- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (19/11/2021)
(Reviews of Petite Maman; Volcano; Procession; Dear Future Children; Keyboard Fantasies; and Piano to Zanskar)
Even though something approaching normality has returned, not everyone is keen on sitting in cinemas, whether they've been vaccinated or not.
Consequently, the streaming platforms are continuing to show new releases, albeit in smaller numbers, as the distributors seek to return to single ticketing after a prolonged period of all in for the price of one. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, 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. Remember, Covid's not gone away yet!
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.
Having impressed with his documentary debut, Ukrainian Sheriffs (2015), Roman Bondarchuk makes an equally striking fictional impact with Volcano. Plucked from the festival circuit by Filmhouse, this is a darkly satirical parable whose blend of grit, wit, whimsy and weirdness makes for compelling viewing.
Kiev-based interpreter Lukas Kospa (Serhiy Stepansky) is driving a three-person delegation from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) through Kherson province in Ukraine when the car breaks down after refuelling at a remote petrol station. Having wandered off to find help or a phone signal, he is returned to the spot in the truck in which Maryushka (Khrystyna Deilyk) is riding. Surprised to find the car and its passengers missing, Lukas accepts Maryushka 's hospitality the village of Beryslav.
She introduces Lukas to her father, Volodya (Viktor Zhdanov), who is spending 14 minutes face down in a filled bath. He lives in a house on top of a hill that he calls Noah's Ark, as it survived the flooding of the nearby settlement of Melove to create an artificial lake. During the Soviet era, Vova ran a collective fishery. But all he has left are some bags of industrial glue and a scheme to sell the Nazi war memorabilia he unearths in his garden, even though his elderly mother (Tamara Sotsenko) disapproves.
Eager to leave, Lukas makes an abrupt exit and tries to hitch a lift. The only vehicles passing, however, are tanks and army trucks and, when he finally flags down a bus, he is forced to wait at the depot after some thugs slash the tyres. Maryushka finds him and takes him to a party at the nearby dormitory, where his jacket is stolen, along with his passport, wallet and phone. Vova promises to contact the cops in the morning and Lukas is forced to sleep on a makeshift bed.
Next morning, Vova pawns Lukas's watch for a meagre sum and has to use it to bail him out of the cells after he causes an off-screen fuss at the police station. Furious at being trapped in a backwater where he thinks everyone is conspiring to confound him and the OSCE mission, Lukas storms on to a bus. It only goes as far as the outlying watermelon fields, however, and he is appalled by the mistreatment of the workers. But, when he attempts to walk home, he is soundly beaten by a couple of passing soldiers and comes round in a deep pit in the middle of a field of dead sunflowers.
After spending a couple of days in the hole, Lukas is found and returned to Vova. As he dozes, he hears his host debating what to do with him, while his mother calls Vladimir Putin a blabbing ignoramus, as he justifies Russian interest in the region on the television news. A report also mentions the missing OSCE party and Lukas wonders why no one has come looking for him. He avoids Maryushka's attempt to kiss him as she tends to the cuts on his face and marches into town, where he is promptly set upon by a roving gang from the next village. Vova and his pals rush to his rescue and, as they wash their shirts in the river, he points out the floating buoy whose light glints in the distant darkness.
Over a glass of vodka, Vova explains that the war has turned the area into a battleground and convinces Lukas that he's best off sitting tight until things improve. Determined to make the best of things, Lukas helps Vova sell sachets of superglue and they make enough to buy a metal detector. Lukas is sceptical about whether they can make money with bric-a-brac and wartime fragments, but Vova has faith. A female choir suddenly appears, but Vova explains it's a mirage, as the women come from Melove and died long ago.
While selling their finds at the junkyard, Lukas sees the OSCE SUV being spray-painted in a shed. But he knows better than to tell the police, especially when Vova informs him that they are trapped in anarchic chaos and will only survive if they keep their heads down. Vova's mother is bothered by Lukas's presence and urges her son to get rid of him. However, he sees him as a last chance to make something of himself and he opts to sleep outside under the twinkling stars during a restless night.
While washing the truck, Lukas and Maryushka have a hosepipe fight and he asks if she broke up with Artur (Yevgen Korneev) because of him. He reminds her he is married, but she counters that he has made no attempt to phone home. Besides, he made the first move by looking at her in a lascivious way. Her grandmother also reprimands Lukas in encouraging him to leave because he will always be an outsider.
She is a homebody who cannot live away from the steppe and Lukas sees more patriotism in action at a benefit concert for the locals who are joining the army to defend Ukraine. He sits with Vova, as Maryushka plays assistant to a strongman, who lies on a bed of nails and puts a revolving power drill bit up his nose. Lukas kisses Maryushka after the show and she leads him to a secluded spot. Yet, she leaves without saying a word in the morning and Vova punches him in the mouth for seducing his daughter.
There's no lasting damage, however, as Vova (who has the Statue of Liberty tattooed on his leg) and Lukas go out on a boat with the metal detector. They dive down through the green murk to the submerged village. As they potter across the reservoir in a tethered convoy, Lukas hear the choir and looks up to see half a dozen white parachutes floating in the blue sky. He seems to have found a new home, but isn't sure how or why - but he seems to accept his fate.
Dotted with references to the ongoing border dispute, this is a surreal excursion into a very real crisis. Yet Bondarchuk manages to keep Lukas in a dreamland rather than plunge him into a nightmare. One suspects he still has many battles to fight, especially as Artur doesn't look the type to take slights lying down, while Vova's mother is never going to accept the `German' under her roof. The chances of OSCE coming to the rescue seem slight, however, and one is left to wonder whether Lukas will make any attempt once his feet are under the table to discover the whereabouts of his abducted passengers.
Lukas is played with an engaging mix of suppressed anger and bemused resignation by Serhiy Stepansky, a renowned sound designer who is making his acting bow. He would be aware of the excellent work of colleague Borys Peter, whose soundscapes are complemented by a melodic score by Anton Baibakov. Equally accomplished is the cinematography of Vadym Ilkov, a documentary director who deftly captures the look and feel of Beryslav and its environs from the magnificent opening top shot of the rust-red deck of a barge gliding through the inky water of a lock.
But, in a film that keeps echoing the barbed eccentricity of the Czech Film Miracle and the deadpan drollery of Aki Kaurisäki and Roy Andersson, there are many memorable images along the way (the sunflower sequence particularly stands out), as the excellent Viktor Zhdanov and Khrystyna Deilyk get their hooks into their hapless guest. Abetted by editors Mykola Bazarkin and Heike Parplies, Bondarchuk (who hails from Kherson) establishes the pace of village life, as well as its unpredictability. Indeed, he and co-scenarists Alla Tyutyunnyk and Dar'ya Averchenko (who just happens to be his wife) keep Lukas and the audience guessing about what could possibly happen next in a place where absurdity is the default setting.
Documentarist Robert Greene first came to the attention of British audiences with
Kate Plays Christine (2016), which followed actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepared to play Florida news reporter Christine Chubbock, who had shot herself live on air in 1974. Frustratingly, few in this country got to see Bisbee `17 (2018), in which the residents of an Arizona town recreated the deportation of 1300 striking migrant miners in 1917. But Netflix has made it possible to see Procession, which explores how drama therapy helped six men from Kansas City, Missouri come to terms with being abused as children by Roman Catholic priests.
The film opens with footage of a press conference in August 2018, in which attorney Rebecca Randles reveals that around 230 members of the clergy in Kansas City are known to have abused young boys. Captions explain that Greene was so moved by the testimony that he suggested a film project involving Randles, trusted assistant Sasha Sanders, drama therapist Monica Phinney, and six abuse survivors: Joe Eldred, Mike Foreman, Ed Gavagan, Dan Laurine, Michael Sandridge and Tom Viviano.
Following an introductory get together, Ed, Tom and Michael gather for the first session at Smithville First Christian Church. As the latter pair don vestments for a procession to the altar, Ed swings a thurible and the act reconnects him to the 13 year-old self he no longer recognises. His discomfort prompts the group to work separately on scripting short films that they will reconvene to shoot.
As he works as a location scout, Dan volunteers to find churches willing to allow filming. But each visit brings back his experiences at the hand of Fr Hugh Monaghan, who fled Missouri and has been avoiding arrest ever since. This denial of justice irritates Mike, who is moved on by the cops when he tries to protest outside a public building. He is particularly angered by the church's use of a statue of limitations to get his case against (the since deceased) Fr Finian Meis in 2015 and he has nothing but contempt for Archbishop Joseph Nauman and his hope that he can find peace in God's grace when he has been so traumatised by his past that he has never had a single romantic experience.
Joe was abused by Monsignor Thomas O'Brien, Fr Mark Honhart and Fr Thomas Reardon at a house on Lake Viking and he wants to base his film about the nightmares he has been having about his ordeal. Having been abused in Wyoming by Bishop Joseph Hart, who had been transferred from Kansas City, Ed is keen for his short to focus on the hands of a priest administering the sacraments before pulling down a teenager's underwear. He asks Michael to play his abuser and he agrees, as he recalls his own swimming pool assault by Fr Michael Tierney.
Over Easter weekend, Ed, Michael and Dan attend the Good Friday service at the cathedral in Cheyenne, Wyoming. They are given access to the sacristy and the bell tower, where Ed rings the bell he had tolled as a boy. He hasn't been here in 30 years, but feels positive that he is doing something to fight back against Hart, who is being investigated by both the Vatican and the Cheyenne Police Department.
Ever since he was abused, Mike has consoled himself by rocking backwards and forwards to music. He wants to recreate the Independent Review Board that dismissed his claims as lacking credibility. Dan and his brother, Tim, went through something similar. So, he accompanies Michael to Lake Viking to scout locations to help Joe reconnect with his recollections. However, the trip also impacts on Dan, who also endured a stay at a lakeside house.
Michael has decided to shoot a sequence about an altar boy running away from the priest officiating at a baptism after dropping the thurible. Dan joins him in inspecting suitable churches and they agree that it would be useful to cast a single boy to provide a link between the six vignettes. Emerging from the auditions is Terrick Trobough, whom Dan likes because he gives off a badass air.
Michael's film is entitled `Altered Boys' and features the other five survivors, with Tom playing the priest, who plies the altar boy with drink while watching him disrobe after mass. At one point, the cleric's eyes glow green, as he glares at the youth, who has caused the entire congregation to turn around by running to the balcony out of fear.
It's a hard-hitting scene and Tom (who can't enact his story because it's still before the courts) digs deep to put on a dog collar and vestments. Joe has a similar experience when he joins Dan and Michael at the house to which he had been lured all those years ago. Walking slowly on crutches (as he has an artificial leg), he reaches the steps and peers in through the door. But, while he doesn't enter, he reveals to his new friends that his nightmares have ceased since he confronted the memory.
Called `The Confessional', Joe's story has the priest threatening a 10 year-old that he will be kicked out of the church and will go to hell with his parents if he ever tells anyone about their `special relationship'. As the scene is filmed, Joe gets understandably emotional, while Tom uses the lock on the confessional door to generate the anger he needs to convey the evil that Joe perceived in Monsignor O'Brien.
After Dan helps Mike find the house where his mother had left him with a cake for the priest who had abused him, he discusses his own ordeal with his mother. She blames herself for not believing her sons and claims she considered suicide before regaining the strength to support them. Now, Dan and Tim are going to the lake where they were assaulted by Monaghan. However, they fail to find the house and the strain of the excursion forces Tim to distance himself from his brother.
Thankfully, they come together for a second trip and, by scouting along the lake, they recognise a building. On realising this is where they came the first time, Michael wonders if Dan is blocking out his familiarity with the place. Suddenly, he feels he has been here before and recalls the spot where he broke a fishing rod that led to Monghan coercing him into sleeping with its cleric owner. He weeps and admits that he has been hiding behind a desire to free Tim from his burden, when he has been blocking his painful memories.
Mike has arranged for Terrick's parents to play alongside him in `Blatant Lies in the Name of the Lord'. They recreate the cake delivery moment before the scene cuts to the Independent Review Board hearing, where Mike takes over to unleash a curse-filled tirade against those (played by the other survivors) who had questioned his integrity. He ends by slamming the chocolate cake into the table top and feels a huge sense of release.
All are in awe of the way Terrick is handling the assignment and he back on set for Ed's `God Switches Sides'. He is invited into the bishop's bedroom to help him pack for a trip. Michael is uneasy playing the part, even though the initial section focusses essentially on his hands. The second half, however, sees him berating the boy in his underwear to ensure he remains quiet about their relationship.
Shortly after the scene was filmed, Ed got a letter from Cheyenne saying that the case against Hart has been dropped because chances are slim that he will live through a protracted trial. He also received an apology from Pope Francis, but he proved unable to defrock the bishop and Ed wonders what power the head of the Catholic Church actually has.
Joe returns to the scene of his abuse to film `Letter to Joe', in which he tells his younger self that he probably has a better knowledge of what happened than he does, as so much has been suppressed. But he tries to reassure him that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mike also ends with hope, as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has taken up his case. Tom is still awaiting his day in court, while Dan's abuser remains at large. But Ed hopes the film will help him explain his trauma to his daughter and Michael learns that his abuser had been removed from the priesthood days before he died in December 2020. He returns to St Elizabeth's Church for the first time in decades and has a sense of closure, which they all feel to varying degrees as their three-year odyssey draws to an end.
For someone who has nothing but positive memories of their time as an altar boy and of the priests in their childhood parish, it's distressing to share the pain of those who were not so fortunate. Tragically, the brave men baring their souls here are just six of thousands and the fact that the Catholic Church is still in denial about its failure to protect those in its care makes it difficult to retain any faith at all, let alone in the institution.
One can only hope that this tactfully made, but unflinching film and others like it will impact upon hardened hearts and benighted consciences so that the guilty can confess and pay for their sins and the wronged can find peace and renewal.
DEAR FUTURE CHILDREN.
Politicians can't resist the phrase, `for our children and our children's children'. Yet, still nothing gets done to ensure that the generations to come will inherit a planet in which communality and social justice matter more than elitism and mass control. No wonder the youth of today have come to distrust the promises of those in power. Consequently, they have started to seize the initiative in order to safeguard the planet and the basic rights its inhabitants and 22 year-old German documentarist Franz Böhm profiles three twentysomething activists in Dear Future Children.
Hailing from Santiago, 23 year-old Rayen loves her cosmopolitan neighbourhood. But she worries about raising children in a country where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow because the constitution drafted by General Augusto Pinochet is skewed in favour of the ruling class. She recalls 7 October 2019, when students organised a protest after ticket prices were raised on the capital's metro system. However, the police stepped in to restore order with brutal efficiency.
In Uganda, 22 year-old Hilda saw the effects of climate change for herself when her parents were forced to sell their farm land because of alternating droughts and floods. She is now studying at Kampala University and striving to educate her compatriots about the dangers of global warming and coerce the authorities into making life-saving changes.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, 22 year-old `Pepper' has joined the Pro-Democracy Movement because she feels that China has broken the promise made during the 1997 handover from Britain to allow two systems within one country. She refuses to succumb to a dictatorship and, despite being scared of the excessive force being used by the police, joins the street protests against Chief Executive Carrie Lam's pandering to Beijing over a 2019 extradition bill.
Rayen is also afraid of being beaten and tells a friend that she would rather be confronted by zombies than the cops. She is appalled when President Sebastián Piñera responds to a protest that attracted 1.2 million Chileans by declaring the country to be at war with its malcontents (the majority of whom are working class).
In Hong Kong, the use of surveillance means that the protesters have to cover their faces to avoid recognition. Pepper reveals that she is living an exhausting double life that requires her to hide her activities from family and friends who might not approve. She also faces the emotional strain of being unable to help those detained by force. However, people like `Adalyn' and `Jaxson' are using their computer skills to chart safe courses for marches so that they can stay away from police roadblocks. Their live map also tells civilians where it's safe to go if they want to steer clear of the protests.
Hilda believes she has a duty to do her bit and she persuades the Toore Kingdom's Secretary of the Environment, Joan Kantu Else, to see the amount of plastic and polythene clogging the River Mpanga. Her college professor, however, claims that God's plan can't be changed and Hilda encounters opposition whenever she attempts to spread her eco message on the streets. Yet, she manages to convince some young men to help her clear a stretch of water and a well-attended protest march draws a lot of attention.
This peaceful demonstration contrasts with the chaos on the frontline in Santiago, as tear gas and water cannon are used against the protesters. Rayen wears a mask and fires a catapult at the police, who she claims have an utter disregard for the safety of the people they are supposed to protect. Harrowing phone footage shows the moment a dying Abel Acuña is loaded into the back of an ambulance that is being targeted by the security forces. He was the 22nd victim and Rayen pays her respects to his grieving parents. She surveys a poster shrine to the fallen and, even though she is committed to the cause, she hopes she doesn't end up as a photo on a wall.
Back in Hong Kong, Pepper prepares for another march. Comrades cower under umbrellas as the police advances and use their batons to subdue anyone resisting arrest. She reveals that she has broken up with her boyfriend because of the cause and that she considered packing it in as a dead loss after she was arrested.
As she knows she inspires people, Hilda feels compelled to see the fight through to the end. She misses her parents and wonders if people know how much sacrifice activism entails. But the opportunity to address a climate conference in Copenhagen excites her, as it will raise her profile and give her a better platform from which to spread her message.
Rayen meets 29 year-old photographer Nicole Kramm Caifal, who was one of 460 to lose an eye when the police adopted a policy of deliberately firing rubber bullets into the faces of protesters. She explains how the staff at the hospital were reluctant to help her because they don't want troublemakers. As she consoles her, Rayen reveals that he father was shot in the leg and has to wait for his body to start rejecting the pellet before surgeons can operate.
In Denmark, Hilda is frustrated by the lack of action and the difficulty of being heard by anyone with the power to bring about change. While she confronts the way in which the establishment uses rhetoric to defuse anger, Pepper experiences the new reality of the July 2020 National Security Law, which outlaws any form of protest in Hong Kong. Within days, one friend was arrested and another killed herself because she felt the struggle had been futile. She admits her fear now outweighs her commitment and she is distraught at having failed.
While Rayen prepares for another protest, Hilda gets her moment on the conference stage. She breaks down during her speech, but succeeds in warning people that the traumas she has experienced will happen to them in more northerly countries unless the talking stops and the action starts. As for Pepper, she is ashamed of having lost the battle and now considers herself a refugee after leaving Hong Kong.
While it relies more on emotional energy than intellectual insight, there's no denying that this is a pugnacious, wavelengthed and righteously angry film that captures the zeal of the millennial generation in its bid to take up the baton that their elders have fumbled without quite dropping while the world has slipped ever deeper into crisis. The time for action is now on many fronts and Böhm has chosen three noble causes in seeking to inspire others to make commitments of their own.
As always with a project like this, those who need to see it most won't. Few young people will be able to afford cinema tickets, even if they know where the film is screening. And TV stations won't risk showing something so incendiary. The best place for this to be shown is classrooms, but again there's no chance that the Department of Education would sanction such a subversive assault on the status quo.
So, rather than bang their heads against brick walls, Böhm and his producers should make their clarion call available for free online and canvas the likes of rappers, sporting heroes, film stars and celebrities - in other words, the very people kids listen to and respect - to use to their fame and influence to recommend it as essential viewing. Word of mouth among the target audience can alone spread messages like these that cannot be ignored any longer. The question is, do enough teenagers and twentysomethings actually know what's at stake and care enough to share the fury of Rayen, Hilda and Pepper and. moreover, have the commitment to watch, listen and learn from them?
It's hard to think of anyone who has enjoyed such a remarkable late-career bounce as Beverly Glenn-Copeland and his 50-year career is recalled with insight and affection by documentarist Posy Dixon in Keyboard Fantasies. Coming off the back of Transmissions, Copeland's first album of new material in over 15 years, this provides an admiring, if somewhat selective introduction to a unique artist.
Born in Philadelphia in the mid-1940s into a musical African-American family, Beverly Copeland learned classical music from his pianist father and spirituals from his mother. At a time when same-sex relationships were still illegal, they heartily disapproved of his romance at McGill University in Montreal, where Copeland started to break free from the restrictions of his childhood, in spite of the fact that prejudice meant he existed in something of a bubble before he dropped out following his parents' attempt to have him committed for electro-shock therapy to `cure' his sexual disorientation.
Buying a guitar, Copeland started singing with his richly sonorous tenor voice and landed a recording contract. He followed the solemnly introspective debut, Beverly Copeland (1970), with the looser Beverly Glenn-Copeland (1971), which contained echoes of Joni Mitchell and was made with producer Doug Riley in Toronto with such accomplished jazz musicians as guitarist Lenny Breau, drummer Terry Clark and bassist Don Thompson, who picked up the songs so quickly that several tracks were recorded in one take.
Unfortunately, the label marketeers couldn't find a niche for these sublime songs and Copeland spent much of the next decade writing music for Ernie Coombs's TV show, Mr Dressup (not that the film mentions this or his connection with Sesame Street). Eventually, he stumbled upon computers and he amusingly recalls how his lack of programming nous had prevented him from accessing the sounds he knew were trapped inside this magical box. But he figured things out and the result was Keyboard Fantasies, which was produced using an Atari computer, a synthesizer and a drum machine and was privately released in 1986 in a run of 200 cassettes (only 50 of which were sold).
Three decades later, Japanese record collector Ryota Masuko contacted Copeland to ask if there were any copies of the album that he could sell. He cleared the remaining stock and, within weeks, Copeland was inundated with offers to reissue his back catalogue.
At the age of 74, he embarked upon his first world tour and we see him performing `Ever New' and `Colour of Anyhow' in a bijou London venue, with backing being provided Bianca Palmer, Nick Dourado, Jeremy Costello, Kurt Inder and Carlie Howell, who together form Indigo Rising.
He enjoys the improvisational aspect of performance, which complements a method of composing that he Copeland compares to picking up radio signals from the ether. But he is also aware that an individual life is part of the wider universe and that we owe it to ourselves to surround ourselves with people who support us so that we can make the most of our short time and do the most good.
Presenting as female, Copeland tried to live as a lesbian before realising he was transgender. He claims in interview that it wasn't until he met future wife Elizabeth Paddon that he came to feel comfortable in his own body. But his situation initially proved difficult for his highly conservative Quaker parents to understand, although he grew much closer to his mother in the last 20 years of her life.
He still sings spirituals like `Deep River' on stage, in the hope that he can provide a bridge between the generations. This stirring rendition brings down the curtain on a film that should have ended there and not dipped back to the London street where Bianca Palmer tells a dreadful joke about penguins with ice cream on their beaks.
Such a lapse of judgement is rare, however, in a profile that rightly relies on Copeland's gleefully gregarious and infectiously upbeat pieces to camera and some splendid concert clips. It's a shame, however, that there isn't any critical appraisal of the folk-electronica that was literally ahead of its time or more on the jobs that kept the musician gainfully employed during what can only be described as a lengthy spell in the wilderness. Consequently, this doesn't feel as rounded a profile as No Ordinary Man, Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt's tribute to jazz pioneer and trans culture icon, Billy Tipton. However, the pair would make a wonderfully melodic double bill.
PIANO TO ZANSKAR.
Faced with the choice of eating lemon drizzle cake in Camden Market or sampling jalebi in the Himalayas, 65 year-old piano restorer Desmond O’Keeffe had no hesitation in picking the latter. The only problem was that he had to lug one of John Broadwood's upright cottage pianos to the village of Lingshed, which just happens to be 14,000 feet above sea level. The reason for this Fitzcarraldoic folly quickly becomes apparent in Michal Sulima's documentary, Piano to Zanskar.
A few years ago, a woman had visited Desmond's shop and asked about transporting a piano to the remote school where she had been engaged to teach. As it was, she became pregnant and didn't take up the post. But the idea of making the highest piano delivery in history appealed to someone with keyboards in the family who had completed some 20,000 repairs since 1969.
Fortunately, he had willing accomplices in Anna Ray, a conservationist who had visited Ladakh five years earlier as a teenager, and Harald Hagegard, a 21 year-old Swedish hospital porter who was getting over a broken romance. Harald joins Desmond and Anna in Leh after they had done some essential repairs in the workshop and he helps dismantle the instrument so it can be carried by a combination of Sherpas and yaks because the road runs out at Photoksar.
While preparing to scale the Singe-la Pass (with an elevation of 16,420ft), Desmond makes the discovery that the yaks are too small to carry the piano frame and he has to arrange for horses and extra porters once the track ends at the Kyukpa-la Pass. The path is narrow and the drop precipitous, so progress is precarious and slow. Desmond takes a break to serenade Anna with a ballad about catching a falling beloved.
Making camp at Gongma Village, the advance party chat to a septuagenarian woman who hopes that the road comes soon to make life easier for those in isolated settlements. As she was in Ladakh (where Western clothing is all the rage), Anna is surprised by the enthusiasm for what would once have been called progress, as she fears transport links will pollute the unspoiled wilderness.
The group hauling the frame are two hours behind and the camera picks them out in the distance. The danger they are in is readily apparent and Desmond is relieved when everyone arrives safely. He assures them that he would never have undertaken the mission had he known it would endanger lives. But there's jubilation among the team that they have brought the piano through treacherous terrain unscathed.
It's now Day 7 of the trek and the hills are not quite as forbidding. Harald keeps the Sherpas amused with Viking chants, but Desmond is beginning to feel the pace. He worries that the water supply will run out and darkness will strand them. But they reach Lingshed and spirits are high among the unnamed porters, as they rejoice in showing Desmond and Anna their home. The local headmaster and one of his teachers also form a welcome committee (but we don't learn their names).
Eventually, Harald arrives with the frame and Desmond is relieved to know that it is possible to get a piano to Zanskar after all. However, the Swede holds back the bad news that the exposed strings came in for some buffeting on the journey and he is concerned that so many will be damaged that it won't be possible to play the instrument.
Fortunately, they've survived and Desmond is excited to see the frame in the schoolroom where it will be played. He is charmed by this Buddhist enclave and watches as Anna sings and dances with the children, who all speak good English and are fascinated by Harald and his long blonde hair and top hat. But the biggest surprise comes when he meets Kristina Nadler, a German teacher who is also a trained concert pianist. He ponders the odds of his arrival and her presence coinciding (especially as she has only been in the village for a week) and is keen to get the Broadwood up and running.
Kristina chats to Anna about the prospect of the road reaching Lingshed. She doesn't believe pollution will become a serious issue, but worries that exposure to the wider world will spark an exodus, as the younger villagers go in search of the money they need to buy the mod cons that they have happily done without until now.
The next day, drums resound as the children march into the playground in their pale blue caps. They sing a song about Enlightenment before Anna leads them in a call and reply rendition of Primal Scream's `Movin' On Up', complete with some improvised actions. She also entertains Desmond with handstands, as he beavers away reconstructing the piano.
On Day 13, he is ready for the moment of truth. Young and old gather to hear Desmond play the first notes before Kristina treats the audience to a few classical gems. An elderly man insists on duetting with Harald and is delighted by the beauty of the sound. The village chief inaugurates the Sir Desmond Music Room and celebrates the cultural exchange that can only improve life for everyone in Lingshed because music is the universal language. Taking a moment for himself, Desmond realises he might just have done something rather remarkable.
Three years on, the piano remains the highest in the world and lessons continue in the school. But Kristina only stayed another month before returning to Germany to write a travel book and give birth to a son. Harald abandoned music and started training to become a rescue helicopter pilot, even though he's too tall for the models currently in service. Anna moved to India to study environmental science and found love in Dharamsala.
While their worlds moved on, the Trans-Himalayan Highway continues its snail pace through the implacable landscape. It would have helped speed Desmond on his way during his annual visits to Lingshed to tune the piano. He remained deserving of his nickname, `Gentle', until he passed away in 2018 and the film stands as a testament to his desire to share the joy he had always found in piano music.
It's baffling why Tash Anbchok, Sonam Josel and Karma Namgyal are listed alongside their European co-stars in the closing crawl, yet are denied an identifying caption during the film itself. After all, the Sherpas did all the heavy lifting and took far more risks than Desmond and his fellow travellers. Given that he was wielding a camera during the expedition, Sulima must surely have been aware of the selfless exertions of the porters and it's disappointing that he has elected to afford them so little screen time. There may well have been logistical reasons for keeping out of their way as they negotiated the narrow pathways, but we learn more about how taxing Desmond found the trek than about those putting their lives on the line so he can realise his quixotic ambition.
Sulima also ducks the issues raised by Anna and Kristina about cultural imposition and the extent to which the introduction of Western goods and attitudes improves or corrupts a lifestyle that had largely remained unchanged for centuries. Desmond has the best of motives for bringing the piano to Zanskar, but some will undoubtedly identify him with the imperialist tradition of the `white man's burden' and Sulima should have addressed the issue in more detail.
Despite such misgivings, the film has a number of striking moments, including the long shot sequence of the Sherpas struggling to negotiate a series of slopes, Anna's morning assembly sing-along and the duet between Harald and the village elder. A bit more of the concert and a few reaction shots might have conveyed a greater sense of curiosity giving way to wonderment, while Sulima might have persuaded Desmond to take some phone footage of his return visits to show how the piano had become part of the furniture. But this very British variation on Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982) has enough quirky charm to disarm even the most vigilant woke warrior.