auschwitz complex, survivor Arek Hersh recalls arriving there as a 14 year-old boy. Situated within the Greater German Reich, the camp included a slave labour block for the IG Farben chemical plant and the Auschwitz II facility that is better known as Birkenau. Lukasz Lipinski from the Memorial Museum takes Wilkinson in the footsteps of 1.1 million victims, as they take a sombre walk along the path from the station platform to the underground gas chambers that Hersh remembers operating day and night.
Lipinski describes how people were ordered to undress and folded their clothes before taking what they believed would be a shower. However, the were murdered using Zyklon-B gas and their belongings, as well as their gold teeth and the women's hair, were stored in a part of the camp known as `Canada'. Kitty Hart-Moxon was transferred here o sort possessions in 1944 and she remembered Gerhard Palitzsch giving a speech in which he claimed that the only way they would ever leave would be through a chimney.
Wilkinson shows images from photo albums compiled by the Nazis showing new arrivals at Auschwitz and staff relaxing at the nearby leisure centre. The majority of those responsible for committing murder on an industrial scale got away scot free. Some 7000 survived the war, but only around 800 were ever prosecuted for war crimes. One of those who escaped punishment was Josef Mengele, the so-called `Angel of Death', who supposedly returned without harassment to his hometown of Günzberg in the 1950s, while he was hiding in Argentina. He died of a stroke while swimming in Brazil, where his skull is used for medical experiments.
Pointing out that the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust equates to the populations of Yorkshire, Maryland and Denmark, Wilkinson wonders why there was so little outrage at this mass extermination after the war. But Dr Dan Plesch, the author of Human Rights After Hitler, claims there was limited interest in addressing the issue during the war itself. Indeed, shortly after he had read a statement denouncing the persecution, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden ignored a Bulgarian request to help move Jews who would eventually be sent to Treblinka to the British mandated territory of Palestine.
Despite captured members of the Nazi hierarchy going on trial at Nuremberg, those like Sergeant Johann Robert Riss remained at liberty, with Germany even refusing to extradite him after he was found guilty in absentia of participating in the death of 184 civilians at Padule di Fucecchio in Tuscany.
Philip Rubinstein, the former director of the All-Party Parliamentary War Crimes Group, claims that there was opposition within both government and the civil service for war crime trials, while Plesch highlights the role of Ambassador Herbert Pell in opposing Secretary of War Henry Stimson's contention that the Germans shouldn't be prosecuted for the murder of its own citizens lest the United States be held to account for lynchings in the Deep South. Interestingly, Pell was keen to prevent a sense of nostalgic patriotism growing up around Nazism as it had around the Confederacy in his own country.
Research associate Axel Fischer shows Wilkinson around the courtroom in Nuremberg's Palace of Justice, as we learn that attempts were made to counter calls for justice with pleas for pragmatism based on a need to avoid alienating West Germany in the Cold War fight against the Communist threat. But the 21 defendants (three of whom were acquitted) represented the leadership rather than rank and file culprits like Fedor Fedorenko, who had served at Treblinka and was living in retirement in Florida when he was returned at the age of 79 to the Soviet Union to face a firing squad for his crimes in 1987.
Wilkinson visits Benjamin Ferencz, the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, who also forced superior Telford Taylor into launching the Einsatzgruppen Trial to prosecute the members of the SS paramilitary death squads. He remembers getting angry with those who claimed merely to have been following orders and countering the insistence of Dr Otto Ohlendorf that Germany had been acting in self-defence.
During this trial, Martin Sandberger denied the scale of the charge brought against him and a death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. As he had powerful friends, however, he served only seven years and died in a luxury nursing home at the age of 98 in 2010. Ferencz laments the fact that the dock could only hold 22 and that he was not allowed to prosecute the hundreds he could connect with perpetrating or being an accessory to mass murder.
Dr James Smith, the co-founder of the National Holocaust Centre, who questions why it took so long for British schools to put the Shoah on the curriculum. He also raises Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin's concern that the 150 officers responsible for the Armenian Genocide could be set free in 1921 (largely because gathering evidence and staging a trial would be too expensive), while Soghomon Tehlirian could be tried for the assassination in Berlin of Talaat Pasha, who had been one of the architects of the atrocity.
In a speech to followers at Obersalzburg in the weeks before the invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler cited the international community's dismissal of the Armenian Genocide in ordering the mass slaughter of the Third Reich's enemies. In all, 11 million would die in 22 countries at the hands of Germany and its collaborators and, yet, the Four Powers (the USA, the UK, the USSR and France) opted to cease prosecutions.
Plesh has no doubts that Cold War panic prompted a shift in attitudes, while Rubinstein cites British communiqués from 1948 and 1950 announcing an end to future trials and even the deportation of suspected war criminals. Fischer raises the Nuremberg Principles that crimes against humanity should not go unpunished. But the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949 saw it become necessary to prove willing participation in mass extermination, which bolstered the reluctance of Australia and Canada to pursue known war criminals who had settled there.
On 24 March 1944, 335 were murdered at the Ardeatine Caves in Rome. Six months later, Pietro Caruso was executed for his part in the crime. SS Captain Erich Priebke had also been present, but had escaped via the ratlines to Argentina. When an interview he gave on American television led to his extradition in the mid-1990s, he was spared prosecution because the statute of limitations had expired and lived to the age of 100 in 2013.
Mary Fulbrook, the Professor of German History at University College, London explains how West and East Germany diverged in the postwar period, with the former experiencing a continuity that meant Nazi sympathisers remaining in post in the police and the legal profession. She even suggests a degree of `renazification' occurred to protect those under suspicion, while the penal code made it difficult to prosecute an individual for contributing to an act of mass murder. People like Walter Rauff, the designer of mobile gas vans that caused around 100,000 deaths, who was helped to escape to South America by Syrian and Israeli intelligence units and died unpunished in Chile in 1984.
Rubinstein reveals that there was no means of prosecuting such individuals until the passage of the War Crimes Act in 1991. He also mentions that poor vetting standards meant that numerous guilty persons were brought to the UK in the late 1940s to plug the gaps in the workforce. Both he and Wilkinson are appalled by leader articles in The Times and The Daily Telegraph in 1987, which call for an end to show trials and claim that Britain prefers the New Testament God of Mercy to the Old Testament God of Vengeance. They stop short of calling such invidious statements anti-Semitic, but concur that they reflect an existing establishment attitude at the time.
Hence Anton Gecas could feel secure running his bed and breakfast in Scotland until 2001 following a career with the National Coal Board after having switched sides after participating in thousands of murders in the Baltic States and Belarus. Bermondsey-based Anthony Sawoniuk was less fortunate, in that, in 1999, he became the sole person to be prosecuted under the 1991 War Crimes Act after working as a ticket collector for British Rail. He died behind bars, although it was claimed he was responsible for many more killings than those on which he was convicted.
A month after this trial, the Metropolitan Police's war crimes unit was closed down and its evidence placed under an embargo. Wilkinson deduces that expense was a factor in the decision and declares that justice has a price tag. Standing beside William Joyce's grave in Galway, he also wonders why the judiciary could allow 400 suspects to live freely while supporting a treason case against the Brooklyn-born, Irish-raised Lord Haw Haw when he wasn't a British citizen and had not only committed no murders, but also hadn't incited any, either.
Unlike Michael Karkoc, who was able to reach 100 in Minnesota after having committed crimes with the Ukrainian Self Defence Legion and the Waffen SS. Wilkinson doesn't mention that Karkoc's son has always denied his father was a Nazi or the author of a Ukrainian memoir admitting to his memberships. But Holocaust researcher Dr Stephen Ankier is adamant about his guilt and Wilkinson meets him in Oldham to hear the cases against two more Self Defence Legion veterans, Ivan Lachmanjuk and Dmytro Wiazewycz.
They died before Ankier could present a case against them So, had the Lincoln-based Mikhail Manchal, who had been present at the massacres at Chlaniow and Wladyslawin, and Ostap Kykawec from Keighley, who had been in the 31st Punitive Division. Moving on to Bradford, Ankier points the finger at Oleksandr Nemerewski, who had been a machine gunner during the Warsaw Uprising, and Ostap Yastruv, who was photographed with Karkoc during the war. They have also died and Ankier wishes is frustrated that they got away with murder because nobody investigated them.
Over a map of other Ankier identifications, Wilkinson lauds the work of a dedicated amateur Nazi hunter. He also suggests the failure to find and question these suspects represents a dark chapter in British legal history and contrast the indifference with the active wartime efforts of Bulgaria, Denmark and Albania (which had a primarily Muslim population) in resisting the Nazi-ordered round-ups.
Rubinstein states that the Nazis dispensed with a legal system predicated on the Ten Commandments and denied victims due process. He feels those who operated under such a system should be judged under it themselves. Known as `the Butcher of Riga', Herberts Cukurs directly participated in the murder of over 30,000 Latvian Jews and once beat to death those who refused to watch a Jewish girl being forcibly raped by a 41 year-old Jewish man. He was assassinated by Mossad agents in Uruguay in 1965. Yet, to some in Latvia, he remains a hero and was the subject of a musical in 2014.
Broadcaster Robin Lustig tells Wilkinson about his grandmother, Ilse Cohn, who was deported from Breslau and transported to Lithuania, where she became one of 2000 people to be murdered on the same day in the Paneriai Forest. Thousands more were forced to strip and endure humiliation before being shot into burial pits at Škede Beach. Lustig and Wilkinson look aghast at the photographs that were taken as souvenirs, only to be used in evidence after they fell into Soviet hands. Yet, virtually none of the locals who participated so eagerly in these crimes were questioned, let alone charged.
The man behind these crimes, Karl Jäger, lived under his own name in Germany for 14 years before being arrested. However, he committed suicide before being convicted, according to Jens Rommel, from the Central Office for the Land Judicial Authorities for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes. His prosecution files are on show in a glass case in a memorial museum. But even cases that came to court, like the Sobibor trial, resulted in acquittals and comparatively light sentences for guilty men like Alfred Ittner, Erich Fuchs (four years each) and Franz Wolf (eight years).
Fulbrook blames this on the number of high-ranking Nazis in Chanceller Konrad Adenauer's postwar government and hails the efforts of socialist judge Fritz Bauer to see justice done. He even tipped off Mossad about Adolph Eichmann's whereabouts as an executive with Mercedes Benz in Argentina. His defence that he was following orders was rejected and he was executed in 1962. Rommel admits that the absence in German law of any notion of a `crime against humanity' made it difficult to secure convictions.
As nations were reluctant to pursue the guilty, individuals like Simon Wiesenthal took it upon themselves. Among the people he tracked down was SS guard Hermine Braunsteiner, who became the first war criminal to be extradited from the United States for her actions at Ravensbrück and Majdanek. But Fulbrook points out how difficult it was to secure convictions, as survivors were often mocked when giving testimony and the burden of proving subjective intent meant that it was not murder to put 300,000 into the gas chambers unless it could be demonstrated that the perpetrator had been sadistic or brutal to a specific individual.
Rommel says the Central Office has led 7600 investigations and had 120,000 defendants in West Germany. But they have managed to secure less than 7000 convictions. Kitty Hart-Moxon highlights the case of Auschwitz guard Gottfried Weise, who had been at liberty for four decades before being put on trial. She recalls giving evidence over two gruelling days and how Weise had escaped to Switzerland before a verdict could be returned. He was only recaptured after requiring medical attention following a stroke.
Only 30 of the 25,000 inhabitant's of Malka Levine's Ukrainian hometown of Volodymyr-Volynskyi survived the war. Many were machine-gunned into pits and she places the blame firmly on Gebietskommissar Wilhelm Westerheide and his secretary Johanna Altvater, who had once thrown sick children out of the third-storey window of a hospital. When they were acquitted for lack of evidence in 1978 and 1982, Levine confronted a judge who informed her that killing Jews was legal at the time.
Beneath the Anthropoid Memorial in Prague, Wilkinson meets Pavlina Zipkova, the head of the Czech Film Commission, who tells him about the attempted assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhold Heydrich in May 1942. He then joins Filip Petlicka at the memorial to those caught in the reprisal attack of 9 June on the mining village of Lidice. In all, 173 men were shot, while the women were taken to Ravensbrück and the children to Chelmno in Poland, where they were gassed. Seventeen returned, along with 143 women. None of those who hit Heydrich survived the gun battle at the church of St Cyril and Methodius in Prague, where they had been hiding.
As they had been sheltered before the raid in the village of Lezáky, all but two children were murdered by the Nazis, who razed the hamlet to the ground. Of the few charged with the atrocities, Max Rostock had his sentence commuted by the Czech Communist regime, as he was of value to the intelligence community. As Heydrich had succumbed to sepsis, Dr Herta Oberheuser tried to study it by recreating it in healthy people. She served only five of her 20-year sentence and practiced as a GP for many years before her licence was revoked. She died in 1978 at the age of 66.
The massacre took place in the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane in June 1944 on the orders of SS general Heinz Lammerding. Yet only Heinz Barth stood trial for the act, but he was released with a full war pension after serving only 15 years and lived to be 86. Lammerding died a wealthy man in Bad Tölz, after the German authorities had refused to surrender him to France because it had made a treaty deal not to reopen war crimes cases. In fact, the terms had been intended to prevent Germany from reaching verdicts that did not satisfy other nations, but it was twisted to stop those tried in absentia from being deported.
Eichmann's assistant, Alois Brunner, sent 100,000 to ghettos and concentration camps. He lived in West German until 1954, when he fled to Syria and earned a consultancy fee by advising the Ba'ath Party on methods of torture. He either lived to be 89 or 98, as neither death dates in 2001 or 2010 could be verified.
In Vienna, Winfried Garscha, from the DOW Archive, takes Wilkinson to the rear entry of the former SS headquarters in what had once been a luxurious Jewish hotel on Salztorgasse. He reveals that Simon Wiesenthal had chosen the new building erected on the site for his own offices and explains how he had started collecting evidence against the Reich during his last days in Mauthausen. Without him pressing the Austrian courts, there wouldn't have been so many prosecutions before Four Power control ended in 1955. Thenceforth, however, it became so hard to secure a verdict in Austria that it became something of a safe haven.
Returning to the charge sheets narrated by Eileen Atkins that have popped up regularly throughout the film, we hear how Gustav Wagner, who was known as `The Beast' as Sobibor, had been responsible for over 250,000 deaths. Yet, he had been allowed to slip away to Brazil, where he survived until 1980, when he was found with a knife in his chest that his lawyer claimed was the result of suicide. Another alights on Franz Murer, an Austrian serving in the Lithuanian, Vilnius, which was known as `the Jerusalem of the North' and boasted a Jewish population of 80,000. But only 250 survived the war and Murer was sentenced to 25 years' hard labour in the USSR for his role. However, his sentence was cut short and he was acquitted when Wiesenthal re-prosecuted him in 1963 and he lived into his eighties.
Garscha accepts that Austria hid behind the `victim' status that Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt had built into a declaration on how the country would be handled after the war. However, the government opted to ignore the insistence that Austria faced up to the crimes committed after the Anschluss of March 1938 and, consequently, the perpetrators were allowed to evade justice between 1955 and the mid-1980s, when the truth resurfaced during the presidential campaign of former United Nations Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim,
While in Austria, Wilkinson visits the house in Braunau am Inn, where Hitler had been born in 1889. He also sees the muddy puddle that had formed above the bunker where he had committed suicide to avoid facing justice. By the time of his death, however, Hitler had been indicted as a war criminal by the Czechoslovakian government in exile and the charge had been approved by Britain and its allies.
Fulbrook accompanies Wilkinson to the Topography of Terror memorial that was built on the site of the SS Reich Security Main Office that had been a wasteland after the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. They also visit the memorial at the Tiergartenstraße headquarters of the Aktion T4 mass euthanasia programme, the Ebertstraße memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism and the Scheidemannstraße to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism.
She points out how belatedly the LGBTQ+ community was recognised because the same laws persisted into the postwar period and how it was only in 2012 that the plight of the Roma and Sinti peoples was finally acknowledged. They also pause by some of the Stolpersteine that bear the names of Holocaust victims and which featured in Dörte Franke's excellent documentary, Stolperstein (2008). Finally, they reach the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is situated in what had been the no man's land between East and West Germany. Here, Fulbrook commends the unified state's policy of paying tribute to victims. But she reminds us that it shouldn't disguise the fact that the divided states failed to bring the perpetrators to book when they had the chance.
Following an extract from Benjamin Ferencz's argument at Nuremberg, son
Donald Ferencz expresses his doubts about the US decision to release the vast majority of detainees as part of a 1958 deal with Adenauer to help West Germany resist the Eastern Bloc. But he hopes that Robert Jackson's pronouncements on leaders being held accountable for crimes against peace holds sway to prevent the world ever going to war on this scale again.
Summation speeches agree that not enough was done and that compassion for the Jews soon passed through indifference to worse. But we should be glad that Holocaust triumphalism has never gained traction, even though denial is increasingly prevalent. Over aerial shots of moving monuments, Wilkinson rightly avers that the victors didn't do their duty to the victims after the war and that they face dying for a second time when the last living connections pass on. We claim to be appalled in the modern age, but atrocities continue in all corners of the globe and they do so because our leaders allowed the guilty to get away with murder.
What nobler way could there be to mark the 75th anniversary of the sentencing at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg than the releasing a film of such power, potency and importance? There's even more poetic justice in the fact that it reaches UK cinemas on the day that 96 year-old Irmgard Furchner has been recaptured after fleeing from her trial for allegedly assisting as an 18 year-old secretary in the murder of 11,000 victims at the Stutthof concentration camp.
As he has proved in actualities as different as The First Film (2015) and Postcards From the 48% (2018), David Wilkinson is not one to stint on detail or conviction. The fact that it took three years to make this film across 10 countries testifies to his commitment to a cause that history is in danger of allowing to fade into the truisms that Hollywood has reinforced since it appointed itself the audiovisual chronicler of the Holocaust. With Claude Lanzmann no longer around to force the issue, along with the occasional Eastern European director who is capable of keeping alive the flame lit by their postwar counterparts, it's vital that film-makers of Wilkinson's integrity and gravity continue to seek answers before people forget what the difficult questions are.
It has to be conceded that some of the names in the above section on Stephen Ankier are best guesses. Perhaps they could have appeared onscreen in some form, as they are more likely to stick in the memory than from a passing mention, especially as the names come thick and fast as Ankier and Wilkinson trudge around various northern towns in pursuit of what keep turning out to be cold cases. Maybe the time could have been more profitably spent doing into more detail on the corners that were cut and the advice that was ignored from the likes of Sue Ryder in the new government's eagerness to redress the postwar labour shortage? But that's the only minor quibble with an epic study that has been photographed with an assured sense of place and assembled with adroitly chosen archive materials. Let's hope it finds an unabridged berth on television, where it's likely to reach its widest audience.
16) END OF SENTENCE.
Eight years after completing the shorts, Subculture and Sailcloth (both 2011), Icelander Elfar Adalsteins makes his feature bow with End of Sentence (2019), a father-son rite of passage that takes some familiar twists and turns, while consistently confounding expectations.
When cancer-stricken Anna Fogle (Andrea Irvine) visits son Sean (Logan Lerman) in his Arizona prison, he refuses to see his father Frank (John Hawkes). However, he is waiting at the gate on the day of Sean's release with an invitation to honour his mother's last wish by accompanying him on a sentimental journey to scatter her ashes on a remote Irish lake. When Sean's plan to relocate to California falls through because of his car-stealing past, he agrees to join his father on the flight across the Atlantic on condition that he is allowed to pocket the proceeds of the sale of a family property in Ireland.
Arriving in Shannon, the pair hire a car to drive to Dublin for a reunion with Anna's family. Frank is troubled by the discovery of an old photo of Anna with a strapping biker named Ronan and gets it into his head that she used to use her periodic trips home to meet up with her first love. Tired of his father's fretting, Sean drinks hard and flirts with Jewel (Sarah Bolger) after he notices her sitting at the bar. Reluctantly, Frank agrees to give her a lift and he's grateful for her company after Sean sulks on discovering the house he is due to inherit is derelict and picks a fight about Frank's failures as a father and his refusal to challenge his grandfather over the cigarette burns on his body.
Acting on a tip from Bridget (Mary McEvoy), they drive to the stud farm where Ronan works and Frank becomes more convinced than ever of Anna's infidelity when Ronan's brother reveals that his ashes were scattered on a lake near the border. Jewel tries to cheer him up and Frank takes a shine to her after she sings `Dirty Old Town' with a folk band in a bar. Sean takes exception to him getting her a room at their hotel and spends the night with her after a fight with Frank. But they are both left frustrated after she absconds with their hire car and Anna's ashes.
Reasoning that Jewel is heading to the ferry port at Larne, the Fogles give chase. Sean spots her in the queue for the boat and slips past security to confront her and recovers his mother. Continuing north, they smash the urn on almost hitting a deer in the road and they check into the nearby hotel with a small glass jar of the salvageable ashes. Frank gives Sean a ticket to fly to Oakland and secure his promised job. But he can't leave his old man to travel to journey's end alone.
Forced to walk after running out of petrol, father and son find a chapel, where Father Tobin (Denis Conway) not only gives them directions to the lake, but also reveals that Anna often used to come to the local convent on retreat. Relieved to learn that she hadn't cheated on him, Frank joins Sean in scattering the ashes and going for a swim. As they sit on the bank at dusk, Sean announces that he's going to stay in Ireland and see where the road takes him and Frank apologises for not being a great dad, but reveals that he had never spoken to his own father again after the cigarette incident.
With its majestic setting on the banks of Lough Tay in the Wicklow Mountains, the conclusion of this anfractuous odyssey is deeply satisfying. But there's also much to enjoy en route, as John Hawkes and Logan Lerman are coerced into speaking frankly for the first time in years and are left with little option but to deal with the emotions that rise to the surface. The fact they seem surprised that this is what Anna had intended all along suggests that there will be further bumps along the road once Sean returns Stateside. But the trip has left them better equipped to deal with everyday reality, even though neither appears to have benefited spiritually from their experiences.
With apprehension and regret etched into his face, Frank can be summed up by the fact he is so daunted by the prospect of having to drive an non-automatic car. His desperation to fulfil his wife's last wish is rooted in a recognition of his own flaws and the need to atone to Sean for putting him on the road to prison. However, Sean is too wrapped up in his own grievances to recognise the debt he owes to his father and it's only when they've been cleansed in the lake (which they are amusingly encouraged to visit by the parish priest, even though it's on private property) that they are ready to contemplate the future.
The byplay between Hawkes and Lerman is splendid throughout, although it becomes even more intriguing after they acquire a travelling companion. Yet Michael Ambruster's screenplay doesn't quite know what to do with Jewel and she ends up being more of a plot device than a fully fleshed character. But she's played with edgy charm by Sarah Bolger and there seems little doubt that Sean hasn't seen the last of her.
Eschewing cornball blarney and instructing cinematographer Karl Oskarsson to avoid postcard views, Adalsteins directs with a droll sense of life's little ironies. He also achieves a nice pace to proceedings that shamble along their winding road like a well-told shaggy dog story. There are a couple of tonal lurches, involving some chop shop guard dogs and a ferry security guard. But this confirms the promise shown all those years ago in guiding a silent John Hurt through the poignant Sailcloth.
15) DRUNK BUS.
The directing team of John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke already have a string of amusing shorts to their credit, including Drone Boning (2014), which has been claimed as the first porn film to be photographed using a drone. By contrast, they profiled gospel singer Jerry Steinberg in the documentary, Tiny Giant (2013). They also satirised virtual assistant technology in Big Data L1ZY (2018), while they have produced quirky items like Infinity Tree (2017) under the name Ghost and Cow. Now, they make their feature bow with Drunk Bus.
Four years after graduation, Michael (Charlie Tahan) is still driving the campus bus on the night shift. Nine months have passed since girlfriend Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte) left Ohio for New York and he is still struggling to come to terms with the fact that the girl to whom he had promised his virginity has dumped him. Roommate Josh (Zach Cherry) is little help, but Kat (Kara Hayward) and Justin (Tonatiuh Elizarraraz) regularly ride along to keep him company and offer reassurance that things will work themselves out.
Bus controller Fred (Will Forte) also has faith in him and urges him to focus on attaining a safety certificate that will give him job security. But an altercation with an obnoxious passenger named Todd (Jay Devore) results in the hiring of a bodyguard, who comes in the hulking form of Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a Samoan American with a full facial tattoo.
He is curious as to why Michael puts up with the daily pelting of the bus by some frat boys and why he offers a nightly lift to an old man in an electric wheelchair who is known as FU Bob (Martin Pfefferkorn) because of his grumpy cursing. Pineapple is even more intrigued by Michael's private life and tries to spice it up by introducing him to drug dealer, Devo Ted (Dave Hill).
Over a fast food supper, Pineapple confides that he is an estranged father and keeps sharing words of Samoan wisdom. Michael allows him to take turns at the wheel and eventually entrusts the bus to him so he can join Kat and Justin at a party. However, it turns out to be Todd's birthday bash and Michael headbutts him because he has heard a rumour that he slept with Amy. Kat is furious with him and Michael comes to regret letting Pineapple talk him into letting goth Tara (Sydney Farley) tend to his split eye, as they wind up in bed for some decidedly freaky sex.
Michael is even more chastened when he loses patience with FU Bob for refusing to get on the bus and is mortified when he hears that he froze to death in the night. Despite being hurt by Michael asking Devo Ted about his background, Pineapple accompanies him to Bob's ramshackle abode, which is full of amazing portraits. However, they squabble again when Amy returns to Kent and asks Michael if they can resume their relationship.
Having exacted his revenge on the frat boys with a giant slingshot and realised that he loved Kat, Michael defies Fred's pleas on the CB radio and drives the bus out of town with `Not in Service' on the destination sign. Over the closing credits, we see Josh get behind the wheel with Pineapple as his muscle and Kat supervise the opening of FU Bob's exhibition. We also discover that Todd is responsible for the typos on the specials board at the diner on the bus route. But our anti-hero's fate is withheld.
Funnily enough, this doesn't matter much, as Michael's journey is far more important than his final destination. It will bother some that he gets there with the help of a man with a Ta Moko. But, while Pineapple has much in common with what Spike Lee once called `the magical, mystical Negro', he is given much more depth and vulnerability by screenwriter Chris Molinaro so that he can be played with winking integrity by Pineapple Tangaroa.
His byplay with Charlie Tahan keeps the picture on track. But Carlucci and LaGanke ensure the passengers are more than mere ciphers, with Kara Hayward particularly impressing as Kat, who emerges as Michael's sharp-witted conscience after he starts acting on Pineapple's advice to cut loose. There are missteps, however, such as the gag about the kissing lesbians and the fact that Josh is on a sex register because he keeps getting caught short and needing to pee in public places.
The co-directors make canny use of the Kent locations, with cinematographer Luke McCoubrey conveying both the atmosphere of the varsity town and the drabness of its snowy outskirts. He also captures the changing moods inside the bus, as rowdy shenanigans give way to morose mumblings as the shift approaches the wee smalls. The humour can be patchy and some of the tonal shifts grind slightly. But Carlucci and LaGanke are rewarded for both putting their faith in character and keeping it real.
14) SHIVA BABY.
Another week, another feature expanded from a lauded short. Back in 2018, writer-director Emma Seligman made Shiva Baby as her thesis film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Now, she has reunited with actress Rachel Sennott to work in some even more harrowing happenstances for college senior Danielle to endure at the family-packed post-burial reception for someone she barely knew.
Having reached a far from convincing orgasm during a mid-day tryst with the much older Max (Danny Deferrari), Danielle (Rachel Sennott) makes her excuses to leave, although not before she has collected the money she claims she needs to pay her way through law school. Hurrying across town, she meets up with her parents at a shiva and has to ask her mother who has died. Debbie (Polly Draper) is embarrassed by her daughter's shambolic life and is well aware that she is being gossiped about, especially because she is doing nowhere near as well as her ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon). As she chats to Debbie and Joel (Fred Melamed), Danielle is dismayed to see Max arrive and is even more taken aback when it's revealed that he not only used to work with Joel, but that he is also married.
Max is just as surprised to see Danielle and manages to suppress his anger when he learns that she is still at college and has informed her parents that she makes her pocket money by babysitting, even though they pay all of her bills. He listens politely as Debbie asks if one of his relatives could find Danielle a job and looks on as mother sweeps daughter away to explain that Max is married to `a shiksa princess' named Kim (Dianna Agron), who promptly arrives with her bawling baby daughter, Rose.
Having accidentally torn her tights, Danielle goes to the bathroom, where she takes a topless selfie and sends it to Max's phone. In her annoyance, however, she leaves her own mobile behind and doesn't notice it's missing. Unable to watch Max and Kim together, Danielle volunteers to clean up some vomit and is waylaid by Maya. She thinks her ex is eyeing up Kim and tries to engage her in conversation. However, Danielle is envious of Maya's academic success and is tired of being constantly compared to her by family and friends.
Returning to the main room and more questions about her weight loss and relationship status, Danielle allows herself to be introduced to Kim, who inquires about her availability to babysit. When she hears that Kim earns more than Max, Danielle realises that he has been paying for their assignations with his wife's money. She tries to make a snide remark to hurt Kim's feelings, but succeeds only in drawing attention to the fact that she is wearing the same expensive bracelet that Max had given Kim.
Desperate to shut Danielle up, Max spills coffee on her and Debbie drags her out of the room. She pleads with her daughter not to embarrass herself in front of everyone, but she quickly finds herself caught up in a confessional chat involving Maya and Max.
Vainly believing that he and Danielle have been involved in some sort of romantic entanglement, Max is affronted when she follows him to the bathroom and tries to fellate him. He's not in the mood to be placated, however, and Danielle is relieved when she finds Maya having a crafty smoke outside. She admits to missing her and they kiss. But any hopes of a reunion are dashed when Maya finds Danielle's phone and not only sees the photo, but also reads her messages from an app called Sugar Baby.
Maya lets Danielle know that she has seen the phone, but refuses to return it. Meanwhile, she spots Kim chatting to her parents and sidles over to steer the conversation away from any potentially discomfiting topics. Unfortunately, Joel starts discussing Danielle's romantic history and she wishes the floor would open up and swallow her when he persuades one of the other guests to sing a lullaby from her childhood. In her mind's eye, she sees Kim draping herself over Max and joining in the chorus and she's relieved when the rabbi announce that it's time to pray.
Rose starts crying loudly and Kim takes her away, giving Max the chance to usher Danielle into the kitchen. He asks if their arrangement still holds and he is still awaiting an answer when Kim suggests they should head home. She hands Danielle her phone and asks her to hold Rose so she can feed her. Max and Kim begin to argue and, in a blind panic, Danielle smashes a vase. Sinking to her knees, she starts to pick up the pieces and is joined by Debbie and Maya.
Hoping to protect her daughter from any further gossip, Debbie announces that they need to help an old lady to her car. She sends Danielle and Maya to the kitchen to look for leftovers and they emerge on to the pavement to see Debbie and Joel coercing Max and Kim to accept a lift in their people carrier. As Rose screams, Joel searches for his keys and Maya reaches out to clasp Danielle's hand. Somehow sensing they're over the worst, they smile at each other.
There's something deliciously daring about basing a satire on feminist empowerment on a bisexual Jewish woman doing unofficial field work for her college gender studies course by actualising the transactional powers of her sexuality in duping a sugar daddy. But what makes Emma Seligman's debut feature all the more amusing is the fact that Danielle is very much a junior femme fatale, whose cloak of invincibility begins to unravel with the first tug on a loose thread.
Impeccably played by Rachel Sennott, Danielle gives off an air of cynical worldly wisdom. But her immaturity and vulnerability are cruelly exposed by a chance encounter at a family gathering at which there is no hiding place from the indignities that stack higher with each doomed bid to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.
The support playing from Polly Draper, Molly Gordon and Dianna Agron is equally flawless, as they each judge Danielle by markedly different standards. Draper has some choice Jewish mother lines that could have been scripted by Woody Allen in his heyday, while Gordon takes wry pleasure in her ex's predicament, while also remaining deeply attached to her. Agron has the dual duty of exposing how far Danielle is from achieving maturity, while also putting the reprehensible Danny Deferrari in his place.
Add in Fred Melamed's blithely trusting dad and you have a textbook ensemble, who interactions over a relentless 77 minutes are made all the more squirmingly excruciating by the way in which cinematographer Maria Rusche keeps everyone penned into the confined spaces conceived with claustrophobic discomfort in mind by production designer Cheyenne Ford. Feeding off the pacy speech patterns, Hanna Park's sharp editing keeps the pressure on the petulantly insensitive Danielle, as does the mix of staccato guitar riffs and piercing piano notes in Ariel Marx's jittery score.
Controlling everything with seeming effortlessness, Seligman imparts her own familiarity with the scenario and, thus, makes it feel as though she has stumbled into an actual shiva rather than staged one for the camera. Such is American cinema's debt to Jewish tropes that a reliance on the odd cliché and caricature is almost inevitable. The discussion of issues like individual and collective identity and the stifling nature of tradition might also have been weightier. But this is a refreshing rejoinder to all those nebbish comedies and would make a fine double bill with another film expanded from a short, Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child (2014). Moreover, it suggests that Seligman is very much a talent to watch.
13) PETITE MAMAN.
Throughout her career, Céline Sciamma has focused on turning points in the lives of girls and young women. After Water Lilies (2007), Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014) had formed a `coming of age' trilogy, Sciamma revisited the theme of self-discovery in her scripts for André Téchiné's Being 17 and Claude Barras's animation, My Life As a Courgette (both 2016). Even her acclaimed period piece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), centres on an 18th-century ingénue at a turning point from which there can be no going back.
Sciamma captures another life-changing moment in Petite Maman, which was filmed during the pandemic and touches upon themes that will have arisen in many households during lockdown. Feeling deeply personal, this enchanting miniature was partially filmed at the leisure park near Cergy-Pontoise, where Sciamma grew up and which is also the scene of Guillaume Brac's equally well-judged studies of juvenile blossoming, July Tales (2017) and The Treasure Island (2018).
Having helped with a crossword, Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) bids farewell to the old ladies at the home where her grandmother has died. Composed and self-reliant, she joins her mother (Nina Meurisse) in following behind her father (Stéphane Varupenne) in driving to the deceased's countryside home. As they travel, Nelly feeds snacks and fruit juice to her mother from the back seat.
They arrive in the dark and Nelly seeks out her mother's old room. She wakes to find her parents sorting things in the kitchen and declares that she wants to build a hut like the one her mother used to have in the woods. Nelly sits in a clearing and gathers stones. When she joins her mother sorting childhood things in her bedroom, she puts the stones on an old trinket shelf and she is intrigued when her mother adds one of her own.
Nelly can't sleep and her mother tells her about the black panther she used to see at the foot of the bed. Getting up for water, Nelly joins her mother on the sofa bed and wishes she had given her grandmother a proper goodbye a hug. But she is wise enough to know that one can never know when something is about to come to an end.
Next morning, Nelly wakes to find that her mother has gone home early because she's so sad. Her father gets Nelly to clear a hall cupboard and she goes outside to try a paddle ball she found on a shelf. As it's so old, the elastic snaps and the ball flies off and hits a tree. While searching for it, Nelly sees a girl of her own age struggling with a branch and helps Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) carry it to her makeshift wooden hut.
When it starts to rain, the girls rush to a house, where Nelly finds towels and makes cocoa in the kitchen. She tells Nelly that she also lost a grandmother recently and that she had the same name. Asking for the loo, Nelly goes exploring and sees a woman lying on a bed and beats a hasty retreat.
Returning home, she tells her father that she has found the hut that her mother had made and teases him because he can't remember her making it before she had an operation. That night, Nelly sleeps on her father's bed and he takes hers.
After breakfast, Nelly goes into the woods again with some string she had been using to tie books. With Marion's help, she cuts it to bind the branches. When they go back to the house, Nelly meets Marion's mother (Margot Abascal), who walks with a stick. She chides Marion for going out when she has an operation in three days' time, but leaves the girls to play and they establish that they are both eight years old.
Back home, Nelly tells her father she has made a friend and asks if she can spend the night at Marion's house. He agrees, providing she doesn't invite herself. Nelly asks why she knows so little about her parents' childhoods and her father confides that he was scared of her grandfather.
Up early, Nelly takes some autumnal foliage to decorate the hut. She finds Marion at the house and they decide to perform a murder mystery play and divide up the roles. Nelly asks Marion's mother to help with her tie and suggests a few words for the crossword she's doing and the woman smiles at calling Nelly by her name, as she hasn't used it for a while.
Marion and Nelly play an inspector and a countess in their production and are very pleased with the grown-up level of acting. As they chatter, Marion confides that sometimes people keep secrets solely because they have no one to share them with. Marion declares she wants to be an actress and Nelly is intrigued. She apologises that they can't meet at her house because of the atmosphere caused by her mother's sudden departure. But they agree to meet next day at the hut to take Marion's mind off her impending operation.
Having helped her father shave off his beard and asked him to entrust her with a secret, Nelly keeps her rendezvous at the hut. Marion has put a red curtain over the entrance and is delighted with the effect. Nelly asks if she can share a secret and tells Marion that she is her daughter. They go to the house and Marion is touched by how much Nelly loves her mother.
Father is ready to leave, as it's mother's birthday and he wants to surprise her. But Marion wants to have a sleepover with Nelly and pleads with her father that this will be her last chance, as she knows that there won't be a next time. He agrees and Marion thanks him with a whisper.
When Marion arrives, the pair have a fine old time making crepe batter. Their giggles turn to squeals when Nelly tosses a pancake over her shoulder. Afterwards, they finish the play, with the countess revealing to the inspector that they have a son. At supper, they spit out the soup that Marion's mother has made try to suppress their laughter. Marion insists that Nelly and her mother sing `Happy Birthday' twice before she blows out the candles, as she likes the idea of having her mother and daughter present on her ninth birthday.
In bed, Marion informs Nelly that she is already thinking about being her mother and wonders why things didn't work out with her father. That night, Nelly wakes and thinks she sees the black panther at the foot of the bed (although it's only the shadows cast by the blowing trees outside). Nelly is sitting on the floor when Marion wakes and she asks if she can listen to the music of the future on Nelly's headphones.
They agree they have time to do one last thing together. Running outdoors, they take a rubber dinghy to the river and paddle to a concrete pyramid with outer steps and a dark blue ceiling. As they pack Marion's case, she reassures Nelly that she isn't the source of her sadness and that she shouldn't blame herself if she sometimes seems distant. They hug by the car and Marion's mother strokes Nelly's cheek as they say their goodbyes.
Walking to the back door of the house, Nelly finds her mother sitting cross-legged on the floor in an empty room. She apologises for leaving her, but Nelly insists that she had a nice time in her absence. She calls her Marion and her mother smiles, as she wraps Nelly into a hug.
Made during the autumn of 2020, when film-making was severely curtailed by the pandemic, this miniature is easily the most visually beautiful that Sciamma has produced so far. Making simple use of the woodland hues and silences, Sciamma, cinematographer Claire Mathon and sound editor Valérie Deloof succeed in creating an enchanted setting, in which anything could happen (with their subtle changes in décor, Lionel Brison's soundstage interiors are equally effective). That this turns out to be a looping of time that allows a young girl to give her grandmother a fitting farewell makes this spectral fairytale all the more magical.
Twins Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz acquit themselves admirably as Nelly and Marion, with the dressing-up sequence particularly benefiting from their natural rapport and complicity. Indeed, they seem more at home apeing grown-up speech and mannerisms than they are being excitable young ladies, as there is something a little forced about the fun they have making a mess in the kitchen. But what is most touching about their interaction is the solicitous concern that Nelly shows Marion once she realises the truth and the readiness with which she seizes the opportunity to banish the sadness that taints their real-world relationship and get close to her.
The adults provide deft support, with Nina Meurisse poignantly conveying the pain she feels at losing her mother and drifting apart from her daughter while struggling to hold her marriage together. But Nelly communicates better with her `petite maman' and it's only after she has come to appreciate the source of her mother's melancholy that she is able to connect with her.
Eschewing sentimentality and explanation, the ever-observant Sciamma trusts viewers to accept her conceit and rewards them with a life-affirming celebraton of family ties. A modicum of suspension of disbelief is required, but it's a small price to pay for a film of such intimacy and finesse.
Those familiar with Cristi Puiu's Romanian New Wave classic, The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), will know all about the shortcomings of Bucharest's hospital network. But documentarist Alexander Nanau latches on to an even bigger dereliction in Collective, an exposé of the systemic failure of the national health service that shows what can happen when a film-makers lets life write the script. The focus may fall squarely on the corruption and ineptitude of Romanian officials, but Nanau is well aware of the universality of his subject, which will seem all the more potent as the anniversary of the first UK Covid lockdown hoves into view.
On 30 October 2015, fire ripped through the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest during a free concert by the metalcore band, Goodbye to Gravity. Footage shows the moment the lead singer spotted the flames and the subsequent stampede for the doors, as 27 were killed and many more were hospitalised with severe burns. Such was the outrage as Romanians took to the streets that Social Democrat prime minister Victor Ponta was forced to resign on 4 November. Health minister Nicolae Banicioiu was also among the casualties, as 37 families complained about the quality of care for loved ones who had succumbed to infections in hospitals across the capital. One father was even prevented from transferring his son to Vienna because the administration was so adamant that it could bring about his recovery.
It couldn't and grieving relatives were joined in their protests by survivor Tedy Ursuleanu, who had made herself a visible reminder of the failings of the medical staff and the ruling party after losing a hand and suffering third-degree burns on 45% of her body during the blaze. Also present at one of the meetings was Catalin Tolontan, the editor of Gazeta Sporturilor, the country's sole sporting paper. In conjunction with reporters Mirela Neag and Razvan Lutac, Tolontan had discovered that the city's specialist burns units were not only ill-equipped to deal with the number of casualties, but were also being actively hindered in the battle against the infections harming the survivors by the fact that the disinfectants being used on the wards had been deliberately diluted.
An undercover investigation found that Hexi Pharma owner Dan Condrea had been watering down antibacterial supplies before using bribes to sell them into hospitals that further weakened them before they were assigned. In a bid to discredit Tolontan's claims, health minister Patriciu Achimas-Cadariu produced test results that showed the Hexi fluids were 95% effective. Furthermore, he insisted that Bucharest's medical facilities were on a par with anything in Germany.
Smelling a rat, Tolontan and Neag stuck to their guns and were able to demonstrate through the whistleblowing testimony of Dr Camelia Roiu that payments had been made to keep the practice secret and ensure that any incriminating documentation conveniently disappeared. On 9 May 2016, Achimas-Cadariu was forced to resign and prime minister Dacian Ciolos added patients' rights advocate Vlad Voiculescu to his technocratic cabinet. Eyebrows were raised when the 33 year-old launched his first press conference with the words, `Hi, I'm Vlad.' Further concerns were raised when Condrea perished in a car crash on 22 May amidst rumours that the death was just as likely to have been foul play as suicide or an accident.
But Voiculescu quickly proved to be an incorruptible champion of the Colectiv families and he made a point of meeting Roiu and Ursuleanu, who had recently been fitted with a mechanical hand and had posed for a series of accusatory photographs that were about to go on display. Within a month of taking office, Voiculescu had blocked the routine appointment of 60 hospital managers and had accepted the finding that disinfectants had been tampered with and that kickbacks had been accepted to ensure the fact was hushed up. However, his plans to implement further reforms before the November general election were sidetracked by Gabriela Firea, the Social Democrat mayor of Bucharest, who accused Voiculescu of withholding transplant licences when they had been sanctioned by external observers.
Voiculescu won this battle by highlighting a complete lack of special aftercare units, but he lost the war when the Social Democrats were swept back into power, even though the short-lived Ciolos administration had done much to expose their flaws. As he contemplates his future, Voiculescu is advised by his father to leave Romania and resume his life in Vienna. But, while he weighs up his options, Tolontan, Neag and Lutac were gearing up to ensure that at least one newspaper was going to strive to make the new PSD government accountable to the people.
Such is the compelling nature of both Tolontan and Voiculescu's narratives that it's easy to overlook the journalistic acuity demonstrated by Nanau in abandoning one for the other as the focus of the story shifted. Having watched Tolontan break the news about the hospital scandal, Nanau gains unique access to the new health minister to see how he approaches cleaning up the mess. He does so in a manner that manages to put people and their rights and expectations to the fore. while also avoiding cheap party point scoring. Indeed, the closing sequence puts the electorate in the dock for returning to power the very politicians responsible for the scandal. In so doing, Nanau and co-writer Antonaeta Opris make it clear that, when it comes to corruption and incompetence in high places, the Romanian experience is anything but an isolated case.
This won't come as a surprise to anyone who has watched our own government flounder its way through the coronavirus crisis. But we should also note that the British print media has hardly excelled itself during the pandemic, unless you count the Daily Star's front page depictions of Boris Johnson's cabinet as a bunch of clowns. What shouldn't be forgotten, however, is that lives are at stake while ministerial cronies are being handed lucrative contracts that will impact on frontline performance and that every voter will have a chance to punish them and their ilk at the ballot box.
Serving as his own cameraman during the 14-month shoot and co-editor (working over 18 months with George Cragg and Dana Bunescu), Nanau employs the Direct Cinema approach used on The World According to Ion B (2009) and Toto and His Sisters (2014) to excellent effect. He misses nothing, particularly when he focuses on Tolontan and Voiculescu in the throes of making difficult decisions that reflect the uphill nature of their respective struggles.
The inclusion of Ursuleanu's quietly dignified campaign to confront the authorities with their crimes and abnegations is also inspired, as it captures the human angle without resorting to overt emotionality. Closing captions to update the situation since 2016 might not have gone amiss, but this is an exceptional piece of work that reminds us all of our civic duty to hold powerbrokers to account.
11) PARIS CALLIGRAMMES.
In their recent docu-epic, Hemingway, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick reclaimed the realities of life in Paris in the 1920s from the Jazz Age writers who had mythologised it. The German film-maker Ulrike Ottinger does much the same for the 1960s in Paris Calligrammes, which takes its title from both the Librairie Calligrammes bookshop and the technique of arranging text to that it forms a thematically related image.
Showing at the Ciné Lumière and The ICA in London, as well as selected independent cinemas across the UK, this is a must for anyone fortunate enough to have seen Ottinger's mesmerising Chamisso's Shadow (2016), or any of the other documentary shorts and features she has produced in a near-50-year career.
In 1962, 20 year-old Ultike Ottinger left the German town of Konstanz to follow poet-philosopher Victor Segalen's advice about exploring the world from different angles. After her self-painted owlish Isetta bubble car broke down on a mountain road, she accepted a lift from five Gitane-smoking gentlemen resembling movie bank robbers, who dropped her off in Saint-Germain-des-Près.
Reminded by Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) of the need not to keep her eyes in her pockets, Ottinger was open to every experience the City of Light could offer her, as she sought to make a career as a painter. She wonders how it will feel to revisit her younger self from the vantage point of her late 70s, but is immediately consoled by the remembered sound of the street cleaners sluicing the gutters on the Place de Furstemberg.
At the start of her first chapter, `Fritz Picard and the Librairie Calligrammes', Ottinger heads to the Rue de Dragon and the antiquarian bookshop that its exiled German owner had named after a collection by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. She had spent hours in this `cathedral of books' soaking up the wisdom of Fritz Picard and the German and Jewish intellectuals who gathered there. The current owners allow her to dress the window with items gleaned from Picard's shelves and she recalls how she would accompany him on jaunts across the city to rescue volumes that had been left behind by those fleeing the Nazis.
As he tells a TV interviewer in 1963, the antiquarian bookseller makes a living by selling his treasures, although he had kept a set of first editions by his friend Else Lasker-Schüler. Ottinger rejoices in the chance rediscovery of Picard's guest book and picks out her own entry, as well as those by Hubert von Ranke, Annette Kolb, Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Jacob Taubes, Marino Marini, Paul Celan, Marcel Marceau, Hans Richter, Raoul Hausmann, Tristan Tzara and Walter Mehring, who all did their bit to help heal a brutalised world.
Many of the names will only strike chords with scholars nowadays. But these Dadaists, Surrealists and Situationalists all left their mark on Ottinger and it's impossible not to be moved by the rendition of Mehring's poem from New Year 1941, with its repeated line: `The richest fruitage in the season's yield/Was left to rot upon a German field.'
Moving on into `Friedlaender's Studio', Ottinger recalls learning how to etch with Johnny Friedlaender. Over footage of earnest activity in the studio, she remembers a gay Cuban exile named Alejandro and the people she met through the Friedlaenders' hospitality. We hear Ottinger's first radio interview about the `Israel' portfolio that had been acquired by the French National Library.
In `Saint-Germain-des-Près', Ottinger reminisces about working all day in famous haunts like Le Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, where it was possible to see Simone Signoret reading scripts, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir working on manuscripts, and Jean Rouch and Marceline Loridan planning Chronicle of a Summer (1963). Sporting the toga he had made himself, Isadora Duncan's brother, Raymond, would potter around sharing his wisdom, while budding intellectuals thronged to La Hune, the bookshop that remained open until midnight.
The monochrome footage makes the Quarter seem alive without nostalgising it. Indeed, Ottinger was well aware that Paris was a place of turmoil, as we learn in `My Parisian Friends and the Algerian Trauma.' For the first few months in Paris, Ottinger slept on an air mattress in the flat artist Fernand Teyssier shared with his wife Vanda. He deserted to avoid going to Algeria, as the conflict was detested among the left-wingers who frequented the cafés of Montparnasse. In addition to friends like Alain Lance, Christa Wolff and Volker Braun, Ottinger also discussed the colonial situation with photographer Ré and poet Philippe Soupault, who had fled the Maghreb during the Second World War after being accused of treason by the Vichy government.
As a French Algerian (or `pied noir'), Albert Camus was highly vocal on the future of the country, but was cautious about the prospects of the new socialist regime. They also discussed Jacques Panijels's banned film, Octobre à Paris (1962), which recorded the penurious living conditions of the Algerians in the `bidonville' shanties on the outskirts of the capital and chronicled the brutal suppression by police chief Maurice Papon (who had supervised Jewish deportations during the war) of a demonstration on 17 October 1961 that resulted in the death of between 200-300 people.
As Ottinger points out, no one has ever faced charges over this massacre, which was even hushed up by opposition newspapers. Jean Genet attempted to expose the crime in his play, The Screens, which was courageously staged by Jean-Louis Barrault and Roger Blin in 1966 and which Ottinger regards as one of the cultural highlights of her life. Right-wing war veterans regarded the piece as insulting and attacked the Théâtre de l'Odéon. But the play ran for eight months and Minister of Culture André Malraux attended the last night.
By this time, Ottinger had begun to explore `la nouvelle figuration', which was the French equivalent of Pop Art. In `Pop! My Parisian Experiments With Forms,' she explains how she changed styles after moving into a garret opposite Montaigne's statue near Rue de la Sorbonne. Telling time by the street signs around her. Ottinger threw herself into Latin Quarter life and into her art, as friends modelled for the distinctive triptychs and tableaux-objets that became her speciality.
One picture of Allen Ginsberg was exhibited as jigsaw pieces for visitors to put together. She also put the books she was reading on display. As she moves on to `The Artists of Montparnasse,' Ottinger fondly recalls the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and the nearby studios of Ossip Zadkine (whose wooden sculptures fascinated her) and Willy Maywald, the onetime house photographer of Christian Dior who discovered Nico before she became a singer. She also befriended Lou Albert-Lasard, who had drawn the scenes around her in the Gurs internment camp.
One memorable night at Maywald's, Ottinger had watched a Portuguese circus troupe that had made such an impact that she paid tribute to them in her 1981 film, Freak Orlando. For all she learned while socialising, however, Ottinger was also schooled by the city and its architecture, as she outlines in `The Presence of the Colonial - My Ethnographical View into the World.'
She visits the hair salons that have sprung up in what used to be the garment quarter. Back in the 1960s, however. she would escape the bustle to stroll in the gardens of what was then the Musée des Colonies, which had been completed just three decades earlier. The bas-reliefs on the outer walls of the Palais de la Porte Dorée are fascinating as both works of art and how France viewed its imperial status and the territories under its control. The change of name to the Musée d'Art d'Afrique et d'Océanie and then Musée de l'Histoire de l'Immigration says much about shifting attitudes since the time when the black-and-white Bastille Day footage included here was shot.
In her twenties, Ottinger had enjoyed mooching around the Jardin Colonial (aka Jardin 'Agronomie) in the Bois de Vincennes. Its monuments reflected the architectural styles of the different colonies and she now finds it hard to look at a tableau dedicated to the glory of imperial expansion without a shamed sense of unease. She feels equally uncomfortable watching the belongings of the last imperial family of Annam and Vietnam family being sold off at Paris's oldest auction house, the Palais Drouot, where she had also bought artefacts in the past.
Musing on the trade in memories and the political systems that engendered them, Ottinger recalls the influence that a lecture on outside perceptions by Claude Lévi-Strauss would have on her when she turned to film-making. Dropping into the Musée de l'Homme in the Trocadero complex that had been built for the 1937 World's Fair, she recalls Jean Rouch's praise for the way the exhibits were laid out and the message they sought to convey. Outside today, on the paved area where Florimond Dufour used to rollerskate to gramophone records, people are more concerned with taking selfies with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
In `Cosmos Cinema - The Cinémathèque Française,' she remembers the grand re-opening of Henri Langlois's cinema in the Palais de Chaillot on 6 June 1963. Here, she saw Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902), as well as the great works of German Expressionism and Soviet montage. She cites the importance to her of Dadaist film-makers like Fernand Léger, Germaine Dulac and René Clair, as well as the retrospectives that Langlois programmed that allowed cineastes to follow a director's evolution.
We see Langlois showing off treasures like Mother's head from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), a hat that had belonged to Mae West and a death mask of Kenji Mizoguchi. Ottinger recalls Lotte Eisner and Mary Meerson attending a screening of F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh (1924) and years later giving Meerson some glossy stills from her own films, Laocoon & Sons, The Enchantment of the Blue Sailors (both ) and Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (1978). She was hugely proud to have been screened in this sacred place and reflects on a postwar German childhood in which she saw mostly French films. Indeed, when she first saw a picture from her homeland, she had protested that it was bogus because it was in the wrong language.
Of course, Ottinger also spent time in the Louvre. Yet, as she notes in `Treasure Chests of the Arts', she often only popped in to check a detail in a Théodore Géricault or a Georges de la Tour painting. She particularly liked the Musée de Gustave Moreau and was often there alone. Years later, she would draw on her visits for a scene in Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press (1984).
Her first visit to the Labrouste Reading Room at the Bibliothèque Nationale also left a deep impression, as she felt privileged to sit in its reverential silence and indulge in the fairytale of having any book she requested brought to her seat. The same magic worked in the Cabinet des Estampes, where Ottinger was so taken by the Goya Caprichos that she dedicated a segment of Freak Orlando to `The Disasters of War'.
It wasn't all work, however. Over a clip of Juliette Gréco, Ottinger harks back in `My Parisian Nights' to the nights spent dancing at the Blue Note to the likes of Chuck Berry, Chet Baker, Elvin Jones and Victor Feldman. She also frequented gay bars like Elle et Lui, Le Monocle and Kathmandu, where she saw female impersonator La Grande Eugène (aka Jean-Claude Dreyfus). Another favourite hangout were the chanson clubs, where she saw Charles Aznavour, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens, Eva (aka Eva Killutat), Juliette Gréco and Barbara (aka Monique Serf)
The nocturnal bustle of Les Halles also held a fascination and Ottinger would join workers in the Au Pied de Cochon brasserie. But she also noticed the nuns coming for food for their poor houses and the gleaners searching for something to eat from the scraps.
The Vietnam War was a major topic within Ottinger's circle. In `Political Revolt', she presents her 1966 piece, `Journée d'un GI', On screen, Jean-Luc Godard changed tack with Weekend and La Chinoise (both 1967), while she was impressed with William Klein's Mister Freedom (1968). The Flower Power protests fuelled the May 1968 upheavals, along with the misunderstood belief that Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution was a positive force.
From her window (which was sealed up against the tear gas), Ottinger watched the pitched battles with the police and grew frustrated at the media demonising student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit as a `German Jew'. She recalls the city grinding to a halt following the general strike and the sense that the reforms demanded hadn't been achieved through the downfall of Charles De Gaulle.
Ottinger particularly remembers the sad sight of Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud being driven out of the Théâtre de l'Odéon with nothing more than a cardboard box. This seemed to symbolise the bursting of her own bubble, as politics strained friendships and she left Paris in 1969.
In `Epilogue', Ottinger explains why turning to film made sense to her on an artistic and political level after she made Laocoon & Sons: A Story of Esmeralda del Rio's Metamorphosis with Tabea Blumenschein. She has spent the last half century trying to make art that matters and it's a crying shame that so much of it is hidden away from ordinary viewers who can't afford the inflated prices demanded for the DVD editions of dramas like Ticket of No Return (1979) and Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989).
With Jacques Dutronc's `Il est cinq heures Paris s'éveille' and Jacqueline Misson's `Dieu, est-il Pop?' still playing in one's head, this 130-minute trip to a rarefied yesteryear contrasts starkly with the brasher recollections of Michael Caine and his pals in David Batty's take on Swinging London, My Generation (2017). Perhaps it would make a better double bill with Nicole Védrès's Paris 1900 (1947).
It could be argued that Ottinger has indulged in a game of highbrow name-dropping that will have even the most scholarly looking up some of the artists, poets, philosophers, activists, musicians, film-makers and booksellers she mentions. But such is the sincerity of her personal attachment to the people and places that her memoir is both compelling and poignant. She owes much to editor Anette Fleming and sound designer Detlaf Schitto for the wondrous images that illustrate her narration. Yet, while it's nice to hear Ottinger's own voice, the versions spoken by Jenny Agutter and Fanny Ardant might help Anglo-French viewers focus on the archival gems without the need to keep looking away to read the not always legible subtitles.
Another small quibble is the inclusion of a snap of Lauren Bacall at a fashion show with Humphrey Bogart, who had died in 1956, six years before the aspiring flâneuse reached Paris. But everything else works splendidly and one can only imagine that the accompanying tome is a delight, as the older, wiser Ottinger cuts her youthful self some slack for being swept away by colonial trappings that many would now seek to cancel. Indeed, she even admonishes herself for closing with `Non, je ne regrette rien', which Édith Piaf had dedicated to the unwaveringly pro-colonialist and avowedly right-wing French Foreign Legion.