• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (19/6/2020)

(Reviews of Joan of Arc; The Ground Beneath My Feet; Lynn + Lucy; On a Magical Night; The Wretched; The Fanatic; Cinema Rex; and Baby Mine)


Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.


JOAN OF ARC.


There are two reasons for perplexion surrounding the UK release of Bruno Dumont's Joan of Arc. Given that this is a companion piece to the 2017 item, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. why is it showing in isolation at a time of lockdown when it's only competing for attention rather than screen space? And, perhaps more importantly, why have so many critics (with the laudable exception of Sight and Sound's Jason Anderson) sneeringly dismissed it as a monumental act of self-indulgence without taking the trouble to engage with it on anything more than a superficial level? After all, it didn't win the prestigious Prix Louis Delluc for nothing,


An opening caption explains that, during the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc led the armies of Charles VII of France in a bid to reclaim Paris from the English and their Burgundian allies. Away from battle, on the morning of Sunday 8 May 1429, Joan d'Arc (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) is praying when Marie (Justine Herbez) asks her to bless a rosary for a dying neighbour's son. However, Joan is perplexed because she doesn't claim to have any special spiritual powers and notes that the beads will be just as holy if they were blessed by Madame Jacqueline (Annick Lavieville). Preferring to do something positive, Joan goes with Marie to pray at the child's bedside.


Four months later, on 8 September (the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary), Monseigneur Regnauld de Chartres (Benoît Robail) and Messire Raoul de Gaucourt (Alain Desjacques) are on the dunes discussing the prospects for the day's fighting when they are joined by Monseigneur Patrice Bernard (Serge Holvoet), who notes the arrival of Joan and Gilles de Rais (Julien Manier). He is upset because he has missed out on the looting of some wealthy villages along the Seine and corrects Joan when she curses the savagery of the English brigands by pointing out that the pillaging was done by French troops.


Left along clutching her standard, Joan watches a cloud move across the sun and a song by Christophe conveys her distaste for the brutality of battle and the fear that she has tainted her soul by ordering men to kill. She is joined by Maître Jean (Jérôme Brimeux), who asks if she has heard anything from the voices that have been guiding her. When she reveals they have not spoken to her for a while, Joan wishes she was back in Lorraine with her family Jean urges her not to let homesickness deflect her from her purpose. Joan concurs and is telling Jean to lead an attack on Paris via St Honoré's Gate when they are rejoined by Gaucourt, who is reluctant to commit men to battle without the assurance that Joan has been guided by her voices.


Obeying her command to fight, the mounted French forces face off against their English counterparts and the ensuing showdown is presented from hoof and saddle level, as well as top shooting drones in a display of equestrian choreography that recalls the images of horses on the puszta achieved by Miklós Jancsó in The Round-Up (1966). As the drummers strike up, Joan's horse performs dressage steps before the pageant plays out around her, as she closes her eyes and prays to God for victory.


The following day, a disillusioned Gaucourt reports back to Chartres and Bernard that Joan has suffered her first defeat and that he is reluctant to take the field again with direct orders from the king. They are interrupted by the arrival of the armour-clad Joan and Jean, duc d'Alençon (Benjamin Demassieux), who is carrying her standard. While they lament the setback, Marcechal de Rais stomps across the dunes to remonstrate with Joan for her lack of inspirational leadership. He reminds her that not everyone is as pious as she is and that she should promise them riches in order to goad them into risking their lives because gold will always trump glory. Gaucourt confides that he dislikes the bellicose De Rais, but warns Joan that it's dangerous talk to prefer honourable defeat to rampaging victory.


A page (Laurent Darras) rushes up to announce the arrival of Baron de Montmorency (Marc Parmentier), who has decided to quit the cause of Henry VI and asks if he can throw in his lot with Charles VII. However, the Comte de Clermont (Jean-Pierre Baude) arrives with a herald (Joseph Rigo), who reads a proclamation from the king ordering them not attack Paris, as he has contracted a truce with the English. Stunned by the news that the capital will remain in the hands of the invader, Joan is left alone on the windswept sand.


Six months later, in March 1430, in the gardens of the Château de Tremouille, Joan tells Jean that she can't bear to stand idle as the villagers of the Seine are being subjected to indignities at the hands of the English. He cautions her that Charles won't sanction further hostilities and she vows to form a volunteer band to go to their aid, if the king persists in abandoning them to their fate. As Joan walks into the forbidding grandeur of a cathedral, Christophe's sings her prayer for Charles (Fabrice Luchini) to go to the aid of his subjects. But he pleads with Joan to take a rest and not do anything reckless. She is stung by what she perceives as his treachery and asks Frère Jean Pasquerel (Yves Baudelle) to send a letter to the citizens of Orléans asking them to send supplies to the town of Melun so that she can renew battle. When she gallops across the dunes in full armour, however, Joan kicks up a cloud of dust from which her distressed horse emerges to denote that she has been captured.


Eleven months later, in late February 1431, Joan's trial commences in the royal chapel in the castle of Rouen. It's 7:30am and a quartet of choristers is singing in the organ loft (Aurélie Desain, Laurence Malbete, Augustin Charnet and José Morel) as Maître Nicolas L'Oiseleur (Fabien Fenet) and Frère Mathieu Bourat (Valério Vassallo) comment on the fact that Joan's prosecution for heresy is loaded with ulterior motives. L'Oiseleur protests that he is merely seeking to coax Joan into accepting the error of her ways so that she can be welcomed back into the bosom of Mother Church. But, as they greet Maître Fidèle Pierret (Laurent Brassart) taking his place in the stalls, Bourat wishes it was that simple, as he suspects that the English are exploiting the Church to score political points.


Pierret is unhappy that Joan is being chained to the wall of her cell, but L'Oiseleur insists this isn't his concern, as she is not being held in a Church prison. He also reassures Pierret that Joan will be given a fair trial, as the 12 members of the court have numerous degrees in theology and civil and canon law between them. Indeed, he wonders if they are not overqualified for the task of prosecuting a peasant girl, as he welcomes Jean Beaupère (Joël Carion) and his companions, Maître Nicolas Midi (Franck Dubois) and Maître Guillaume Evrard (Christophe). While eulogising about the brilliance of this trio from the University of Paris, L'Oiseleur speaks even more highly of Maître Thomas de Courcelles (Daniel Dienne), whose wisdom belies his youth.


As English trial assessor William Haiton (Yves Habert) takes his place, L'Oiseleur points out Monseigneur Pierre Cauchon (Jean-François Causeret), who is accompanied by Jean D'Estivet (Robert Hanicotte) and Maître Jean de la Fontaine (Claude Saint-Paul). As Bishop of Beauvais, Cauchon is one of the senior clerics officiating at the trial and he consults with L'Oiseleur, who confides that they will have to keep an eye on Bourat and Pierret, as they may not be as sound as they had originally hoped. Taking note and hoping that neither is willing to do anything that might jeopardise his immortal soul, Cauchon tells Messire Jean Massieu (Robert Hanicotte) to fetch the prisoner.


Before Joan arrives, Cauchon blesses the assembled and hands over the cross-examination to De La Fontaine, in the hope that he will steer the trial to as fair a conclusion as human beings can achieve. As the bishop departs, De La Fontaine asks Joan if she is willing to re-swear her oath to tell the truth. But she objects that she might not want to answer some of the questions and has no intention of sharing with anyone the messages she believes came from God Himself. On hearing this. D'Estivet jumps to his feet and declares Joan a heretic and suggests they could save themselves a lot of time by basing their verdict on this outburst and finding Charles VII guilty of heresy at the same time.


He is persuaded to resume his seat, as Haiton asks why Joan shows so little deference to her accusers and sniffs that English people know their place. De La Fontaine asks Joan about her life before she took up arms and she reveals a talent for spinning. However, she knew where her duty lay and she swerves attempts to trap her into saying that she ordered her men to kill the English. She expresses sorrow that so many died, but suggests that they would have lived longer had they not trespassed on to French soil.


When asked why she dressed in male attire, Joan responds that she had been called to do a man's job. The wily Courcelles tries to catch her out by asking why she used the Sign of the Cross in her correspondence and several others weigh in with questions designed to trick Joan into making a mistake. But she answers them all with defiant assurance and keeps refusing to disclose what the voices told her, as their words were addressed solely to her. Courcelles scoffs at her for lacking the learning to defend herself with eloquence, but Joan snaps back that God chose a simple shepherdess and that she fought and sought to escape in His Name.


Convinced that Joan is not being tried as a simple heretic, Bourat objects to the line of questioning when she is asked how she thinks she will die. Haiton pipes up again that she is impudent to demand instant results from her prayers, as the English have the decency to wait after making their requests. Courcelles snipes that there is no mention of her coming in Scripture and wonders how she can claim to be doing the Lord's work when she hasn't performed a single miracle. Joan counters by stating that her victories against the odds were proof that God was on her side, but Courcelles mocks her for not realising that her defeats suggest the contrary.


De La Fontaine asks Joan if she's a good Christian and questions whether Charles VII is also a true believer. Avoiding attempts to dupe her into doubting his sagacity as a ruler, Joan inquires whether it would be possible to be placed in a Church prison rather than a secular one. D'Estivet fumes that she shouldn't be shown any mercy because she refuses to submit to the authority of the Church. When Joan asks if the Church and Christendom are the same thing, Courcelles tries to confuse her with intricate definitions. But she avers that she's a good Christian and wants to obey the Church in all things, with the exception of revealing what was said by her voices.


Accepting that she must stay in a secular prison, Joan asks to hear Mass and receive Communion. But the dyspeptic D'Estivet leaps to his feet to protest and, when L'Oiseleur suggests that she might be allowed to confess, Courcelles objects on the ground that a sinner cannot receive mercy if they remain outside the Church. Bourat and Pierret protest that heretics are never usually subjected to this line of interrogation. But Courcelles interjects to claim that everyone in the court wishes to help Joan find her way back to the rightful path and trusts that she will recognise that they are fighting for her soul rather than seeking to condemn her. De la Fontaine concurs and wraps up proceedings, but not before he chides L'Oiseleur for speaking out of turn and making the blasphemous suggestion that someone should place themselves outside the Church in order to hear Joan's confession, even if that means she submits to their authority.


Some two and a half months pass and it's now mid-May 1431. questioner Mauger le Parmentier (Hervé Flechais) reminds apprentice Julien L'Anget (David Babin) that they have an important job to do in interrogating Joan and warns him to take his work seriously. Locksmith François Brasset (Michel Delhaye) arrives with his own apprentice, Lucien Clamet (Romain Olivier), to hand over a new buckle for the rack. As Mauger tells Brasset that his trade is slowly dying out because no one wants heretics to recant any longer, Lucien asks Julien why he settled for such a lousy job and he explains that his mother couldn't afford a better apprenticeship and he wound up being a torturer's assistant.


Arriving at the chapel, Mauger and Brasset are greeted by Cauchon and L'Oiseleur, who hope that the threat of pain will persuade Joan into changing her tune. As the other members of the court file into their pews, Cauchon reveals that Evrard will use his fabled eloquence to touch Joan's heart and make her abjure. But, when she is brought in by the guards, Joan remains as stubborn as ever and Cauchon sends D'Estivet to fetch Mauger. She refuses to be intimidated, however, and argues that she will renounce any recantation achieved by force. D'Estivet blusters that she should be found guilty without any more ado and be handed over to the secular arm for burning. Everyone turns, as Evrard rises from his seat and starts to sing. He concedes that Joan will go to Hell unless she changes her plea and she looks sadly resigned to her fate, as she turns and walks away between her escorts.


As evening falls that same day, the soldiers (Emmanuel Boutry and Didier Fournier) standing outside Joan's cell chat idly to pass the time. They wonder why St George is fighting St Michael and conclude that saints are weird. A third soldier (Florent Ramecourt) rushes up and tells his pals that he has stashed away some booze and urges them to abandon their post and party. Left alone. Joan prays before lying in the straw and contemplates her fate.


Early in the second-to-last week of May 1431, Joan is brought back to the chapel for sentencing. L'Oiseleur is invited to address her and he promises to be brief, as the trial has dragged on for months. In his windbagging way, he tells Joan that it's never too late to recant and exhorts her to think of how sad Jesus will be when he realises that he died in vain because her sins remain uncleansed. Rather than respond, Joan merely rises and walks away, with her passage over the black--and-white tiled floor being viewed from a towering top shot in the roof.


Later that evening, the guards wonder if this will be their last night outside the cell. One is certain they'll be given new duties, but the other warns him not to count his chickens, as Joan might still crack. The next day, Thursday 24 May, the three guards are waiting to be relieved with the news that Joan has been burned. However, Maître Maussois (Philippe Robe) breaks the news that she became so afraid on seeing the pyre and the large crowd that she recanted. He hints that those who had come from all over France to see Joan die were as cross as the English. But they are interrupted when John Gris (Jean-Pierre Jadas) arrives with his prisoner and she looks abashed, as the cell door is padlocked.


Joan's conscience is quickly pricked, however, and she withdraws her submission. Dressed in a simple dress and with her hair cut short, she kneels in prayer before Massieu, who asks her to pray for him. As she looks up and sways in a manner that emphasises her youth and innocence, Christophe's lyrics claim that the voices had never let her down and that she knows she has done the right thing in remaining true to their promises. A blackbird flies in to feed its babies in a nest, as she Joan makes her peace with Rouen and the film ends on a long shot of a figure tethered to a stake on the top of a small hill, as the smoke starts to billow.


Based on Charles Péguy's 1910 play, The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, this fascinating, if flawed feature joins a long list of screen recreations of the martyrdom of the Maid of Orléans. For once, Georges Méliès was pipped to the post, as George Hatot released his one-reeler in 1898. However, Bruno Dumont has stated that Méliès's 1899 short, Jeanne d'Arc, Cecil B. DeMille's 1917 epic, Joan the Woman (with which it shares a running-time) and Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) provided more silent inspiration than such sound versions as Victor Fleming's Joan of Arc (1948), Roberto Rossellini's Joan of Arc At the Stake (1954), Otto Preminger's St Joan (1957), Robert Bresson's The Triall of Joan of Arc (1962), Jacques Rivette's Jeanne la Pucelle (1994) and Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999).


The aforementioned contained notable performances by the likes of Renée Falconetti, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Seberg, Florence Delay, Sandrine Bonnaire and Milla Jovovich. But even the remarkable Falconetti (in her one and only film) might have to hand over the laurel to 10 year-old Lise Leplat Prudhomme, who had played the younger Joan in Jeannette and would have been overlooked had co-star Jeanne Voisin been available to reprise the role. One might say that someone was looking over Dumont, as the decision to cast a girl almost half Joan's age pays off handsomely, as Prudhomme is simply captivating as a Joan who refuses to believe the hype about her own holiness in placing her trust firmly in God rather than in Man.


Given recent events, it's intriguing to see how often Joan takes the knee to pray. However, the emphasis is more on the treatment of young women by men in positions of power, although (80 years on from the surrender of France in May 1940) there's also a hint of the quisling mentality that saw those in thrall to the occupying House of Lancaster persecute a resistance fighter who had come to embody the spirit of the nation. Dumont is not one to give his intentions away, but the conclusion reached by some critics that this is a hollow absurdist shell of a movie would seem to be well wide of the mark.


Few have bothered to comment on the performative nature of the piece. Many have mentioned shambolic amateur dramatic productions in describing how the minor characters in the opening scenes trudge across Norman sand dunes to deliver lines in a stilted fashion that has been ridiculed as Pythonesque. But Dumont is reminding viewers that many of those who rallied to Joan's banner were simple peasants like herself, who didn't speak in the polished poetry or prose of Molière, Racine or Corneille. Moreover, by including characters like the questioner, the locksmith, their apprentices and the soldiers, Dumont is following in a time-honoured theatrical tradition that had coarse comic characters like the Porter provide some light relief from the harrowing drama in Shakespeare's Macbeth.


The majority of the players are non-professionals, with Fabien Fenet (L'Oiseleur) being a bookseller and Jean-François Causeret (Cauchon) and Daniel Dienne (Courcelles) being teachers. Yet they bring an honesty and intensity to the trial sequences, whose mood is also somewhat lightened by Robert Hanicotte's misogynist blusterings as the bigoted D'Estivet. Dumont and cinematographer David Chambille make potent use of the imposing Gothic splendour of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens to make the diminutive Prudhomme look even smaller than she is.


But Dumont and co-editor Basile Belkhiri also cut in numerous close-ups of her unforgiving gaze, as she looks through the lens and challenges everyone in the audience to question how steadfast they have been in moments of trial. It's probably not intentional, but Prudhomme's piercing stare often brings to mind earnest climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, whose youth and gender have also been mocked by pompously patronising and complacently privileged chauvinists incapable of engaging her in meaningful debate.


The contrast between the chancel and the Second World War bunker used for Joan's prison has been castigated for its sledgehammer unsubtlety. But, again, we cite the idea of a nation under siege. Indeed, there's a suggestion that the jokes at the expense of the English relate to the events that took place on another Normandy beach in the spring of 1940. However, the principal target for Dumont's humour is Dreyer's silent masterpiece and such stylised recreations of Gallic mythology as Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac (1974) and Éric Rohmer’s Perceval le Gallois (1978). He isn't solely seeking to satirise, however, as he also pays homage to Roberto Rossellin's late-career historical sagas and the experimental approaches employed by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.


By all accounts, Jeannette makes pivotally anachronistic use of heavy metal music. Here, however, Dumont contents himself with the thud of drums for the impeccably choreographed battle sequences and the periodic snippets of inner monologue provided by the ethereal synth chansons of 70s balladeer Christophe, who sadly passed away from coronavirus at the age of 74 on 16 April. Waggish cineastes have made self-congratulatory cracks about cringe-inducing prog rock albums, but there are numerous musical precedents for this falsetto style of singing, with some dating back to the canonical music of Joan of Arc's own time.


Like Dreyer and Bresson before him, Dumont has frequently pondered the themes of grace and transcendence. They are readily applicable to Joan of Arc's story. But there's nothing easy about this disarmingly wittily and calculatingly austere variation on her ordeal and Dumont sometimes pushes his luck. Yet he cannily highlights the way in which Church and State continue to join forces in order to control the masses across the global religious spectrum. Moreover, he also reveals how the faith, rage and courage of a committed young woman can threaten to topple the entire patriarchal edifice.


THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET.


Respectively reflecting on brothers discovering an unknown sister, a fast-laner slowed down by cancer and parents adjusting to their new priorities, The Fatherless (2011), Gruber Is Leaving (2015) and We Used to Be Cool (2016) sound fascinating and it's a shame that none managed to secure a UK release. However, Austrian director Marie Kreutzer's fourth feature, The Ground Beneath My Feet, has found a lockdown berth and one can only hope that some positive notices will persuade an enterprising distributor or streaming platform to make them available to discerning audiences.


Following an early morning jog in Vienna, Lola Wegenstein (Valerie Pachner) is about to fly to Rostock when she is informed that her older sister, Conny (Pia Hierzegger), has been admitted to hospital after an overdose. Promising the doctor that Conny would not attempt suicide, even though she's a paranoid schizophrenic, Lola hot foots to the Baltic coast, where she works for a company that specialises in restructuring struggling firms. Few of her colleagues know much about her and none know that she is having an affair with her boss, Elise (Mavie Hörbiger).


Lola keeps a meticulously neat underwear drawer and puts herself through punishing exercise routines at home and in hotel gyms. Some of the men in the office consider themselves superior, but she is good at her job and knows it. She also excels at keeping her private life away from prying eyes and is able to tell workmates she's going to an important meeting in order to buy a few hours to jet off to see Conny. However, she is distressed to see her sister so down in the dumps and promises that she will bring her home as soon as she's well. But Conny refuses to be fobbed off and unleashes a torrent of abuse as Lola is leaving and she has to be restrained. As Lola walks down the path, a doctor explains Conny's condition to her, only he turns out to be another patient.


Having found a frightened ginger cat in Conny's apartment, Lola takes it to a boarding cattery and pays a fortnight in advance. However, Conny keeps calling her to report abuse by the staff and Lola gets spooked out when one call coincides with her hotel lift getting stuck between floors. When it jolts back into action, it takes her to the basement and Lola sees what looks like a dog running around a corner.


Working late with Jürgen (Dominic Marcus Singer), Lola has to think quickly when he asks if he saw her at the airport and he is impressed she found time for a clandestine meeting with a prospective client. She tries to relieve some stress with a vigorous workout, but she gets another surprise the next morning when Conny calls the boardroom landline to ask about her cat. When Lola calls the institute to ask if Conny is okay, she's informed that she hasn't made any phone calls and the shock causes Lola to go over on one of her high-heeled shoes.


Upset by another call while in bed with Elise, Lola believes that Conny has actually discharged herself and has flown to Rostock and knows she is naked at the window of her hotel room. Throwing on a robe, Lola runs down to the forecourt, but there's no sign of Conny and she has to confess to Elise that she has a secret sister. She recalls having to go into an orphanage when their mother died and Conny was hospitalised while acting as her legal guardian. But she insists she has nothing in common with her sister and has never suffered from any mental health issues.


When Elise overlooks her for an important project and Lola sees a website about schizophrenia open on her laptop, she goes to a clinic to consult a doctor. However, she slips away before undergoing any tests and returns to the office to discover that Elise has broken their lunch date. She puts on a brave face and keeps an appointment with Herr Bacher (Axel Sichrovsky), whose female employees consider Lola to be a heartless gender traitor (as earlier had a homeless woman who had been refused some change). Over dinner, Bacher makes a clumsy pass at her and Lola tries to keep things professionally civil. But she's furious and wakes from a broken sleep to pound the pedals on a gym bike.


At work, Birgit (Michelle Barthel) asks Lola why she's working over the weekend and doesn't make time for friends and family. But Lola isn't the chatty kind and waves away the compliment that everyone thinks she's brilliant at her job. Arriving back in Vienna, she finds Elise on her doorstep and they go to bed. However, Lola is unhappy that Sebastian (Marc Benjamin) is being lined up for a promotion when she has been with the company longer. She wakes to find Elise reading one of Conny's handwritten letters and resents her prying into her private life and using it as an excuse to stymie her career.


Still smarting from the argument, Lola goes to see Conny and is taken aback when the doctor suggests she can go home. However, Conny wants to move in with Lola and is scornful when she points out that her job makes it impossible to give her the care she needs. But Lola isn't quite on the ball and, in mistaking Sunday for Monday, she almost misses a major presentation. She is livid when she discovers that Jürgen has sabotaged her by duping her into signing off some inaccurate figures and promises Elise that she is not suffering from burnout. The mistake proves costly, however, and Lola feels guilty when Birgit loses her job.


Her cause is aided by Bacher, who makes a point of telling Elise that she is the sole reason his company is hiring the consultancy. While celebrating, Elise makes it known that she wants Lola to accompany her to Sydney to set up an Australian branch. She is thrilled and decides to move Conny into her apartment. When she's reunited with her cat, Conny gives it such a hard hug that it struggles to get free. But Lola soon learns that Sebastian has been given the spot Down Under and that she has been promoted to an executive position.


Stunned by the way things keep changing without her having any control, Lola has passionate sex with Elise. But she gets home to discover that Conny has jumped from her balcony and Lola breaks her wrist in her anguish and is hospitalised after suffering a nervous breakdown. On the wall opposite her bed is a photograph of a woman who resembles her (her mother?). On being released, Lola has her hair dyed blonde and is the sole person at her sister's burial. She goes for a run and stops to catch her breath and the close-up cuts to black. As the credits roll, we see subliminal cuts showing Conny and Lola's faces, as well as tantalising scenes from the story we have been watching to leave us wondering how much of what we have seen has been real and how much has been happening in Lola's mind?


Despite Kreutzer citing Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) as a key influence and slipping in the odd allusion to Vertigo (1958), this is less a psychological thriller than a darkly disconcerting drama that treats the subject of mental illness with the gravity it deserves. This aspect of the story is certainly more assuredly handled than the exposé of the treachery and misogyny of office politics, as the rivalries, double-crosses, failures and triumphs rather blur into a ball of confusion that generates more indifference than outrage. Yet, this may well be precisely the effect for which Kreutzer is striving, as she pitches Lola into a morass that says as much about the cruel, cynical caprices of the business world as it does about her own emotional well-being.


Much of this complexity and ambiguity would be lost without Valerie Pachner's harrowing performance, which sees Lola being so torn between pleasing Conny and Elise that she fails to recognise the value of the unconditional friendship that Birgit offers during a rare moment of calm between the reckless 48-hour shifts that Lola occasionally pulls and the mad cross-continental shuttles provoked by phone calls whose source is audaciously left uncertain (even though we can hazard an informed guess). Pia Hierzegger and Mavie Hörbiger also impress, as the women seeking to manipulate Lola for their own ends. But the male characters are either chinless wonders or leering caricatures, who are barely distinguishable from one another.


With Martin Reiter's production design making luxury apartments, hotel suites, meeting rooms and asylum wards seem equally forbidding, impersonal and imprisoning, Leena Kopper's camera has plenty to alight upon. Monika Buttinger's costumes similarly expose the hypocrisy behind female power dressing, as the likes of Lola have to look the part if they are to get anywhere close to the glass ceiling, even when they're sleeping with the female boss (whose exploitative behaviour is quietly condemned in the unsensationalist manner that makes Kreutzer's writing and direction so astute). Kyrre Kvam's score is equally unobtrusive. But it's Leonard Cohen's `If I Didn't Have Your Love' that plays over the closing crawl that editor Ulrike Kofler studs with those flashingly fleeting images that leave such an unsettling last impression.


LYNN + LUCY.


Hailing from Leicester, Fyzal Boulifa has already proved himself to be a talent to watch after earning a BAFTA nomination for The Curse (2012), which took the same Directors' Fortnight prize at Cannes as Rate Me (2015). Respectively focusing on a Moroccan teenager being blackmailed into buying sweets by the neighbour kids who catch her with her lover and the online comment page of an elusive prostitute named Coco, these shorts demonstrate commendable levels of social commitment and cinematic invention. The critique is equally potent in Boulifa's debut feature, Lynn + Lucy, although some of the more contrived plot turns jar as this intense and superbly acted drama develops.


Sharing a linked heart tattoo, Lynn (Roxanne Scrimshaw) and Lucy (Nichola Burley) have been inseparable since they were 11 and now live opposite each other on a Harlow council estate. Much more introverted than her gregarious friend, Lynn got pregnant at the age of 16 and has raised her daughter, Lola (Tia Nelson), while husband Paul (Shaq B. Grant) was serving in the military. However, he has been invalided out after a training accident and Lynn needs to find a job to make ends meet. Having also just had a baby, the blue-haired Lucy is worried that she lacks a maternal instinct and is forever arguing with her immature and self-obsessed toyboyfriend, Clark (Samson Cox-Vinell).


When Lynn calls for Lucy to go dancing after she lands a junior post with Janelle (Jennifer Lee Moon), a hairdresser who was in their class, she has to bathe baby Harrison and reassure her friend that she will get used to being a mum. At the bar, the pair teasingly convince estate agent Tim (Nick Shalloo) that they're a couple after he confides that everyone at school had thought they were lesbians. But Lynn is disappointed, after they have bopped to `their song' (Paris Hilton's `Stars Are Blind'), to emerge from the washroom to see a drunken Lucy having an attention-seeking snog with Tim.


On her first day at the salon, Lynn overhears Janelle telling Caroline (Kacey Ainsworth) and Sam (Ashleigh Bannister) that she was nicknamed `The Pig' at school. Moreover, when Janelle mentions the lesbian rumours during a cigarette break, Lynn upsets Sam with the vehemence of her denial. When she gets home after a trying day, she is hurt to find Paul looking at pornography online and is anything but reassured when he says modern marriage is all about exploring.


While serving drinks to the clients at the salon, Lynn overhears a woman mentioning an ambulance in her street and she knows instantly that something has happened at Lucy's. Running home, she arrives in time to see her friend climbing into the back of an ambulance with Harrison and goes through agonies waiting for Lucy to call. Wandering across the road to the shrine that has been set up outside the house, Lynn bumps into Caroline, who confides that she lost one of her own children and offers to be a shoulder if Lynn needs her.


She still hasn't heard from Lucy by the following morning and is nettled when Janelle makes a thing of telling clients that she is the grieving mother's best friend. When a couple of cops come to the shop to ask about Clark, Lynn is guarded and tries not to say anything that might incriminate him. But they refuse to tell her what has happened and she only gets the full story when she finds a dazed Lucy in the corner shop and invites her home for supper. Breaking down, she explains that Clark had exacted his revenge for their night out by getting back with his ex and he had been packing a bag when he had shaken the crying baby so hard that he had died.


As Lucy is sleeping on the sofa, Lola makes her a wristband commemorating her child. But, despite a bystander calling her `vermin' as the funeral cortège drives through the estate, Lucy insists on visiting Clark and Lynn is dismayed by her loyalty. He refuses to see her, however, and Lynn is alarmed when Lucy reveals that he has told his lawyers that she had harmed Harrison before handing him over so that he would get the blame.


Conflicted when Caroline buys Lucy some flowers, Lynn tosses them in a dumpster on her way home. But she has second thoughts and decides to trust Caroline, in spite of the fact she believes that `There are just some people who should never reproduce.' She reveals that she lost a son on his eighth birthday when he was killed by a drunk driver who only received a suspended sentence. Lynn and Lola are spooked by the fact that Caroline keeps some of his ashes in a locket around her neck and, as they walk home, Lola informs her mother that she had seen Lucy shaking Harrison when she had been having a sleepover. Using a teddy bear, she shows Paul what had happened and he is worried that they will be judged for sheltering a child killer.


Sam says much the same thing at work the next day when Lynn tells Janelle that Lucy has always been so besotted with her boyfriends that she freezes other people out. Before she can raise the subject, however, Lucy finds messages on Lynn's phone and storms out feeling betrayed. When she gets drunk at the bar where Janelle is celebrating her birthday, Lucy accuses Lynn of abandoning her for new mates who had hated her at school. She gets thrown out when a male customer spits in her face and Lynn tells Janelle, Sam and Caroline that Lucy was always a compulsive liar, as they clink glasses.


The next day, Lucy sits on a bench in the precinct outside the salon and waits until Janelle is giving Lynn a makeover before strolling in to demand a haircut. Janelle gives Lynn the scissors and tells her to get some practice in and Lucy puts up no resistance, as her long blue hair is clumsily chopped off. By contrast, Lynn is pleased with her new look and it gives her the confidence to organise a scheme to ensure that no child has to walk to school unaccompanied, after Caroline questions whether Lucy knows where Lola goes to school. She gives a speech, in which she says that motherhood is hard and reveals that she has spent the last decade striving to disprove those who had doubted she could cope with a kid.


Paul is so impressed with her eloquence and her new hairstyle that he makes love to her for the first time in ages. But, just as Lynn is starting to feel good about herself, she finds Lucy dead in the locked car on her drive. Comforting her, Paul implores her to remember that Lucy was never really her friend. However, when she goes to Lola's school to break the news, Lynn is appalled to hear that her daughter hadn't really seen Lucy shake Harrison.


She makes no attempt to correct the lie, however, when Lola's video evidence is played at Clark's trial and even has her tattoo removed. Despite having lost her job at the salon, Lynn makes an appointment with Janelle and tries to chat about Clark going free, as both Sam and Caroline blank her. But Janelle makes it clear that she wants nothing more to do with her. Her fears that Clark would return to the house opposite are eased when he collects his belongings in a white van. As she returns to the ironing, while Lola reads a picture book while watching Dancing on Ice, Lynn realises that she has allowed herself to be led astray and has lost a friend she will never replace.


Revisiting the theme of women's reputations that he had broached in his award-winning shorts, Boulifa dissects Essex ethics with forensic skill in this slow-moiling treatise on gossip, cliques, motherhood and friendship. Despite the participation of Ken Loach's Sixteen Films, this is closer in tone to one of Andrea Arnold's studies of Estuary existence, with Romanian cinematographer Taina Galis making shrewd use of the Academy frame to make the characters feel hemmed in by their narrowed options.


Etching in backstories to prevent the audience from gaining too firm a grasp on the power dynamics, Boulifa leaves it to the excellent Nichola Burley and impressive newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw to inhabit Lucy and Lynn rather than merely play them. Burley locates Lucy in a postpartum daze that is exacerbated by the dawning realisation that the looks on which she has always traded will start to fade as domesticity takes its toll, while Scrimshaw allows Lynn to enjoy (albeit guiltily) the boost to her self-esteem of being courted for herself now that she is hesitantly emerging from her dominant friend's shadow.


In truth, the key secondary characters risk becoming sketchy stereotypes, as Boulifa ponders the truism that working-class communities in the Brexit era have fallen prey social media rabblerousers. More time might have been devoted to Kacey Ainsworth's intriguingly inscrutable Caroline and the state of Lynn's relationship with Shaq B. Grant's crutch-limping Paul. But opinion will be divided as to whether the storyline becomes convolutedly melodramatic or remains an acute representation of estate life. What's not at issue, however, is the Boulifa's visual poise or his readiness to confront unpalatable topics with frankness and perspicacity.


ON A MAGICAL NIGHT.


It seems like yesterday that Christophe Honoré appeared to be the coming man, with provocations like the incest drama Ma Mère (2004) and such frothier concoctions as Dans Paris (2006) and Love Songs (2007). But it's been tricky for UK audiences to monitor his recent progress, as only the latter of Metamorophoses (2014), Sophie's Misfortunes (2016) and Sorry Angel (2018) received a theatrical release. Fortunately, lockdown means we are able to catch up with On a Magical Night, a playfully melancholic romcom that reunites Honoré with Chiara Mastroianni, who had previously featured in Love Songs, Making Plans For Lena (2009), Man At Bath (2010) and Beloved (2011).


Walking home through Paris after being caught with student lover Asdrubal Electorat (Harrison Arevalo) by his bemused girlfriend, red-haired fortysomething law professor Maria Mortemart (Chiara Mastroianni) can't help but notice the handsome man on a zebra crossing. Arriving home, she takes a shower, while husband Richard Warrimer (Benjamin Biolay) puts her clothes in the washing machine. However, he sees a string of texts from Asdrubal on her phone and is so stung by Maria's insouciant admission that she has had several lovers during their 20-year marriage that he locks himself in the bedroom.


Taking a room in the Hotel Lenox across from their Montparnasse apartment, Maria watches her husband wandering in a daze, as snow begins to fall. In her dream, she and Richard lean over a model of the street and he shrugs when she claims she needs to be alone to think. But she is woken by the door to the connecting room creaking open and she is amazed to find a 20 year-old Richard (Vincent Lacoste) smoking on the bed next to a ghetto blaster playing the piano concerto he had composed in his youth. Maria is amazed to see him, but resists his entreaty to return to her husband, as they watch him mooching around the kitchen.


Richard 20 reminds Maria that she used to fancy him in the same way she does her student conquests and she admits to melting like sugar whenever she heard him play. He accuses her of being sentimental, but readily strips off when she asks him to kiss her. Maria sleeps soundly after they make love, seeming to see the man with whom she fell in love strolling in monochrome beside the banks of the Seine. When she wakes, however, Maria is astonished to see Richard's piano teacher, Irène Haffner (Camille Cottin), sitting in the armchair.


She first met Richard (Kolia Abiteboul) when he was a 14 year-old conservatory student and she used to treat him to chocolate eclairs before private lessons at her apartment. These continued until he was 22 and only stopped when he announced that Maria had proposed marriage. Irène was disappointed that Richard had chosen Maria's youth and beauty over her devotion, but she is now prepared to cross to road and comfort the cuckold. Resenting being judged, Maria accuses Richard 20 of getting things out of proportion. But, at that moment, her mother (Marie-Christine Adam) wanders in to start reading a list of post-marital conquests that includes her own cousin.


Once again, Maria claims to have done nothing that thousands of other French people do all the time. However, her grandmother Claire Johnston) appears to admonish her for sleeping with more men than the previous five generations of family womenfolk. But Irène is getting bored and declares she is going to cross the road to see her former student. Richard 20 wishes her good luck in providing his older self with some much-needed solace.


When Richard 40 opens the door, he recognises Irène immediately and invites her inside. She admits to having had some work done to her face and lies that she had spotted him from the window of her hotel room. When he tells her that Maria will be home soon, Irène fibs again that they had bumped into each other in the lobby and that she had felt duty bound to pay him a call after Maria had announced that she wanted her freedom. He is surprised when Irène claims to have kept up a clandestine correspondence with Maria since she had confronted the woman who was stealing her lover. But he is moved when she starts to play some Scarlatti and Maria and Richard 20 agree they look made for each other, as they watch from the window opposite.


They have been making love again and Maria concedes that it makes sense for her to keep the younger version of Richard, while Irène can have his current self as a consolation prize. However, they are joined by her conscience - who takes the form of Charles Aznavour (Stéphane Roger) - who urges her to think before she makes any rash decisions. Across the way, Irène summons up a toddler to try and convince Richard 40 that they belong together, as he had always wanted children and had been forced to go along with Maria's wishes. But he questions whether the present matters as much as the past in affairs of the heart, as couples are always closest while they are falling in love and slowly drift apart, no matter how committed they remain to their union.


It dawns on Irène that Richard still loves Maria, as he describes how their love-making tailed off over the years and how often he had lain in the darkness wanting to touch Maria and recapture faded feelings. In Room 212, Richard 20 ruminates on much the same theme, as he spoons Maria and slips his hands into her underwear. But she realises she is masturbating alone and rises from the bed to see Asdrubal lingering in the street below. Aznavour pops up to give him Maria's room number and she is shocked to turn and see every one of her adulterous flngs crowded on to the double bed.


Richard 20 intervenes and drags Maria to the room door to remind her that Article 212 of the Civil Code states that `spouses owe each other respect, fidelity and assurance'. But he is soon nursing a bloody nose, as Asdrubal bursts into the room, mistakes him for a rival and punches him. Aznavour steers him away, as Maria tends to Richard. However, she also feels responsible for Irène, who has just been rejected by Richard 40 when she peels off her blue woollen dress. In an instant, the toddler turns into a mannequin and the heartbroken Irène is about to leave when Maria arrives to sweep her off to the house where she now lives on the Normandy coast.


While Richard 40 cleans up Richard 20's injuries, while being convinced he's Asdrubal, Irène comes face to face with her 60 year-old self (Carole Bouquet), who welcomes her and Maria with open arms. She tries to explain that the pain of losing Richard lasted for around a year, but she has never regretted leaving Paris and starting a new life. Irène 60 even hints at a lesbian relationship, as she promises her fraught counterpart that she made the right decision.


Back in Paris, Maria and Irène seek refuge in a bar named Rosebud when they see the two Richards out looking for them. They propose a mariage à quatre so that everyone can be happy. But Maria gets upset and rushes into the snow-covered street outside a neon-lit cinema. Richard 40 follows and tells her that he still loves her. Inside, Irène sings `Could It Be Magic' at the piano, as Maria's other lovers listen wistfully. As the Barry Manilow version plays on the soundtrack, Irène dances with both Richards, while the toddler who never came to be waddles out of the bar door into the cold night and flames rise inside the Mortemart-Warrimer apartment.


Drying her hair after a shower, Maria sees the two Richards asleep with Irène on the bed. She locks the door and leaves Room 212, only to bump into Richard 40 on the street. He is relieved that they have slept so close together and offers to buy her breakfast. Shrugging when she says she has a class, he jokes about the night they have just spent and hopes she can come home later. Suppressing a smile, Maria admits to being free tonight and the film ends on a freeze frame of her walking towards the camera, while gazing off to her left.


Perhaps because she is the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni has never quite been given her due. She is a fine actress and holds this ambitious screwball fantasy together with a deceptive sang froid that leaves the audience guessing as to how much Maria has actually changed after her long dreamy night of the soul. Camille Cottin also impresses as the younger Irène, who is never challenged for having seduced an adolescent boy and who somehow seems oblivious to how her life turned out, while Vincent Lacoste's Richard seems to know precisely what's going on in the shattered existence of Benjamin Biolay (who just happens to be an old flame of Mastroianni's to add to the knowing sense of self-reflexivity).


Such glitches in plot logic can be allowed to slide, however, as Honoré invites viewers to go with the serpentine flow, while also reminding them that he is in good company in following such flights of fancy by namechecking the likes of Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Bertrand Blier, Vera Chytilova, Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Sacha Guitry, Leo McCarey, Gaël Morel and Philip Roth. Echoes can certainly be heard of Story of a Cheat (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Apple Game (1976), Get Our Your Handkerchiefs (1978) and Midnight in Paris (2011). But this isn't a smug exercise in cineaste point scoring, as Honoré explores issues of memory, attraction, desire, freedom, fidelity and feminism with wit and insight.


The odd directorial gambit creaks, such as the switch to moody monochrome and periodic the top shots that highlight the constructed nature of the hotel room sets. But production designer Stéphane Taillasson and cinematographer Rémy Chevrin make solid contributions to a blithely spirited feature that sees nothing wrong in occasionally allowing the action to seem as theatrical as it is magical and entirely cinematic.


THE WRETCHED.


Brothers Brett and Drew T. Pierce will forever be grateful to the coronavirus pandemic, as it decimated the cinema release schedule and enabled them to top the US box-office charts for six weeks with their sophomore feature, The Wretched. This puts them in august company, as the only five films to have matched this feat in the last quarter of a century are James Cameron's Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) and Ryan Coogler's Black Panther (2018).


It's likely that only genre aficionados will have caught the Pierce Brothers's debut, Deadheads (2011), which centred on a pair of zombie slackers and an engagement ring. But this tale of malevolent tree spirits has become a cult phenomenon. By being closer in tone to Dan Milner's From Hell It Came (1957) and William Friedkin's The Guardian (1990) than, say, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), it may be nowhere near the same calibre as its chart-topping predecessors. But, with its surfeit of knowing genre references, it might just remind those still in lockdown that there are drawbacks to the great outdoors.


Back in 1985, Megan (Sydne Mikelle) is horribly murdered when she goes to babysit at the Gambel house. The camera picks up a strange symbol on the door before a caption transports us to five days ago, as Ben Shaw (John-Paul Howard) travels by train to the marina where his father, Liam (Jamison Jones), works. Sporting a plaster cast after breaking his left arm while leaping from an upper window after being caught stealing drugs, Ben is reluctant to talk to Liam, who has not allowed divorce proceedings to prevent him from hooking up with Sara (Azie Tesfai). While Ben develops an instant dislike for her, he takes an immediate shine to both co-worker, Mallory (Piper Curda), and JJ (Gabriela Quezada Bloomgarden), who is part of the rich clique that hangs around with Gage (Richard Ellis).


Ben is also taken by Dillon (Blane Crockarell), the young son of Abbie (Zarah Mahler) and Ty (Kevin Bigley), who are living next door in the old Gambel house. Having been spooked by hearing his mother's voice coming from a tree during a walk in the woods, Dillon is scared by something moving in the crawl space beneath the house. He is even more alarmed when Abbie begins behaving oddly after their infant son is snatched by the sinister creature that had emerged from the belly of a deer that Abbie had killed with her car.


When Dillon also disappears and both Abbie and Ty (who are respectively having problems with decaying flesh and bleeding ears) deny having any children, Ben begins to suspect that something is amiss. Because of his track record with drugs, however, Liam is reluctant to believe him and only Mallory takes his claims seriously after he finds a Witchipedia entry about `a dark mother, born from root, rock and tree that feasts on the forgotten'. Yet, she seems curiously unconcerned when he informs her that the witch steals children and that he has found a photo in Abbie's basement of Mallory's younger sister, Lily (Ja'layah Washington).


Unfortunately, Ben is powerless to prevent Abbie from snatching Lily and taking her into the woods. But he notices that any flowers in Sara's vicinity wither and die and becomes convinced that she has also been possessed by the witch. Sara tries to attack him and tells Liam that Ben slashed her arm with a knife in an unprovoked assault that results in him being arrested by Officer Guthrie (Ross Kidder). As he is being bundled into the squad car, Ben pleads with Liam to check Abbie's cellar and he is mooching around when Sara lunges at him. He sees the spirit possessing her squirming around in her neck, but he is spared when Ben (who has survived an attempt to drown him by Guthrie) arrives in the nick of time with the cop's gun to shoot Sara in the back.


As the witch starts to tear its way through Sara's abdomen, Ben drags Liam to the car. Something makes him pause as he looks towards his father's burnng house, however, and he recalls the hag's ability to make people forget about children close to them. Moreover, he remembers that he had travelled to the resort with his younger brother, Nathan (Judah Abner Paul), and a brief flashback montage reveals the scenes in which the forgotten boy had appeared outside Ben's corrupted perspective.


He dashes into wood and arrives at the cursed tree as Mallory shows up looking for Lily. While she stands guard with orders to burn the tree if he doesn't return in 10 minutes, Ben ventures underground and fights off the witch to rescue Nathan and Lily, who have been encased in branches. However, it takes Liam driving at full speed to crush the bullet-riddled witch against the trunk when she tries to drag Ben back into her lair.


While the Shaw family packs to leave, Mallory visits a counsellor and denies knowing why Lily mentioned the need to torch a tree in the woods. Ben seeks her out for a goodbye kiss and she plants a flower behind his ear. As the car pulls away, however, he realises that it's a plastic bloom and we are left to wonder if Mallory has been possessed as the closing image of her staring directly into the camera cuts to black.


There's not a lot to say about this proficient, but scare-free chiller. Opting not to explain, the Pierces inflict the witch upon an ill-defined community of locals and holidaymakers and expect the audience to jump when jolted. But genuinely immersive horror requires a little more backstory to make us care about the hero and dread his nemesis. John-Paul Howard does well enough as the incommoded stranger in town, but Piper Curda makes more of an impression as the girl next door who seems too good to be true. Everyone else is merely a pawn to be moved according to the dictates of the plot, although Zarah Mahler and Azie Tesfai do a nice line in deadpan menace.


Shooting on the north-east bank of Lake Michigan, Conor Murpy's low-angle photography is as unsettling as Mars Feehery's production design, Devin Burrows's score and the CGI work used to show the ravages wrought on Abbie and Sara's bodies, Moreover, the Pierces stud the action with nods towards such genre staples as Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), Tom Holland's Fright Night (1985), Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys (1987), Tommy Lee Wallace's 1990 and Andrés Muschietti's 2017 adaptations of Stephen King's It, JJ Abrams Super 8 (2011) and Matt and Ross Duffer's Netflix series, Stranger Things (2016-).


That said, the co-directors have much for which to thank their father, Bart Pierce, who worked on the visual effects for Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981) and who was able persuade veteran make-up artist Erik Porn to transform Madelynn Stuenkel into the title character. The brothers insist their inspiration came from Quentin Blake's illustrations for Roald Dahl's The Witches, which was memorably filmed in 1990 by Nicolas Roeg, which was the last film on which Muppet creator Jim Henson worked. But there's also a similarity with the eponymous critter in effects make-up titan Stan Winston's directorial debut, Pumpkinhead (1988).


THE FANATIC


It's one of the saddest facts of recent Hollywood history that John Travolta keeps finding increasingly terrible scripts. Perhaps he cut a Mephistophelian deal prior to making John Badham's Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Randal Kleiser's Grease (1978) that his overnight superstardom would come at a dreadful price that included Kevin Connolly's Gotti and John Scurfield's Speed Kills (both 2018).


He famously bounced back after Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) restored his aura of cool. But it's going to take something pretty special to recover from Fred Durst's The Fanatic. Indeed, one can only hope that this proves to be the nadir of Travolta's career, as anything worse than the Limp Bizkit frontman's third feature after The Education of Charlie Banks (2007) and The Longshots (2008) would be too awful to contemplate.


As paparazza Leah (Ana Golja) announces in voiceover that Los Angeles is `the City of Bullshitters' that sucks the life out of its victims, we see Moose (John Travolta) tooling around town on a moped. He is a massive fan of action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) and is overjoyed when comic-book store owner Aaron (Josh Richman) gives him a special deal on a waistcoat that Dunbar wore in one of his favourite movies. The mullet-haired Moose is also excited that Leah is going to smuggle him into a showbiz party so that he can get his idol's autograph. But Dunbar fails to show and Moose is ejected while making awkward small talk with an actress named Amanda (Denny Mendez).


Leah is furious with Moose for causing a scene and threatens to stop helping him gain access to exclusive events. But no one can stay mad with Moose for long, as he has a learning disability and is so passionate about cinema that he works as an English bobby on Hollywood Boulevard. Such is his respect for the heart of Movieland that he despairs of street magician friend Todd (Jacob Grodnik) for working with a pickpocket called Slim (James Paxton). However, Moose struggles to read social situations and he gets into a panic when Dunbar leaves him at the head of a queue at a book signing to have an argument with his ex-wife, Brenda (Jessica Uberuaga) and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he finds his adoration irksome.


Desperate to prove that he's a good guy, Moose writes Dunbar a letter asking him to treat his fans with more courtesy, as he would be nothing without them. However, when Leah shows him an app that includes a map of movie star homes, Moose decides to make his appeal in person. But Dunbar is even more obnoxious and scrawls on Moose's shirt when he asks for an autograph. Deeply hurt by his hero's incivility, Moose takes note when Dick the washroom attendant (Kenneth Farmer) urges him to stand up for himself when he sees him being teased by Todd and Slim.


When he returns to Dunbar's house, however, he succeeds only in accidentally killing Dora the maid (Marta Gonzalez Rodin) when she hits her head on a stone bird bath after they get into a struggle over a letter that Moose has left for her boss. Rather than panic, he wanders into the house and takes selfies and even uses Dunbar's toothbrush, as he takes a private tour. He finds a video camera and watches footage of Dunbar and Brenda, while she was pregnant with their son, Danny (Dominic Salvatore).


Unfortunately, he dozes off and has to hide in a wardrobe, while Dunbar searches for a jacket. He also has to hide under Danny's bed, as father and son say goodnight. But, because he knows that Dunbar takes sleeping tablets, Moose is able to wait until he drops off in his chair and sit next to him so it appears as though they are watching TV together. A monochrome flashback shows a young Moose (Saul Green) watching George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) on television, while his mother canoodles with her latest beau.


Waking the next morning, Moose scuttles out of the house. However, Dunbar spots him on the road (as he is treating Danny to Limp Bizkit's `The Truth') and bellows that he won't be held responsible for his actions if he catches Moose anywhere near his property again. Moose starts to shuffle away, but turns to shout defiantly that he is not a stalker and the screen is filled with a bizarre digitised chalk drawing of Moose in his PC outfit holding the letter for Dunbar, while a second image of Moose in one of his colourful shirts recreates the chokehold he had inflicted upon Todd when he asked him to pick some pockets to feed his drug habit).


After returning to his apartment to make a bonfire of his memorabilia and defriend Leah from his social media for reprimanding him for posting images taken inside Dunbar's home, Moose breaks in once more and ties his hero to the bed while he's under the influence of his sleeping pills. But he allows Dubar to sweet talk him with promises of autographs and movie nights with strawberry ice cream. No sooner has he got his hands free, however, than Dunbar grabs a gun and blasts the tips off Moose's fingers. Having cut himself free with a machete, he shoots him in the legs and stabs him in the eye before suddenly taking pity on him and helping him to the door after bandaging his hand.


Staggering along the Walk of Fame, Moose is mistaken for an actor in costume by a pair of Hispanic tourists, who insist on him posing for a photo. Leah finds him by Louise Fletcher's star and confides in voiceover that Moose eventually came to regard losing his hand and his eye as a badge of honour. Across town, Dunbar is identified as Dora's killer by his gardener and bundled into the back of a squad car. But Leah implies that he is one of life's survivors, as she admits to being less optimistic about the fate of the wider world.


It's hard not to feel desperately sorry for John Travolta in this shamefully inept melodrama, as he is trying so hard to give a meaningful performance. He obviously empathises with Moose and wants the audience to care for him as a maligned man-child. Yet, all he has at his disposal to convey the different ableness that lands Moose in so much unintentional trouble are some clichéd, not to say offensive tics that become more egregious as the plot contrivances pile higher and deeper. Rarely has a star's technique been so cruelly exposed by his misguided efforts to do justice to material that is so far beneath him.


Clearly Bill Kenwright must have money to burn since Farhad Moshiri took over Everton, as the investment he made in this detestable atrocity would once have been funnelled into helping Carlo Ancelotti rebuild the squad so haphazardly assembled by his clueless predecessor or patching up Goodison Park until the new stadium is built at Bramley-Moore Dock. In truth, while the former Coronation Street actor has something of a Midas Touch in the West End, his cinematic track record over 14 features since taking an exec credit on Lewis Gilbert's Stepping Out (1991) is pretty patchy. Maybe Jules Williamson's forthcoming InterRailing comedy, Off the Rails, will reverse the trend.


As for Fred Durst, his direction is hubristically competent, as he allows Devon Sawa to revel in Dunbar's repulsiveness. The script concocted with first-timer Dave Bekerman, however, is a lazy knock-off of both Ed Bianchi's The Fan (1981) and Tony Scott's The Fan (1996), with a hint of Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983) and a dollop of Rob Reiner's adaptation of Steven King's Misery (1990) tossed in for good measure. This earned Kathy Bates the Academy Award for Best Actress. But Travolta (who was dually cited for his work in Karzan Kader's Trading Point) wound up adding a second Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor to the one he had won for Roger Christian's Battlefield Earth and Nora Ephron's Lucky Numbers (both 2000). Tom Hooper's Cats spared Durst's blushes in the Worst Picture and Director categories. He was robbed.


CINEMA REX.


The festival circuit has struggled to adapt to lockdown, as so many producers and distributors have opted to mothball movies until they can be premiered on the big screen. Some events have managed to achieve a web presence, however, among them the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. We only have one title to review, but Mayan Engelman and Eliran Peled's Cinema Rex is well worth seeking out.


There's great excitement in the divided city of Jerusalem in 1938, as the Rex Cinema is about to open its doors to show films to both Arab and Jewish patrons. Ten year-old Mouise is going to get the best seat in the house, as his father is the projectionist. He is intrigued by the snipped frames in the litter bin, as they all seem to depict people kissing. But he is drawn away by the delicious smell of popcorn and greedily follows a line of spilt pieces on the plush carpet.


Much to his surprise, he discovers that the dropped carton belongs to Ranin, who is trying to sneak into the cinema under the skirts of a woman queuing at the box office. Mouise invites her to the projection booth and tucks into the popcorn, as the show begins. Such is their enchantment that Mouise and Ranin imagine themselves galloping through Sherwood Forest in a Robin Hood adventure before their colour drains and they get hit in the face with custard pies while sitting in the back of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's car.


A return to colour sees them in an outsize tuxedo and ballgown, as they land in the middle of a high society musical. But their next destinations are confined to single frames, as they find themselves in the Wild West, Tarzan's jungle and Dracula's castle. Mouise sprouts a white beard before they find a treasure trove and fly in a biplane before the wide-eyed twosome return to earth with a bump and the screen stops flickering.


Mouise's father ushers the pair on to the staircase, where Ranin is reunited with her mother. She is scolded for running away and told not to visit the cinema again. But the Rex has worked its magic and the new friends break away from their parents to shake hands joyously and reveal their names. They will never forget the afternoon that the movies allowed them to escape from the confused, conflicted reality of their daily lives.


Opened in British Mandated Palestine on what was then called Princess Mary Street in West Jerusalem, the Rex Cinema was an ambitious enterprise designed by its Jewish and Arab co-owners to bring citizens of all backgrounds together. However, on 29 May 1939, during the screening of a Tarzan film, five Arabs were killed and a further 18 were injured when the Zionist terrorist group, Irgun, detonated a mine.


The words `To Be Continued...' at the end of the credit crawl reflects Engelman and Peled's hope to turn this seven-minute short into a full-length feature. Maybe they will focus on the atrocity that earned the Rex its unwanted place in history. Whatever their plans, let's hope this intrepid duo succeed, as this animated variation on Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988) had the wit, invention and charm to match its political common sense.


BABY MINE.


Inspired by true events, Nour Wazzi's Baby Mine has been produced with very definite motives in mind. `As a Lebanese female film-maker,' Wazzi has stated, `I wanted to tell a unique, thought-provoking story that had both a Middle Eastern character and a complex woman at its core. Steering the audience to become complicit in the vilification of a Middle Eastern man, we ask our viewers to confront their judgements and societal prejudices.' Given the current tensions, this short thriller dating from 2017, but only now streaming on the Omeleto.com platform is bound to spark debate.


As Etti (Grace Taylor) celebrates her birthday, mother Sarah (Rachael Stirling) insists that she takes her medicine. She leaves the room when the doctor calls and fails to see Etti slip outside to play on her giraffe scooter. The child is watched from a parked car by Soroush (Alexander Siddig). However, they are also being watched from the neighbouring flats by Mike (Alex Fearns), who has a crush on Sarah and offers to help her track down the daughter who has been abducted by her father.


While Mike locks on the GPS, Soroush stops to cut Etti's long hair before buying her something to eat. While he books berths on a ferry, Etti takes the pills she had earlier stuffed into her pocket and starts to feel queasy. Meanwhile, Mike tries to flirt with Sarah, who is solely interested in recovering her child and keeps cursing Soroush for being a bad father.


Breaking with tradition, we won't reveal the ending, as it's rather the point of the entire short. We shall also content ourselves with saying that Wazzi and screenwriter Ellie Emptage do everything in their power to manipulate audience expectation in order to make the reveal all the more devastating. Some will be drawn in by their polished precision, others will be frustrated by the means-to-an-end calculation. Either way, there's no denying the excellence of the performances, which, like Rina Yang's evocative photography and Vee Pinot's crisp editing, are tailored entirely to sustain the conceit.


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