Parky At the Pictures (17/9/2021)
(Reviews of Fauci; The War Below; Mandibles; La Cha Cha; Small World; and Eating Our Way to Extinction)
Cinemas are open again. But not everyone is going to want to sit in the dark being distracted by the prospect of whether everyone else in the auditorium is still behaving as though the social distancing guidelines are still in place.
Consequently, the streaming platforms seem set to keep up their good work a little while longer. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, therefore, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation will be staying open for business. Whatever choice you make, stay safe.
Doctor Anthony Fauci will forever be remembered as the man who stood up to Donald Trump when the 46th President of the United States was at his most fuckwitted during the coronavirus pandemic. But, as Emmy-winning documentarists John Hoffman and Janet Tobias point out in the engaging if lenient Fauci, the Brooklyn medic was no stranger to controversy, having been in the eye of the storm during another life or death crisis in the 1980s.
An opening montage compares the attacks levelled against Fauci during the two emergencies that have occurred during his four-decade stint as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It's a disconcerting package, as the rabidness of the remarks made by Fauci's opponents, then and now, suggests the hysterical level of socio-political debate in the United States and affirms how viciously personal commentators and activists feel they have the right to be in voicing their opinion while drowning out anyone else's.
Raised in the tough neighbourhood of Bensonhurst, Fauci was educated at Regis High School by Jesuit priests who instilled a strong sense of public duty. Following Cornell Medical School, he began research at the National Institutes of Health in 1968. It was here he met nurse Christine Grady, whom he would marry in 1985.
Four years earlier, Fauci had been the first to recognise the gravity of what would become known as HIV/AIDS and faced criticism when he, Henry Mazur and Cliff Lane diverted funding away from other diseases to investigate its workings. While working 12-hour days to gain an understanding of the virus, Fauci was accused by activists like Larry Kramer of not doing enough to produce medication and find a cure, as thousands were dying across the country. Yet, he comes close to breaking down when recalling how one patient lost his sight and he admits to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
A breakthrough came from NIH, however, and the film jumps forward to 2020 to show how Fauci's team spotted the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan and took an educated gamble on a mRNA vaccine to boost immunity. New York Times medical correspondent Apoorva Mandavilli notes that the fastest vaccine development in history had been four years for mumps and she commends Fauci for having the grasp and the courage to go down the mRNA route when it had still to produce a marketable product.
We hear a bit from daughters Jenny, Megan and Alison about life with Fauci and he admits leaving Christine to do a lot of the child-rearing. But they respect his dedication to his job and their pride is evident. He's also quietly pleased with the way he handled Trump when he contradicted him at a White House press conference about the efficacy of the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine.
Consulted experts concur that maintaining a sense of perspective is crucial in handling episodes like the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when Fauci was again able to allay fears while presenting the facts as he knew them. He also demonstrated a degree of savvy courage when he hugged nurse Nina Pham after she recovered from the disease under his care.
The same tactics were used to combat prejudice and misinformation at the height of the AIDS scare and we see clips of Fauci on various chat shows countering homophobic slurs about a self-inflicted gay genocide that was a punishment from God. Bill Gates avers that Fauci's commitment to the truth has simultaneously made him a public enemy and a rock star, as the same abuse has been hurled at him during the Covid pandemic about ending lockdown to protect the US economy.
He admits to having made a mistake about his advice on masks and explains that NIAID knew nothing at the time about asymptomatic transmission. He also questions whether he was right to step out of the limelight after members of Trump's team criticised him while buck-passing on the campaign trail. Such brickbats were nothing new, as he was also singled out for blame back in 1987. Indeed, ACT UP's Larry Kramer called him a murderer in an open letter to the press and activists David Barr, Peter Staley, Wakefield and Michael Manganiello recall how he became the fall guy for an administration that didn't seem to care that 76,000 had died.
Having attended an ACT UP meeting, Fauci tried to open lines of dialogue. But the anger continued and a protest took place at the NIA HQ. Fauci recognised the necessity of such acts of political theatre and both Barr and Staley (who was arrested for trying to string a banner until Fauci intervened as he was being taken away) agree that he tried to provide information and honesty at a time when emotions were running high. He also invited activists to attend high-level medical meetings so that they felt part of the process. Moreover, his speech at a 1990 conference on AIDS in San Francisco helped change the way in which sufferers, carers and activists became part of the fight for a cure for a range of diseases and Barr suggests this openness to listen when ACT UP knocked on the door is Fauci's greatest legacy.
In the summer of 2020, it frustrates Fauci that politicised divisiveness has prevented a unified struggle against Covid. He responds to a hoax anthrax attack with good humour on camera, but confides that the dark web threats are scary because the cowards behind them might just inspire someone to violent action. His ability to focus on the task and hope that lessons will be learned is rooted in the search for an AIDS vaccine and Hoffman and Tobias take us back to 1995, when NIH trials produced the game-changing cocktail of drugs that has saved countless lives.
Fauci remains conscious, however, of the disadvantages facing the Developing World and Dr Peter Mugyeni, George W. Bush and Bono reflect on Fauci's role in getting medication to Africa. He applies the same logic of global compassion to Covid and we see the 80 year-old Fauci getting jabbed and encouraging others to follow. As he wanders through the white flags on the National Mall in Washington, DC, Fauci urges medicine to learn from what he has been through and hopes that history will judge him as a pretty good guy.
Americans should thank their lucky stars (and stripes) that Fauci has been in situ for so long, as he has guided the nation and the wider world through two monumental and, in their own way, terrifying crises. He comes across as a model of plain-speaking competence in this profile, which was started before coronavirus struck. But he also emerges as someone who is prepared to take the flak for his mistakes and learn from them. One can only hope that his successor - when the time comes - will share his focus and devotion to public service.
It might have been be nice to have been able to put names and faces to some of the speakers in the audio abuse montages, if only to gauge their status, especially when they are advocating putting heads on spikes, as in the Middle Ages. But, given the fact that so many outspoken critics operate under a shroud of secrecy, the decision not to identify them reinforces the pernicious reality of online anonymity.
The co-directors might have passed on the more melodramatic moments in Daniel Hart's score, which trivialise the very real threat the Faucis faced from extremists in the middle of last year. But they wisely leave their subject to tell his own story, with the help of those who have butted heads with him in the past, only to come to a mutual respect and understanding. The structure neatly collated by editors Brian Chamberlain and Amy Foote allows viewers to see how minds were changed, as events paralleled between the various dilemmas. But, in transferring Covid protocols to their reportage, Hoffman and Tobias rather keep their distance. Thus, by opting to chronicle rather than be analytical, they have produced a tribute rather than an assessment that highlights the need to support science, reason and truth if we are to avoid sliding into another Dark (Web) Age.
THE WAR BELOW.
In September 1915, with the war deadlocked in the trenches of the Western Front, Field Marshall Lord Haig (Douglas Reith) reluctantly gives the green light to a plan by `Hellfire' Jack Norton-Griffith (Tom Goodman-Hill) to tunnel under No Man's Land to attack deep-lying German bunkers that can't be reached by aerial shelling. As it's specialist work, Norton-Griffith agrees to let William Hawkins (Sam Hazeldine), who has twice been rejected for service, lead a party of miners into France to burrow through the clay. However, he's warned by Colonel Archie Fielding (Andrew Scarborough) that he disapproves of the entire venture.
The so-called `Clay Kickers' arrive on the Somme in 1916 and are treated with contempt by the soldiers, as they dig towards a ruined farmhouse that the Germans have converted into a machine-gun nest. George (Elliot James Langridge) and Charlie MacDonald (Sam Clemmett), Shorty (Joseph Steyne) and Harold Stockford (Kris Hitchen) chat among themselves about the dangers the regulars are going through and think nothing when a section caves in and they have to dust themselves down.
As his pals celebrate the destruction of the target, Hawkins dashes into No Man's Land to rescue a scout trapped on the wire and he's cheered by the troops as he makes it back safely. There's no gratitude from Fielding or Norton-Griffith, however, who order them to go home with a reprimand for playing heroes. But Hawkins can't leave the job to newly trained recruits and he writes to wife Jane (Anna Maguire) to apologise for staying to see the job through and do his bit to shorten the war.
Haig gives them three months to reach the Messines Ridge, but Hawkins is concerned that the Germans are also digging and his crew have a narrow escape after they hear scraping through a stethoscope in a candelit tunnel. Norton-Griffith allows Hawkins to go deeper to avoid future encounters, but this brings its own problems and they are nearly caught in a gas explosion when they fail to notice that their caged canary has died.
Stockford is furious with Hawkins and their fight in the communication trench so irritates Fielding that he sentences them to an overnight field punishment (although the tough sergeant comes to give Hawkins a cigarette in the night for standing up to a toff officer). The next day, Norton-Griffith tries to raise spirits with a game of cricket, but Charlie gets a Dear John letter and climbs a ladder to walk slowly into the German guns.
Before the big push, Norton-Griffith thanks the team and calls Hawkins a fine soldier in joking that they'll change geography, even if they don't make history. As they are laying the explosives, a German tries to ambush them from a neighbouring tunnel. Hawkins has to talk the others into going back down and George has to kill a lookout who has crept away from the German line for a smoke. Stockford and Shorty return to the top with the detonation cable and Hawkins stays below after entrusting his belongings to George.
Norton-Griffith is dismayed to lose such a brave comrade and he calls on Jane and her son to return the tin soldier that Hawkins had kept in his pocket to remind him what he was digging for. A closing caption reveals that the Prime Minister heard the roar of the biggest man-made explosion 140 miles away in London. The removal of 10,000 Germans allowed the British to capture its objective in under 35 minutes. What isn't said, however, is that the Great War continued for another two years.
Even by 1918, however, the BBC wasn't producing radio broadcasts. So, the snippet of a news bulletin heard before the last scene is an unfortunate slip. Otherwise, first-time director J.P. Watts does a solid job in recreating the achievement of the Clay Kickers on such a modest budget.
This aspect of the conflict has been covered on film before, with Jeremy Sims's Beneath Hill 60 (2010) recalling the exploits of the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company at Ypres. But, while they struggle to convey a sense of passing time, Watts and co-writer Thomas Woods impart a little class tension by emphasising the resistance with which the underground initiative was met by both the top brass and the Tommies in the trenches.
Tom Goodman-Hill does a nice line in swagger-stick decency in portraying the historical Norton-Griffith, but Andrew Scarborough makes the most hissable First World War officer since Timothy West's Brigadier General Thomson in Alan Bleasdale and Jim O'Brien's The Monocled Mutineer (1986). Yet, even though Sam Hazeldine imbues his slab of northern grit with artisanal honour and patriotic pride, Watts is careful not to overdo the `them and us' clashes, although he might have driven the point home harder during Anna Maguire's angry response to the King and Country platitudes on becoming a hero's widow.
That said, the internecine squabbles can sound trite, as can some of the noble speechifying. Moreover, Sam Clemmett's heartbroken demise teeters on the melodramatic, while the climactic clashes with the Germans are as confusing as the layout of the burrows. Nevertheless, production designer Caroline Steiner admirably captures the cramped and claustrophobic conditions, which are evocatively lit by cinematographer Nick Cooke to ensure viewers fully appreciate the sacrifice and the courage of the tunnelling units.
DJ-turned-director Quentin Dupieux is something of an acquired taste. But even those who have revelled in oddities like Rubber (2010), Wrong (2012) and Deerskin (2019) are going to need to recalibrate to get through Mandibles, a one-gag lunkhead buddy picture that comes perilously close to coming unstuck by pushing its luck.
Woken by Raimondo (Raphaël Quenard) on the Côte d'Azur tideline in a pink sleeping bag, Manu (Grégoire Ludig) is offered €500 to courier a briefcase whose contents are none of his business. Having stolen an old Mercedes, Manu calls for best buddy Jean-Gab (David Marsais) to join him on the journey. As they are discussing the ins and outs of the operation, they hear a noise in the boot and discover a giant fly.
Manu is furious that the insect is taking up the space he needs for the suitcase. But Jean-Gab suggests they should abandon the mission and train the fly to rob banks. Readily agreeing to the scheme, Manu head-butts the owner of a remote caravan so they have a base of operations. He offers them his savings if they let him go, only for Manu to let him escape when he drops the gun he found in a cupboard while driving to the secret cash stash.
Meanwhile, Jean-Gab has found a unicorn bicycle and returns with a bagful of cat meat to feed the fly. He begins to bond with the insect, who has been named Dominique, and thinks it's cute when it falls asleep. But the snoring annoys Manu, who can't sleep with the fly in the backseat after they are forced to spend the night in the car after he burns down the caravan while frying food stolen at gunpoint from a customer at a nearby supermarket.
Jean-Gab has the idea to sell the car and use the money to buy a cheaper vehicle and lots of food for Dominique. However, they have run out of petrol and, as Manu is towing them with the unicorn cycle, they are flagged down by passing motorist, Cécile (India Hair), who mistakes Manu for an old school friend. She invites them to stay at her luxurious family home and introduces them to her brother, Serge (Roméo Elvis), and her friends, Sandrine (Coralie Russier) and Agnès (Adèle Exarchopoulos).
Despite Jean-Gab's misgivings about leaving Dominique in the car, Manu fancies a little food and a proper bed. However, he is spooked by the fact that Agnès can only shout (because she suffered brain damage in a skiing accident) and finds himself with nowhere to sleep when she refused to let him use Cécile's childhood bedroom. With Jean-Gab busy training Dominique with a blue squeaky toy, Manu is forced to sleep under a mattress by the pool.
Next morning, Agnès finds droppings in Manu's car and forces Jean-Gab to open his shuttered window. She sees something move and, while he tries to blame it on hallucinations caused by her condition, he pretends to be hiding a dog and sends Manu out to find one. He comes back with a cute little creature and Cécile urges Agnès to calm down. However, she is so annoyed by the noise the guests make in the pool that she sneaks into Jean-Gab's room and sees Dominique.
She lets out a scream, but the fly has fled by the time the others arrive and Cécile comes to conclusion that Agnès has eaten the dog, when, of course, it was Dominique, who is having a post-prandial drink from the pool. As Jean-Gab smuggles her back into the car, an ambulance comes to collect Agnès (who protests her innocence in a low voice after being given some medication), while Cécile is disturbed to discover that the cop attending the scene is Fred Breton, the school friend she thought was Manu.
He and Jean-Gab speed away before anyone can ask any awkward questions and they are relieved that Michel-Michel (Philippe Dusseau) still needs them to collect the briefcase. They deliver it and it contains a set of teeth grills for Maître Wolf (Jean-Paul Solal), who gives them a handsome tip.
Waking on the beach in his sleeping bag, Manu is informed that Dominique is ready for a trial run. Jean-Gab shows her a newspaper he finds in a dustbin and tells her to fetch. Freed from her gaffer tape and string, the fly zooms into the air and vanishes. Manu broaches the possibility that she will never return and coaxes Jean-Gab into accepting that friendship is more valuable than riches.
As they climb into the car, however, Dominique lands on the boot with a thud and a bunch of bananas. Rather than reaching across to give Manu one of their trademark `Toro' handshakes, however, Jean-Gab turns back from the passenger window and gives the camera a long, enigmatic stare.
For the first third, this 77-minute film presents textbook examples of airheaded slacker comedy. With a talent to bungle and destroy that is rooted in the byplay of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais (from TV's Palmashow and Jonathan Barré's The Comic Adventures of Max and Leon, 2016) make Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter look like college professors, as they allow themselves to get distracted from the simplest of tasks. But not even their absurd fly heist scheme nor their genially dimwitted banter can atone for the gross misjudgement relating to Adèle Exarchopoulos's brain-damaged character.
Bookended by charming ditties by Metronomy, the entire picture feels suspended in an elongated wince that is even more excruciating to endure because the action simply ceases to be funny until the screech of the retreating tyres jolts us out of the aberration and back into the harmlessly wacky world of Manu and Jean-Gab. The deliciously slow climactic double-take suggests that this might not be the last we see of these affable buffoons. But Dupieux (who serves as his own cinematographer and editor) doesn't seem the type to linger in one place for long.
LA CHA CHA.
Kevin Allen has had an idiosyncratic directorial career since making an instant impression with Twin Town in 1997. Following the hairdressing comedy, The Big Tease (1999), he went all Hollywood with Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London (2004). However, he found the lifestyle didn't agree with him and relocated to Ireland, where he runs a mobile film school. Since directing the first series of Benidorm (2007), he has also produced such features as Y Syrcas (2013) and Under Milk Wood (2015), and he returns to Wales for La Cha Cha.
Buying a camper van to bury his grandfather on the Gower Peninula, Irish pilot Solti Buttering (Liam Hourican) persaudes Libby Rees (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), the owner of the La Cha Cha campsite, to let him stay for the night. Brother Damien (Sonny Ashbourne Serkis) and several of the other guests are opposed to the idea and even Ruby is cross when Solti asks to stay for a second night when he's stricken with engine trouble.
However, Solti seems oblivious to the hostile reception, as he greets the various senior citizens who reside at the camp, including a group of gay ex-army types who like to play paintball. A montage shows some of the many activities on offer in this off-the-grid Shangri-La. which take place to the tannoy accompaniment of a house band. During a game of bingo, Solti asks Iris (Melanie Walters) why Damien is so hostile and she tells him he once siphoned sewage in mistake for petrol.
He's shrewd enough, however, to steal a red box that he hides in the river after pilot Dooty Davies (Alfie Allen) gets his brains blown out in his caravan. Damien also hides the cartridges in Solti's van so that he becomes the prime suspect, while everyone searches for the box whose contents are vital to the campsite's future.
Damien knows that Roger (Dougray Scott) and Virginia Callaway (Tamzin Malleson) are keen to take over the lease and he schmoozes them when they arrive in their luxurious mobile home. He thinks he is lining himself up for a cushy future, but the army chaps - Pat (William Thomas), Paulie (Keith Allen) and Perry (Sion Tudor Owen) - stumble across his aquatic hiding place while rowing back in the dark from an encounter with shady dealers, Jeremianah (Rhys Ifans) and Juliananah (Llyr Ifans).
Having fallen into bed with Solti while guarding him, Libby reveals that they hope to keep hold of La Cha Cha by smuggling pills from France because they've become too expensive to buy in Britain. Damien is furious at being duped and threatens to commit suicide because his music teacher used to make him dress as Shirley Bassey. But he calms down after shooting out the skylight of his caravan and convinces them that he only helped the dying Dooty commit suicide.
After revealing that he once jettisoned a cargo of show goats by mixing up the buttons during a flight, Solti agrees to fly to France to secure the consignment of pills that will keep the site safe from the Callaways and allow the `old goats' to live out their final years in dignity. As they see him off, Lance Boyle (Boyd Clack) recognises the fish the Callaways ate and describes the terrible symptoms they will soon be experiencing.
Following an excruciating wait around the campfire, Solti and Libby return with the stash. Safe in the knowledge they can stay, everyone celebrates with a little dance to a jazzed up version of `Sosban Fach', as fireworks erupt in the sky and the Viagra in the sherry trifle starts to take effect.
This last gag rather sums up the tone of a scattershot comedy whose great strength is the commitment of a cast that formed a bubble on the Gower peninsula in order to complete the project under lockdown conditions. Shooting solely with Smartphones with anamorphic lenses. Allen and cinematographers Tom Barker, Luke England and Tom Pomphrey do a commendable job of giving the visuals a degree of plushness that contrasts with production designer Rosa Truelove's decidedly non-glamping sets.
There's a hint of Tim Mielants's Patrick (2019) about the piece, although there's markedly less nudity (and what there is feels a touch gratuitous). However, this shares the Belgian film's left-field sensibility and its conviction that living on the margins has its benefits. The story doesn't bear much scrutiny, but there are several amusing moments, many of which are accompanied by Dave Cottle's cross-dressing keyboard player. For all its quirky charm, this probably won't live long in the memory. But no one will be able to listen to bingo calls again without raising a quiet smile.
With such titles on his CV as Hans Kloss: More Than Death At Stake (2012), Last Minute (2013), Secret Wars (2014), Botoks (2017), The Plagues of Breslau, Women of Mafia (both 2018), Politics (2019) and Bad Boy (2020), prolific Polish writer-director Patryk Vega takes no prisoners. Specialising in bruising exposes of taboo topics, he has become known for no-nonsense outings like Pitbull (2005), Pitbull: Tough Women and Pitbull: New Orleans (both 2016) that are essentially the Polish equivalent to BritCrime. Now, with Small World, he comes to Blighty with a typically abrasive take on people smuggling.
In 2006, Polish cop Robert Goc (Piotr Adamczyk) fails to help Marta (Marieta Zukowska) from preventing her abducted four year-old daughter, Ola, from being smuggled across the Russian border in a van with a clown on the side. Three years later, he teams with Russian counterpart Tania Ziemcowa (Anastasiya Mikulchina) after a gas explosion leads to the discovery of a stash of child pornography in the flat of Oleg (Andris Keiss).
Oleg has adopted five children snatched across Eastern Europe by his brother, Kyril (Aleksey Serebryakov), who is furious with him for jeopardising their operation. He takes the kids to Kiev, but Goc is on his tail, as he sells them on to two Moldovans. However, Goc's attempt to block the exits of a shopping mall misfires and he has nothing but CCTV footage to show for his efforts.
Five years later, when a pregnant 11 year-old throws herself in front of a train in Rotherham, Goc gets a call from Yorkshire cop Jane Foster (Sally Day). Having spotted a playground in the background of a sordid photo, Goc finds the hideout and is disturbed by the language used by the girl in front of the camera. Only after she has escaped through a bathroom window, however, does he discover that she's Ola (Jessica Sara Witenko).
Photographer Stephanie (Katie Glaister) refuses to co-operate because she knows Jasmina (Montserrat Roig de Puig) will use her influence with Foster's paedophile commander (Jim Conway) to get her released. However, after Jasmina cuts off the tip of one of her fingers for being careless, Goc breaks into her flat and stabs her in the eye to get the password for that night's sex party. But, in trying to stop a human sacrifice, Goc is unmasked and Jasmina orders Ola to pleasure him so that he will be wracked with guilt and shame.
However, he is prepared to do anything to rescue Ola and throttles Jasmina into revealing that she has paid to have her virginity restored and sold her to someone in Thailand. Four years later, Goc follows the trail to Bangkok, where Ola (Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz) is living with the wealthy John (Enrique Arce), but still working as a prostitute in the evening. Fighting the fear that he has become addicted to what he is fighting, Goc makes dates across the city in the hope one of the girls will recognise Ola.
She is wholly dependent upon John, who is an impotent drunk who beats her when she fails to please him. But her she has been so conditioned that she even handcuffs herself to a chair to await punishments and has the words `John's Property' tattoo'd down her leg. Goc finds her and begs her to come home. But she mocks him and he feels so powerless after sending a photo of her in a French maid's uniform to Marta that he goes to a nearby swimming pool and is tempted to touch a girl in a tunnel chute.
On discovering she's pregnant, Ola decides to call Goc and he battles the street thugs hired by John to recover her in order to take her to the Polish embassy. He entrusts her to a hostel for rescued victims while he has a shoulder wound treated and she learns about the nightmares that some of the other girls have endured. Ola reassures him that he is not a predator and he puts her on the plane for Poland, while he returns to Rotherham to machine gun the guests at one of Jasmina's parties. While he walks into a hail of police bullets, Ola arrives home and confesses at the local church before ringing her mother's doorbell.
A century ago, Cecil B. DeMille discovered it was possible to get away with depicting sin if it was punished in the final reel. The whole history of exploitation cinema rests on this realisation and Patryk Vega takes full advantage of it in this sickening and occasionally ludicrous exposé of the child sex industry. Piotr Adamczyk strives hard to give this into a one-man border-hopping quest against evil some conflicted gravitas. But Vega and co-scenarist Olaf Olszewski leave too many gaps in his story for it to be credible.
Twelve years elapse between Ola's kidnapping and her safe return. What else does Goc do during this period, as he remains a serving police officer with duties and superiors? Are they aware of his activities and how does Interpol fit into the equation? Surely, it would have agents who would be better equipped to pursue the case than a fragmenting maverick who must be getting funding from somewhere to stay in Thailand for an indefinite period?
None of this matters to Vega, however, as he pushes the scenes with Jessica Sara Witenko and Julia Wieniawa-Narkiewicz as far as he can go. Frankly, it's astonishing that the BBFC passed the sequence in which the 11 year-old Ola propositions Goc, even though it's germane to the plot, as it prompts the cop to wonder if he is wholly in control of his emotions. It also highlights the extent to which trafficked girls suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. But it's gratuitously seedy and far more disturbing than the events at the Rotherham orgy.
While much of its content may be dubious and remorseless, this thick ear of a film is functionally made, with Aniko Kiss's production design, Norbert Modrzejewski's cinematography and Tomasz Widarski's editing putting it in the same bracket as a typical BritCrime flick. Lukasz Targosz's score is more lurid, but it was probably composed to order to reinforce the moments of faux porn and glib pathos that Vega seeks to pass off as unflinching realism in answering the question posed in the opening caption: `What sort of species are we, if we cannot protect our children?'
EATING OUR WAY TO EXTINCTION.
It helps when making a film to have an Oscar-winning sister-in-law to lend a hand with the production. As a vegetarian, Kate Winslet was only too ready to help brothers Ludovic and Otto Brockway by narrating their documentary on the damage being done to the planet by animal agriculture and fish farming. But, for all its good intentions and alarming statistics, Eating Our Way to Extinction merely tends to reinforce existing arguments rather than make too many new points of its own.
Although it's replete with expert testimony and presents some alarming case studies, this is a film that seeks to sock the viewer over the head with flash-cut montages that induce visual overload rather than enhanced understanding. The graphics are doubtlessly intended to be hard-hitting, but they come across as glitzy and gimmicky, with an early one showing a square of Amazon rainforest combusting being risibly emotive.
Of course, the clearance of indigenous peoples is hideous and the footage included here is gruesome. But the Brockways have no sooner raised the issue than they're off to Brussels to browbeat the European Union for spending £24 billion on animal agriculture when it has been proved that it makes a greater contribution to global warming than a number of leading petro-chemical companies.
A covert conversation in the back of a car traversing nocturnal London streets presages a section on agribusiness lobbying that is made to seem even more sinister by shots of grim-faced men in suits cutting deals that will make them billions and jeopardise the future of us all. Former UN Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter deplores the fact that the main players in the industry influence reports on their activities, but offers no suggestions as to how the lobby can be thwarted.
Once again, the focus shifts before an issue has been fully explored, as we join marine biologist Sylvia Earle in the Virgin Islands so she can establish the link between nitrogen fertilisers and dead zones in our oceans. Winslet regales us with facts about depleted fish stocks over hideous shots of noble creatures being caught in nets. It's powerfully persuasive, but infuriatingly superficial - but, if it helps, who are we to criticise?
The same goes for the section on aquaculture in Norway, which has more fish farms than anywhere else in the world. We learn about the chemicals used to keep the cod and salmon healthy and the sludge that they deposit on the North Sea bed. Yet, attention switches to exposing a conflict of interests involving Liv Holmefjord of the Directorate of Fisheries before we join a furtive trip to a Scottish fish farm to see containers full of rotting salmon and large vats of formaldehyde.
A reassuring caption from the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation follows, but it is made to seem like so many words against the patchy visual evidence obtained by the film-makers. Following some unattributed, but damning-looking images of chemicals being poured into various waterways, entrepreneur Tony Robbins is invited to discuss the health scare he experienced from years of eating contaminated fish. But, apart from some advice on alternative sources of Omega 3 oils, this bit of name-dropping adds little to the overall discussion.
While we're in the water, the Brockways raise the problem of microplastics in fish and cite a Nature journal report that 80% of the particles found came from decaying fishing equipment. Winslet urges a change in diet to keep these nets and lines out of the water. But, as is so often the case with eco clarion calls, the preoccupation with the negatives leaves little room for expounding upon the positive health and environmental benefits of switching to plant-based foods.
After a caption presents the WWF claim that 60% of animal populations have been wiped out since 1970, Sir Richard Branson (Winslet's uncle-in-law) pops up to lament the decimation of species numbers. As we see images of deforestation, Winslet avers that scientists claim we are approaching a `biological annihilation' and livestock farming is squarely blamed for biodiversity loss that is taking us to an extinction to rival that of the dinosaurs.
Once again, it's conscience-tugging stuff whose import is reinforced by images of an Amazonian tribesman communing with what is left of his environs. But the reference to the Ecosia search engine is valuable, as it is committed to replanting the rainforests. However, we're off to Brussels to watch Otto get an unsatisfactory answer (complete with mocking music) from EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, about subsidy policy.
Hastening on, the Brockways consider the effect of battery farming and contrast the subsidies given to corporate farming in the United States with healthcare costs caused by meat consumption. This is another important point that is passed over before the audience can assimilate its import, as the focus shifts to diseases that have spread to humans from animals and the fact that we are approaching the post-antibiotic age because 75% of the global output is being diverted to livestock.
A couple of former butchers show pus spurting from a piece of meat in order to stress how unhealthy animals are allowed to get into the food chain. But rather than follow this up by confronting a supermarket chain or somebody at DEFRA, we hive off to learn about the planet's changing water cycles and the impact this has on flooding and drought. This could lead to a collapse in the global food system and the film contends that much climate migration is prompted by an African drift north to places where water and food are more in abundance.
This is a sweeping and misleading simplification of the current exodus north and only a fraction of the story is told by the footage included here of Spain's border fence being climbed by those desperate for a new start. Having planted the seed, however, the Brockways flit off to Mongolia so that Winslet can confide that the Gobi Desert is spreading `like a beast consuming all life in its path'. Such rhetoric simply isn't helpful. Neither is a stand-up routine from Lee Camp about the water needed to produce a burger, as the patter is as glib as the inserts used to illustrate the point. Or maybe this is genius, state-of-the art propagandising that will stop people in their tracks and your 45-year veggie/vegan critic is past his sell-by when it comes to being down with what works.
A welcome shift to vegetarian and vegan diets has occurred over the last few years and the film shows members of the public being unable to taste the difference. Doctors reassure the sceptics that plant-based foods can improve health and we hear about the world's five blue zones in which centenarians are more common because of what they eat. The talking-heads sum up that positive steps can still be taken on a personal and planetary level to prevent the catastrophe that will follow if meat production continues to dictate land use and sap dwindling resources. Time is running out, but we still have the power to pull together and guarantee a sustainable future.
Few issues are more pressing than global warming and anything that can change minds should be welcomed and applauded. There's no doubting the sincerity of this project and its message is to be wholly supported. But in trying to cover so much, the Brockways address little in worthwhile depth, with the consequence that this feels far too much like a play on the viewer's conscience than an appeal to their intellect.
Ludo's camerawork and Otto's editing are slick, while Winslet's narration is polished. Yet the overall effect is like that of a lesson by a trendy geography teacher who has lots of cool audiovisual paraphernalia at their disposal (and a mawkish orchestra in the corner). It feels mean-spirited to criticise a film that's doing its bit and its best, especially when you agree with just about everything is says. But there are ways of going about things and Deborah Koons Garcia's The Future of Food (2004), Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread (2005), Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. (2008), James Moll's Farmland (2010), Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn's Cowspiracy (2014) and Christopher Daniel Quinn's Eating Animals (2017) all do it better, if not always less controversially.