Parky At the Pictures (22/9/2023)
Updated: Sep 24
(Reviews of R.M.N.; Bolan's Shoes; AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T.Rex; Massimo Troisi: Somebody Down There Like Me; The Canterville Ghost; Cats of Malta; and A Cat Called Dom)
The leading light of the Romanian New Wave, Cristian Mungiu has consistently sought innovative ways to assess the changing state of his nation. In addition to winning the Palme d'or with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and the Best Director prize with Graduation (2016), he has also exposed Romanian reaction to a raft of social issues in Occident (2002), Tales From the Golden Age (2009), and Beyond the Hills (2012).
Taking its title from the country's internationally recognised abbreviation and the letters of `rezonanta magnetica nucleara' (`magnetic resonance imaging' or MRI), R.M.N. is based on events that took place in the village of Ditrau in January 2020. Shot in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, this unflinching drama provides a typically disconcerting insight into attitudes towards race, class, gender, and age that are not confined to the fictional Transylvanian enclave in which it's set.
Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, and Roma live in the town of Recia (which is known as Récfalva in Hungarian). They just about get along, but it doesn't take much for tensions to rise. Even while working in a slaughterhouse in Germany, Matthias (Marin Grigore) is sufficiently short-fused to nut his supervisor, although he did call him `a lazy Gypsy'.
As he heads home, eight year-old son Rudi (Mark Blenyesi) sees something in the woods to make him stop speaking. Meanwhile, bakery manager Csilla Szabo (Judith State) consults boss Viktoria Dénes (Orsolya Moldován) about applying for EU funding and hiring foreign workers to fill posts that the locals consider too menial and poorly paid to accept. Csilla plays cello in a chamber orchestra that practices in the church tended by sheep farmer Papa Otto (Andrei Finti), whose health is failing him.
Arriving home with only the clothes on his back, Matthias is given a cool welcome by wife Ana (Macrina Bârladeanu), who resents his accusations of coddling Rudi by letting him share her bed. He tells Csilla that he's back for Christmas and promises to think about a job at the bakery. They had been lovers before his departure and her marriage to a Hungarian had subsequently broken down. But she has since renovated her childhood home and is now on an even keel.
Matthias is concerned for Papa Otto, who has clearly been a mentor, and he asks Doctor Szántai (Miklos Bacs) to help him. But he says too many people are away working for him to find a carer. While Matthias slaughters a black-spotted pig for a neighbour, Csilla rehearses Umebayashi Shigeru's `Yumeji's Theme' from Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood For Love (2000). She turns him away when he comes to the house and refuses his offer of pork because she's become a vegetarian. He asks how she intends spending Christmas and feels it's sad that she'll be alone watching films with her dog, Kaiser.
Next morning, Matthias walks Rudi to school and tries to reassure him by scaring off a bear in the woods with his shotgun. At the bakery, Csilla welcomes Sri Lankans Mahinda (Amitha Jayasinghe) and Alick (Gihan Edirisinghe), while the children perform in a festive concert at the school. Rather than head home, however, Matthias takes Rudi into the woods to teach him survivalist techniques. Explaining that Papa Otto's people had come from Luxembourg 700 years ago, he rows across the lake to an island to show Rudi how to boil water that has been tainted by the nearby mine. But the chief and unabashedly toxic lesson imparted is: `You have to not feel pity. Those who feel pity die first; I want you to die last.'
Ana isn't impressed and argues with Matthias after Rudi has gone to bed. She insists on raising the boy in her own way, even though Matthias loathes the idea of him learning to crochet. He threatens to kill her if she comes between them before skulking off to see Csilla, who reluctantly lets him in and allows his hand to caress her back.
On Christmas morning, Csilla gives the Sri Lankans a tour of the factory before dropping them at their lodgings. She's invited in for lunch by Matthias's in-laws and meets Ben (Victor Benderra), a Frenchman who has come to count the number of bears in the forest. Ana, and Rudi are also at table, but Matthias doesn't linger, as he wants to check on Papa Otto. He finds him slumped and calls someone with a truck to take him to hospital in the nearest town. Following behind on a motorbike, Matthias looks at the MRI scans that have been sent to his phone and he calls Csilla to cancel supper plans (although she has already cooked).
She is at the town dance when Matthias gets back and he sees her bopping with Ben. He chats to some pals who are unhappy with the Sri Lankans for taking jobs and the Roma for growing in number. When Csilla leaves, however, he follows her and they go to bed. Lying naked, she asks if he loves her and teaches him to say it in Hungarian. Mumbling sleepily, Matthias accepts that Csilla doesn't love him, but still tries to persuade her into letting him stay. Instead, she talks him into doing her a favour next day and he rides off to collect Rauff (Nuwan Karunarathna) from the station.
Viktoria reads the negative comments left on the community chat site that accuse the new arrivals of bringing disease and plotting to immigrate en masse into Recia. Ben sees an example of the regional xenophobia, when he films a parade calling for autonomy for Dacia and Matthias explains to him that people dress as bears to channel the spirit of the beast. There's more violence at an ice hockey game against a local rival, which contrasts with the serenity of the concert that Csilla plays in the church to a small audience.
On New Year's Eve, Ana gets into a panic because Rudi is missing. Matthias finds him in the woods where they set a trap and gives him a stick so he can chase away the fox feeding on the corpse. But the locals want the Sri Lankans driven away and they receive threatening texts. When they try to attend mass, they are ushered out of the church and the members of the congregation argue with the priest (József Bíró) about whether God's children should be treated equally. He points out that they dislike the discrimination they face while working abroad and should empathise with guest-workers not denounce them. They forcibly disagree and chastise the cleric for not protecting his flock from interlopers who are ruining the bread and from the Roma who want to steal their land.
Deputised to speak to Viktoria, the priest suggests that she could save herself a lot of bother by letting the Sri Lankans go. But she refuses and the townsfolk draw up a petition demanding their removal. Csilla reassures the trio that everything is okay and learns a few words to speak to Mahinda's wife on the phone. They invite her to supper and they are playing tunes on wine glasses when a flaming torch is thrown through the window of their cottage and Csilla threatens to call the police claiming to recognise the hooded assailants. The landlord asks them to leave because his wife has a heart condition and Csilla borrows a minibus to take them to her place. Rauff is missing, however, and Csilla takes a dim view of Matthias turning up on her doorstep to express his disapproval of her sleeping in the same house as foreigners. Suggesting he puts his own affairs in order, Csilla reminds him that they are casual lovers rather than an item and, therefore, he doesn't get to tell her what to do.
The village looks picturesque at the foot of a snow-covered mountain, but the atmosphere is poisonous. Bread deliveries are refused, while the police show little interest in investigating the attack or the online abuse. Undeterred, Viktoria tells Csilla to continue with the EU application and hire two more guest-workers. On hearing a town meeting has been called, Csilla tries to introduce Mahinda and Alick to the priest to show him they are decent men. He claims to be too busy and takes umbrage when she (as a non-churchgoer) suggests he's being unchristian.
Csilla tries to find Matthias to apologise, but he's laying low after the police say they know about the incident in Germany and that he needs to watch his step. This doesn't stop him from jumping out on Ana and Rudi on the forest path and denying the boy's assertion that he saw a body. When he comes to the town meeting, however, he insists on Csilla holding his hand and reassures her that he hasn't signed the petition.
Forced to move from the church to the cultural centre because so many people want to attend, the forum begins noisily with the mayor (András Hatházi) pointing out that, beside a murder and a showdown with the Roma, there hasn't been any ethnic tension between the Romanians and Hungarians for decades. When the floor is thrown open for contributions, the prejudice against the Sri Lankans is readily evident. But Ben also comes under fire because he's an ecologist and it was a green initiative that led to the mine being closed. Someone suggests he counts bears in his own country instead of treating Romania like a zoo. Another sniffs at the number of Blacks and Arabs in Paris and voice pipes up that it serves them right for wanting colonies in the first place. When he states that people have a right to work and that there are lots of their compatriots in France, he's mockingly called Mr Egalité-Fraternité and reminded that Romanians and Hungarians are not the same and that anyone begging on the streets must be Roma. A speaker suggests France has learnt nothing from the Charlie Hebdo incident and that its citizens deserve to have their throats slit.
At this juncture, the mayor suggests focussing on the issue at hand and he's denounced for acting like a Communist. A woman pipes up that everyone knows foreigners like the Sri Lankans will bring their families and soon they'll be everywhere, demanding mosques and exclusion zones. She reckons it won't be long before women will be attacked for not wearing the veil. The doctor then avers that they have different immune systems and blames the spread of AIDS and bird flu on migrants. Viktoria insists that the Sri Lankans were fully tested and tries to restate that they are not Muslims. But she's shouted down and Vasile Brebu (Gheorghe Ifrim) stands to point out that guest-workers are exploited wherever they go and that the bakery takes EU handouts while refusing to pay a living wage.
When Viktoria defends her methods, she's denounced for driving a Mercedes while working people struggle to make ends meet. She snaps back that they would rather take the dole than work and Brebu demands the back-payment of overtime from his days at the bakery. The priest tries to intervene, only for a female voice to note that he also has a Mercedes and he is derided when he retorts that it is secondhand and belongs to his mother. Viktoria offers to give the Sri Lankans gloves or move them away from the dough, but the meeting votes to boycott the bakery. Matthias finds himself caught between wanting to please Csilla and saving face with his neighbours. But a fight breaks out when a Romanian takes exception to the Hungarian minority trying to dictate how things are run.
The scuffle stops abruptly and an appalled silence descends when someone rushes in to inform Matthias that Papa Otto has hanged himself. As the church bell tolls, the entire meeting follows Matthias up the slippery hill into the woods. He cuts Papa Otto down from a tree branch and, as he carries him over his shoulder, Rudi clings to his father's leg and tells him that he loves him.
Back at the bakery, Viktoria tells Csilla to cancel the EU application and redraft it to the Under 30 employees category. Fearing that the Sri Lankans will be left high and dry, Csilla refuses and Viktoria criticises her for having principles while leaving her with debts. She insists they will be moved on to work in other places. But Csilla announces her decision to accept a job offer in Germany and Viktoria accuses her of stabbing her in the back.
Ignoring Matthias's calls, Csilla sees the Sri Lankans to a safe haven and sends Ben to return the shotgun that Matthias had left at her home. He is keeping vigil with Papa Otto, but takes the weapon and heads home to find that Ana and Rudi have moved out. He tracks them down to her parents' house, but they refuse to let him in. Thinking he sees Rauff, Matthias goes to see Csilla. She is playing the cello and apologies to him, as she backs into the garden. Suddenly, he shoots twice at what might be a bear lurking in the darkness. As he turns back towards the house, he can hear music, but looks bewildered by what is going on.
He's not alone, as the denouement is puzzling in the extreme, as it seems to flaunt the loose ends relating to the missing Sri Lankan, the sight that scared Rudi (and why he was suddenly able to speak again), and Matthias's relationships with Ana and Csilla. But who said that life should ever be anything other than nasty, brutish, and short?
It's certainly the case in Recia, as Mungiu launches several broadsides at the insularity and infighting that divides a community seemingly hell-bent on its own destruction (while blaming someone else). At times, the setting and ambience recall Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk's Pamfir (2022), in which another prodigal son finds himself out of his depth after discovering that much has changed in his absence. But there was nothing in that provocative picture to match the town meeting, which was photographed as a bravura 17-minute long take with a static camera and involved 26 speakers. The staging is audacious, with Matthias, Csilla, and Viktoria being nearest the lens, while it all kicks off behind them, as mostly nameless individuals rise to reinforce baseless stereotypes, spew racist bile, or just plain rabblerouse.
There are occasional moments of Loachian melodrama, while Otto's tumour and Rudi's vocal recovery feel atypically clumsy. The conclusion also seems unnecessarily obfuscatory. But Mungui maintains a satirical rigour, as he pokes into every crevice of a fracturing society. Even the Lutheran, Orthodox, and Catholic churches contribute to the simmering sense of disharmony and disintegration.
Marin Grigore plays Matthias as a lumpen proletarian whose many faults can't quite obscure his affection for Papa Otto and Rudi and his determination to do his best for them, within reasonable limits. But he's clearly a chauvinist who is too insecure to express his emotions in anything other than boorish clichés. His `romance' with Judith State's Csilla doesn't quite ring true, as she is so much his social and intellectual superior.
Yet she recognises his decency and evidently finds him physically attractive, even though they barely connect on other levels. Her relationship with Orsolya Moldován's boss is more intriguing, especially when she comes to question her modus operandi. The dinner sequence with the Sri Lankans is also a delight, with the glass harp concert proving the ideal prelude to the shocking fire bomb.
Simona Paduretu's interiors adroitly contrast Csilla and Matthias's dwellings to emphasise their gulf in class and taste, while the switch from the cramped church to the community centre is wittily underlined by Tudor Vladimir Panduru's widescreen imagery. He also ensures that the forbidding natural beauty of the landscape (around the onetime UNESCO heritage site of Rimetea) provides a symbolic backdrop to the unnatural bigotry of the residents. And more than just for novelty, Mungiu has gone for colour-coded subtitles to guide outsiders through the Babelesque babble, with white being used for Romanian, yellow for Hungarian, and pink for everything else. A neat touch by a master in total control of his art, as he juggles the ambiguous, the incongruous, the dehumanising, the bitterly real, and the chillingly familiar.
A familiar face on British television for several decades, Welshman Ian Puleston-Davies is best known for playing Owen Armstrong in Coronation Street (2010-15). However, he has also turned his hand to writing, notably examining his obsessive compulsive disorder in Adrian Shergold's BAFTA-nominated Dirty Love (2004). Now, the 65 year-old makes his debut as a writer-director with Bolan's Shoes, which reaches cinemas around the same time as Ethan Silverman's documentary, AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T.Rex.
Back in the 1970s, a group from a Liverpool children's home travels by bus to a T.Rex concert in Manchester. Sadie (Amelia Rose Smith) is worried by the fact her taciturn older brother, Jimmy (Isaac Lancel-Watkinson), is being bullied and supervisor Simon (Louis Emerick) has to intervene. Like many of the kids, he's sporting glitter and warns everyone to behave and enjoy the show. The vicar, Rev Farley (Andrew Lancel) accompanying the party has arranged for the youngsters to meet Marc Bolan backstage after the gig. As they shuffle excitedly up the stairs, his daughter, Penny (Eden Beach), notices some platform shoes that have been left in a neat row.
On the way home, Simon leads a rousing rendition of `Children of the Revolution' and suggests a chippy stop. Penny urges Sadie to keep her voice down, as she curses the bullies taunting Jimmy. But Tommo (Alfie Donnahey) pressures him into setting off a firework and the distracted driver swerves to avoid an oncoming car on a dark country road.
Fast forwarding to 2012, Penny (Leanne Best) now runs an Angelsey cake shop and is married to vicar, Geraint (Mark Lewis Jones). She celebrates Bolan's birthday each year by releasing a pair of doves over the sea with her friend, Steffan (Dyfan Dwyfor). But the event falls flat when one drops out of the sky. Undaunted, however, Penny and Steffan set off next morning for a pilgrimage to Barnes in London, where Bolan was killed in a car crash at the age of 29 on 16 September 1977.
Sitting beside the tree with other fans, Penny and Steffan notice a dishevelled man mooching around. He suddenly starts producing enormous soap bubbles from a bucket and this triggers a flashback to when Penny was blowing bubbles in the playground while Sadie was putting eye make-up on Jimmy and they were discussing what they wanted to be when they grew up. Sadie didn't reveal a chosen profession, as she was just concerned with being someone different and better than her current self.
Jolting back into the present, Penny is dismayed to see the bubble man fall to the floor with an epileptic fit. She remains quiet on the journey home and takes to her bed for several days before emerging for a church event. She sits with a trio of wives gossiping in Welsh, who patronise her when she knows that Everton play at Goodison Park. One of the women detects a hint of Scouse in Penny's accent, but she denies it and scurries off to the bathroom. Trying to compose herself, she practices a posh accent in front of the mirror, only to lurch forwards and headbutt the glass. While Geraint knocks on the door, Penny clambers through a window and takes the train down to London.
Sitting beside the Bolan shrine, Penny feels at ease and leaves something pinned to the tribute board. She takes a room in a B&B and buys some new clothes and dye to colour her newly cut hair. When a package is left for her at reception, she meets up with Jimmy (Timothy Spall) at his caravan in the woods and he instantly recognises her as his sister. They chat in a café, as she asks about his friends. At the Bolan tree, he reveals he has a combination of schizophrenia and a bipolar disorder and explains that he was diagnosed in Bristol (`Lovely city, shame about the slaves.') after he'd been found thrashing around in a fountain convinced he was Cary Grant's illegitimate son.
That night, Jimmy is woken by the arrival of Jez (Matthew Horne) and his girlfriend, Zoe (Holli Dempsey). They demand beers for their friends and Jimmy is meekly following orders when Penny/Sadie gets back and throws them out. After they leave, Jimmy blames himself for Penny and the bus driver being killed and curses the fact that a 13 year-old had needed his 10 year-old sister to look out for him. He still feels guilty and Sadie suggests that they return to Liverpool to make their peace.
On the banks of the Mersey, Sadie tells Jimmy that she took on Penny's identity when she ran away from the home and needs to go back to Wales to confess to Geraint. Jimmy feels bad that she couldn't have children as a result of the crash and has been chasing the comforts they had dreamt of when they were kids. But they cheer up during a whistlestop tour of the waterfront and, accompanied by `20th Century Boy', take selfies beside the statue of The Beatles. They also visit Penny's grave, where Sadie tucks her T.Rex ticket into the grass and Jimmy produces a toothbrush to spruce up the lettering.
Arriving at the vicarage, Sadie shows Jimmy to his room, while she talks to Geraint. She reveals that Jimmy had been sent away for causing the accident and that she had been jailed for manslaughter after stabbing Tommo in the neck in self-defence in the dining hall. As she breaks down, Geraint admits that he had always sensed that there was something wrong, but hoped it would pass.
They are interrupted by the sound of the front door and Steffan joins Sadie and Geraint in searching for Jimmy. The police are called in, as darkness falls and the rain pours. Jimmy encounters his younger self on the headland and he lures him to the lighthouse and tries to persuade him to jump for making everyone's life a misery. Sadie arrives in time and stops Jimmy from falling, as he goes into a fit.
Geraint lives up to his calling and Sadie is relieved she can be herself. Jimmy moves into a caravan on the drive, where Bolan's shoes take pride of place. Taking Sadie at face value, Geraint is amused by her Scouse cursing while another vicar is visiting. He also drives the siblings to Liverpool for a glam tribute gig at Eric's and joins them as the band strikes up `20th Century Boy'.
Opening with a coach trip reminiscent of the one in Willy Russell's Our Day Out (1977), this heartfelt drama gets off to an interesting start. However, it begins to unravel once Penny does a flit from the snooty Welsh wives and revelations start tumbling out with an inevitability that's linked to Sadie's revelation that she'd like to be someone else in what the playground discussion about future prospects that seems clumsy as it plays out and feels cornier and more contrived as Sadie surrenders her secrets. This is a shame, as Leanne Best gives a fine performance as both Penny and Sadie, while Timothy Spall (who looks like Roy Wood's long-lost twin) mumbles affectingly through a thick beard and three decades of suppressed pain. Vaguely resembling Edmund Gwenn, Mark Lewis Jones is also effective as the cleric who practices what he preaches.
The Bolan thread just about survives intact, although it becomes strained when Jimmy declares at the Pier Head that T.Rex is all he has left to believe in. But the music (which comes exclusively from Bolan's post-1971 heyday) is cannily, if sparingly used, particularly during the Liverpudlian walkabout, which is neatly photographed by Richard Swingle and edited by Abi Wright.
Revealing his thesping roots in direction that focusses more on performance than imagery, Ian Puleston-Davies tells his tale with thoughtfulness and sincerity. His script is patchy, however, and needed much more evidence of Tommo's tyranny to make the whoppingly melodramatic twist seem vaguely plausible, even after Matthew Horne's showy cameo. Nevertheless, while this isn't strictly a jukebox musical, it explores nostalgia and lingering fan worship with more acuity and restraint than Jules Williamson's Off the Rails (2021) and Coky Giedroyc's Greatest Days (2023), which respectively showcased the songs of Blondie and Take That.
ANGELHEADED HIPSTER: THE SONGS OF MARC BOLAN & T.REX.
Ringo Starr directed the first documentary about Marc Bolan. Since Born to Boogie (1972), fans have been able to wallow in Dandy in the Underworld (1997), Who Got Marc Bolan's Millions (2003), Marc Bolan: The Final Word (2007), The Making of Marc Bolan, Cosmic Dancer (both 2017), and Marc Bolan: Destined For Fame (2022). Adding to the list is Ethan Silverman's AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T. Rex, which contains biographical elements, but primarily focusses on the recording of an album of cover versions.
Billy Idol opens proceedings with an anecdote about Marc Bolan charming a hostile festival crowd in 1971, with a hint of punk attitude. From this we go to record producer Hal Willner talking U2's The Edge through the chords to `Get It On' before we see drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton laying down the rhythm track. Bono contributes the vocal, which he wants to sound spooky, as well as sexy.
Willner wants to recreate the vibe of a 1960s happening in drawing attention to the quality of Bolan's songwriting. Producer Bill Curbishley echoes this view in lamenting that Bolan never got to be as iconic as Jimi Hendrix. Elton John, David Bowie, Nena, and Ringo concur that Bolan was a pioneering superstar, with Bowie cursing that he had pipped him in bringing `glitter to the masses'. In archive interviews, Bolan claims that he exists to entertain those who were too young to see The Beatles, but is modest about his status.
Following footage of Bolan singing `Cosmic Dancer' at the Empire Pool, Wembley in 1972, Nick Cave performs a slowed-down version over photographs of Mark Feld's Hackney childhood and the birth of his son with Gloria Jones. Rolan. Cave claims Bolan was a better lyricist than Bowie, as he used language to create poetic images.
Moving on, Rolan takes on `Children of the Revolution' and looks through an album of Polaroids to show how his parents came together musically and romantically. We hear a snippet of Gloria Jones's arrangement of `Tainted Love' before Ringo claims that it's easy to tell a Bolan song before he sings because of his rhythm patterns.
Over a Top of the Pops performance of `Hot Love', The Edge reveals this was the first song he learned to play, while Richard Barone of The Bongos and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard recall the effect that he had on pop music in the early days of colour television. Publicist Alan Edwards muses on Bolan writing songs on the tube, while Elliott remembers being beaten up in Sheffield for liking Bolan and Bowie because they were not only artistic and theatrical, but were also unafraid to stand out and be themselves.
As a young girl, Beth Orton was intrigued by the way Bolan played with gender as power. A magazine writer avers he was unthreatening to young girls, but Bolan tells an interviewer that `20th Century Boy' was an example of `erection rock' because it was written for anyone who aspired to being a stud. Joan Jett is grateful to Bolan for helping her make the transition to being sexual and records `Jeepster' for the album. We see a news clip of two young female fans keeping vigil outside Bolan's London offices and their innocence contrasts to the knowing way in which he negotiates questions about his bisexuality by joking that he and David Bowie had made plans to get married.
Clips follow of the Thin White Duke playing `20th Century Boy' live and telling a TV audience about how he met Bolan while painting the office of their mutual manager when they were both still unknown wannabes. In another interview, Bowie thanks Bolan (who had briefly been a John Temple model before turning to music) for tipping him off about outfits being binned for small faults on Carnaby Street. Around this period, Bolan fronted John's Children and released singles influenced by Bob Dylan like `The Wizard' and `Hippy Gumbo'.
The latter is the song chosen by Beth Orton, who admires the freedom of Bolan's lyrics. Joe Elliott shows off the exercise book in which his 11 year-old self had hand copied every poem in Bolan's 1969 book of verses, The Warlock of Love. Ringo jokes that he enjoyed being Britain's bestselling poet as much as he did being top of the charts.
We slip back two years to John Peel doing a TV piece on Tyrannosaurus Rex, which paired Bolan with bongo player Steve Peregrine Took. Producer Tony Visconti remembers how he used to strike poses with his guitar as he lived out his Elvis fantasies. But he sat cross-legged while performing with Took on songs like `The Seal of Seasons' and `Scenescof', which is sung on the cover album by Devendra Banhart, who regarded it as a source of salvation in his San Franciscan past.
By the time Bolan recorded `By the Light of a Magical Moon', he had gone electric and replaced Took with Mickey Finn. Writer Robert Greenfield notes the importance of Finn doing more than just keeping time in a combo without a bass player, as we see Bolan playing `Suneye' in his bedroom and `The Children of Ram' on a small keyboard. Watched by wife June Child, he talks about being used by melody and how magical spirits turn stringed pieces of carpentry and metal pipes into glorious musical instruments.
Visconti describes how the twosome became T.Rex and hit No.2 in the autumn of 1970 with `Ride a White Swan'. For the album, Maria McKee segues into it from `She Was Born to Be My Unicorn' and she compares it to pieces of pumpkin and pecan pie moulding together in a Thanksgiving tupperware.
Meanwhile, Visconti recalls Bill Fifield being renamed Bill Legend after he drummed on `Hot Love' and T.Rex scored their first chart topper. Steve Currie joined on bass and this line-up is seen jamming on `Tutti Frutti' with Ringo and Elton at the Apple studio. Cutting away from a Russell Harty interview in which the audience support Bolan's contention that being a rock star is hard work, we descend on to a Brooklyn roof, where Snarky Puppy is recording `The Slider'. Leader Michael League note how funky the sound was and how varied Bolan's style could be. Visconti chips in by remembering how the tempo increased during recording without any prior planning.
In Chicago, The Orwells do their take on the same song before we hear `Mambo Sun' and are reminded of how fresh Bolan still sounds today because he took the rock legacy in a new direction. Ringo pops up to recall how Bolan had given him the idea for `Back Off Boogaloo' over dinner, while Cameron Crowe harks back to his days as a rock writer to reflect on hearing T.Rex and being baffled as to why they never cracked America.
Next up, Macy Gray takes a reggae run at `Children of the Revolution', with Rolan on backing vocals. He suggests her version could become an anthem for a new generation, while Gloria Jones reminisces about Bolan jamming with Bob Marley in an empty theatre in Manchester. She avers that he was happy to mix styles and we see a picture of Bolan with Paul and Linda McCartney before she tells a story of Bowie driving Bolan along Sunset Boulevard in a gold cadillac.
Father John Misty revisits `Main Man', while Crowe and photographer Neal Preston reflect on interviewing a champagne-sipping Bolan in the Beverly Wilshire. As we see a famous `nipple' picture, Crowe describes the wounded bravado Bolan adopted, as he resented his influence waning in the UK as imitators came to the fore and how he was still having to adopt the glam persona he wanted to jettison in the US.
Following the wonderful clip of Bolan and Cilla Black duetting on `Life's a Gas', Lucinda Williams has a crack at it. However, this is faded down so Bowie and Crowe can consider the distance that grew between the two friends as they competed for the same audience and column inches. While the media fawned over Bowie's supposed retirement in 1973, Bolan found himself opening for Three Dog Night in the States and Crowe opines that the jealousy ate into him.
Elton suggest that Bolan was too outré for American tastes and songs like `The Groover' seemed to seal his Stateside fate. Yet Bolan himself was excited about the next phase of his career and Jones remembers him experimenting with disco, as we see Børns recording `Dawn Storm'. For the first time, Bolan was being openly criticised and, as we hear `Soul of My Suit' over some psychedelic images, Jones recalls how disappointed he had been that the fans hadn't trusted him enough to follow his changes, while they had with Bowie.
His response was `Teenage Dream', which was promoted with lots of talk of Bolan becoming a film director. Instead, he made the TV series, Marc (1977), and we see him introducing The Jam performing `All Around the World'. His interest in punk coincided with his final album, Dandy in the Underworld, and we see him playing the title track. Off Bloom do `Solid Gold Easy Action', which they claim as a punk track. Rolan and Jones agree that Bolan deserved his `godfather of punk' moniker, as we see him introducing Generation X's `Your Generation'.
Bowie came on the last show to do `Heroes' on 7 September and Bolan famously fell off the stage as they jammed during the play-out track. Rolan says his father was obsessed with the James Dean notion of dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse, but he very much wanted to live. As John Cameron Mitchell sings `Diamond Meadow', we hear Bolan discussing karma and reincarnation and looking haunted when telling Russell Harty that he doesn't think he'll have a long life.
Bill Legend regrets that his bandmates are all gone. But Gloria Jones celebrates Bolan's love of children and we see pupils from the Marc Bolan School of Music in Sierra Leone providing long-distance backing vocals for Kesha's rendition of `Children of the Revolution'. They are the future and she is confident that Bolan and his music will be part of it, too. As the credits roll to `Cadillac' and `Rock On', a caption tells us that Rolan collected the award when his father was inducted into the Rock`n'Roll Hall of Fame.
Rather like Andrew Slater's Echo in the Canyon (2018), this is an earnest attempt by millennial musicians to pay tribute to their forebears. As with its Laurel Canyon predecessor, some of the arrangements have merit and/or interest. But the majority are self-indulgently pale imitations of Marc Bolan's originals and Ethan Silverman's reluctance to linger long with any of the artists rather betrays a realisation that the biographical aspect of his documentary is its saving grace.
Editors Alexander Frasse and Michael Taylor do a fine job of patchworking the archive clips, the talking-head interviews, and the studio footage. But, with the notable exception of Ringo Starr, Elton John, and the late David Bowie, few of the contributors come close to Bolan's charisma. As a result, there's a lot of platitudinous waffling about both the man and his music by singers overly keen to put their own stamp on a song rather than explore its innate and unique Bolanness.
Producer Hal Willner sadly died of Covid complications in 2020 and didn't get to see the finished film. But his selection of contributors proves to be one of its weaknesses. There's also a puzzling imbalance between American and European artists, with the British contingent being notable by its near absence. Were no UK bands influenced by T.Rex or were they too expensive or elusive? Or did the producers simply not look hard enough (which seems doubtful considering Bill Curbishley's status within the UK music scene)?
Many fans will be happy just to see their idol in his pomp, without any of that inconvenient footage of a corpulent Bolan struggling to cope with his mid-career slump. He was an extraordinary figure, whose social significance is every bit as important as his cultural legacy. Ultimately, the shrewder, less emotive, more attuned, and infinitely more versatile Bowie left a deeper impression. But Bolan showed in Born to Boogie that he did have options outside making teenyboppers squeal. It's such a tragedy that he never got the chance, although he did live two years longer than those in the 27 Club.
MASSIMO TROISI: SOMEBODY DOWN THERE LIKES ME.
The good people at CinemaItaliaUK are back for another season and they start in fine style with Mario Martone's documentary, Massimo Troisi: Somebody Down There Like Me. Best known in this country for Il postino (1994), Massimo Troisi was a ground-breaking comedian and cabaret star in his native Italy. However, a shadow hung over his tragically truncated career.
Troisi was born in San Giorgio a Cremano on 19 February 1953 and a Neapolitan spirit infused his work as a writer, actor, and director. Mario Martone compares his films to those of François Truffaut, as they had a similar freedom, humanism, and restless impulsiveness. Writer Francesco Piccolo considers him the Italian Antoine Doinel, as he grew in his films while always playing a variation of himself.
Martone enlists the help of Anna Pavignano, a Piedmontese writer who became Troisi's partner and writing collaborator. She jokes that she brought a northern feminist perspective to his work and Piccolo notes that Troisi sought to subvert the macho image perpetuated by such actors as Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman, and Ugo Tognazzi and celebrate the doughty independence of Italian women. Pavignano shows Martone the jottings they used to base screenplays on and plays him a tape of her psychoanalysing Troisi in a playful, but still revealing manner.
Heading to Naples, Martone visits Troisi's childhood homes and points out that he moved from a traditional working-class neighbourhood into modern flats. On leaving school, he started a small acting troupe with friends Enzo Decaro and Lello Arena and had their first show banned by the local priest. As he suffered from a weak heart, he travelled to New York for surgery on money raised by his neighbours. Returning to convalesce, Troisi added Pavignano to what was now called `I Saraceni'.
Goffredo Fofi was among the first to recognise that Troisi was a special talent and he soon came to the attention of Dario Fo, who introduced the redubbed La Smorfia for an early stage performance. We see clips from satirical cabaret sketch about the Archangel Gabriel going to the wrong house for the Annunciation. In an interview with Isabella Rossellini, Troisi explains that his Neapolitan background informs his worldview and his humour and how the 1980 earthquake had affected him.
In 1981, Troisi made his directorial debut with Ricomincio da tre/I'm Starting From Three, in which he played Gaetano, a Neapolitan who seeks to escape from the city's insularity by relocating to Florence, where he falls in love with Maria (Fiorenza Marchegiani). His partnership with Lello in the film reminded many of 1930s stars Eduardo and Peppino De Filippo, while he was hailed as the new Totò. However, he was reluctant to be compared to comics with enduring legacies.
Striking a chord at a time when Naples was going through a cultural renaissance, Ricomincio da tre was a box-office hit that set a record that still stands by running for 43 weeks. It was followed by the TV special, Moro Troisi, viva Troisi! (1982), in which Troisi pondered upon his delicate health. He also opened Scusate il ritardo/Sorry For the Delay (1983) with a funeral, as Vincenzo (Troisi) falls for Anna (Giuliana De Sio). Martone draws attention to the number of times that Troisi touches his eyebrow and a montage confirms that this became a career-long trait.
Director Paolo Sorrentino admits to being a huge fan and borrowing from Troisi in films like The Hand of God (2021). A clip appears of Troisi being interviewed with Diego Maradona, who was then playing for Napoli. Another snippets explores Troisi's friendship with musician Pino Daniele. Such was his willingness to collaborate that he journeyed far and wide. But fame never went to his head and Piccolo avers that the genius of his screen persona lies in his relatability and the fact he sets his characters such low expectations.
The Palermo duo of Salvo Ficarra and Valentino Picone also owe a debt to Troisi. They claim his artistic soul mirrored that of Charlie Chaplin, as they were both able to balance humour and drama without either feeling contrived. This is evident in Non ci resta che piangere/Nothing Left to Do But Cry (1984), which he wrote and directed with co-star Roberto Benigni. Following janitor Mario (Troisi) and teacher Saverio (Benigni) back to a Tuscan village in 1492, this time-travelling comedy bears little resemblance to the work either actor had previously made. But they backed each other's ideas, with their readiness to experiment forcing the other to up his game. In one scene, Mario tries to seduce a girl by singing her the Beatle song, `Yesterday', but the were also not above a bit of bawdy shtick.
By contrast, Le vie del Signore sono finite/The Ways of the Lord Are Over (1987) was set during the Fascist period and makes satirical use of the fact that Camillo (Troisi), a barber from Acquasalubre, hides the fact that he has been cured of the psychosomatic illness that had prevented him from walking. Pavignano recalls his pride in his direction of this dramedy. But, when Federico Chiacchiari and Demetrio Salvi published a book about him, Troisi laughed it off because he didn't feel worthy of academic assessment.
Pavignano and Martone listen to Troisi telling a childhood story about embarrassing his father by failing to jump a puddle. This is cross-cut to a scene from Ettore Scola's Splendor (1989), in which Troisi's parent was played by Marcello Mastroianni, with whom he would also team on Scola's Che ora è?/What Time Is It? (1989) and Il viaggio di Capitain Fracassa/Captain Fracassa's Journey (1990). Martone claims Scola as a father figure for Troisi, who won the Volpi Cup at Venice for the second of their collaborations. In a press conference, Scola states that Troisi wasn't a big fan of the Neapolitan temperament and felt that performers from Naples tended to overact. But Martone shrewdly indicates that, even while working for a noted auteur, Troisi retained his trademark blend of daydreaming, bashful inadequacy.
After a four-year gap, Troisi directed himself again in Pensavo fosse amore, invece era un calesse/I Thought It Was Love, But It Was a Barouche (1991), which charts the on-off relationship between restaurateur Tommaso (Troisi) and his jealous girlfriend, Cecilia (Francesca Neri). Ending with a wedding day truce that takes place away from the camera in an empty café, this treatise on love was followed by an even more exquisite disquisition, Il postino (1994).
Delaying transplant surgery because he couldn't envisage making the film with someone else's heart, Troisi asked Michael Radford to direct and cast Philippe Noiret as the exiled Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. They had an instinctive chemistry and, judging by the footage of them shooting a love scene, Troisi also clearly bonded with María Grazia Cucinotta as Beatrice. As editor Roberto Perpignani recalls, however, within 12 hours of the production wrapping, Troisi was dead at the age of 41.
He would never get to hear the Luis Enríque Bacalov score that would win an Academy Award or know he had been nominated for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. He had essentially given his life for the film and Martone closes on the rapt faces of those attending an outdoor screening in Rome. It's a nice way to end a profile of a man of the people and a poet of emotions who can still touch audiences of all ages and backgrounds three decades after his passing.
Genuinely affectionate rather than entirely analytical, this makes for a fine primer, although the talking-head contributions are patchy and Martone's rapport with Pavignano is curiously stiff and clumsily stage-managed considering they share a writing credit. More useful are the extracts from Troisi's writings, which are read by Pierfrancesco Favino, Silvio Orlando, and Toni Servillo.
British viewers will note how few of the films Troisi directed reached their screens compared to those he made for Scola and Radford. It's also frustrating how none of these films is readily available on disc or on streaming platforms. Perhaps this tribute will coax a distributor into action or persuade someone to mount a Troisi retrospective or a revival of Il postino to mark the 30th anniversary of his sad demise.
THE CANTERVILLE GHOST.
Written in two parts, Oscar Wilde's `The Canterville Ghost', first appeared in The Court and Society Review in the spring of 1887. The story was first adapted for the screen in Jules Dassin's The Canterville Ghost (1944), which teamed Charles Laughton and Margaret O'Brien, who would play the heroine again in 1950, opposite Cecil Parker, in an episode of Robert Montgomery Presents. Numerous small-screen productions ensued Stateside, the most intriguing of which was a 1966 special starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Michael Redgrave that boasted songs by the Fiddler on the Roof duo of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
British TV has also contributed versions headlined by Bernard Cribbins (1962), Bruce Forsyth (1966), David Niven (1974), John Gielgud (1986), Patrick Stewart (1996), Ian Richardson (1997), and Anthony Head (2001). Soviet animators Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg also released a 20-minute interpretation entitled Kentervilskoe prividenie (1970). Subsequently, Vivek Sharma's Bhoothnath (2008) reworked the tale for Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, while Yann Samuell's Le Fantôme de Canterville (2016) shifted the focus on to the spirit of Aliénor de Canterville (Audrey Fleurot). All that was missing was a CGI variation and that has now been supplied by Kim Burdon and Robert Chandler.
Having scared Lord Munroe (Bill Lobley) witless, Sir Simon de Canterville (Stephen Fry) vows to continue his 300-year reign of terror over his former home, Canterville Chase. The Otis family from the United States proves to be of sterner stuff, however. Electricity pioneer Hiram Otis (David Harewood) is too much a man of science to believe in spectral manifestations, while twins Kent (Bennett Miller) and Louis (Jakey Schiff) are too busy getting into mischief and blaming each other to notice incredulous spooks hovering on the landing.
When not communing with housekeeper, Mrs Umney (Imelda Staunton), their mother, Lucretia (Meera Syal), is preoccupied with convincing teenage daughter, Virginia (Emily Carey), that she will get used to her new home. But she refuses to be impressed, even when Sir Simon treats her to some of his best haunting techniques. Frustrated, he leaves her a history of the estate and goes to confront her parents. Much to his annoyance, however, they merely offer him Pinkerton's Champion Stain Remover and Paragon Detergent to deal with the unsightly smudges he creates and Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator to silence his rattling chains.
Next morning, Virginia goes riding and prevents the hapless Duke of Cheshire (Freddie Highmore) from careering over a cliff. Returning to the Chase, she persuades Cheshire to give her a bunk up into the walled garden, only for her to be unnerved by the sight of a smirking gardener snipping the head off a red rose. She falls, but Cheshire catches her and dashes off to find her a cup of reviving tea.
Led by a crow, Virginia goes down to the lake, where she slips off a broken bridge and plunges into the murky depths. She spots a locket, but gets her foot caught in some reeds while recovering it and once again finds herself grateful to Cheshire for rescuing her. Insisting he comes into the house to dry off, Virginia is mortified when Lucretia gushes over having a duke in her kitchen and encourages him to visit often.
Determined to terrorise the interlopers, Sir Simon borrows a skull to make himself look more macabre. This merely makes Hiram want to take his picture and the ghost gets a shock when he touches an electrical circuit. Flouncing off, he is appalled to see Virginia wearing the locket and explains that it had belonged to his beloved wife, Eleanor. History believes that he was cursed to haunt the Chase because he drowned her. But he reveals that a dastardly Cheshire ancestor had sabotaged the bridge with the intent to kill him (so that he could inherit the property), only for Eleanor to fall victim to the scheme. As Sir Simon was blamed, he was walled up in an attic room and left to die, while his spirit was condemned to roam until the withered almond tree in the grounds produces another bloom.
Virginia feels sorry for Sir Simon and tries to cheer him up by taking him for a ride in her father's car. However, he is not allowed to pass through the Canterville gates and winds up more miserable than before. When it snows, he chances upon Virginia near the almond tree. She finds a stick for a swordfight, while he impresses upon her the glories of love. However, she has to go indoors, as Lucretia is entertaining the Reverend Chasuble (Toby Jones) and his wife, Algernean Van Finchley (Miranda Hart). She claims to be a phantasmagorical investigator and is keen to capture Sir Simon and perform experiments upon him. But he sends her packing on a tea trolley and Virginia is ticked off by her parents for being so amused.
Feeling pleased with himself for frightening the Chasubles away, Sir Simon runs into the twins tottering under a bedsheet topped with pumpkin head and cringes as they mock him for being a coward. With hunched shoulders, he slumps through Virginia's room and passes through the bookcase to hide himself away.
Three weeks later, Cheshire comes to help Virginia tend the almond tree. However, Sir Simon discovers he is related to his adversary and drives him away. Virginia is furious, although she resists Lucretia's suggestion that Cheshire would make a good husband. Seeing the incident, Hiram warns Sir Simon to be on his best behaviour when he hosts a dinner party. He intends using the occasion to showcase the power of electricity and the ghost agrees to lay low.
On the big night, however, Sir Simon spots Cheshire at the banqueting table and flies into a rage. He causes all the lightbulbs to shatter and roars with laughter as the guests flee. As the flames rise, Cheshire gets trapped under a chandelier and Sir Simon sees the error of his ways, as Virginia struggles to rescue him. Raising his arms, the spirit draws the flames and lifts the heavy frame so that Virginia can help Cheshire out of the smouldering hall.
Deciding to deal with Sir Simon once and for all, Hiram hires Algernean to zap him with her new ghost gun. Virginia ropes the twins into leading Algernean and their father on a wild goose chase, while she warns Sir Simon. She finds him in his walled chamber, where he is in such low spirits that she agrees to accompany him to the garden to break the Canterville curse. Cheshire attempts to prevent her from going, but she insists.
Inside, they are greeted by the gardener (Hugh Laurie), who turns out to be the Grim Reaper. He explains that Virginia has sacrificed her life by venturing through the gate and she sees her lifeless body crumpled on the lawn. As creepers wind themselves around her, the Reaper makes a wager with Sir Simon that he will release his spirit so he can be with Eleanor if he wins a duel.
While Hiram and Algernean strive to revive Virginia with electrical jolts powered by the ghost gun, Sir Simon and the Reaper lock swords. With the former holding his own, the latter transforms into a draconic monster and starts to turn the tide. However, Cheshire appears and frees Virginia so that they can tackle the Reaper together. Sir Simon's mortal enemy joins the fray before the Reaper agrees to call the contest a draw. He turns Sir Simon into a statue and allows Virginia to revive. But she refuses to let her friend down and she re-enters the garden, as a blossom appears on the almond tree, and the reunited Cantervilles float away together, leaving the newly married Cheshires to take off in an aeroplane for an adventure.
Although it takes the odd liberty, this is a reasonably faithful adaptation of Wilde's yarn. Co-writers Giles New and Kevin Self have dispensed with Virginia's older brother,
Washington, while inventing the Chasubles, whose surname will be familiar to fans of The Importance of Being Earnest. Despite the best vocal efforts of Toby Jones and Miranda Hart, they prove rather resistible, with Algernean's paranormalist activities seeming to have been included to justify the lame `bust ghosters' joke. Similarly, the banquet pyrotechnics and the garden affray appear to have been added to appease younger viewers reared on video games.
The digital animation is solid enough, with the character design being amusing and the manorial backdrops being pleasingly atmospheric. Emily Carey is suitably sassy as the red-haired Virginia, although the romance with Freddie Highmore's diffident Cheshire is a little underwhelming. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie might easily have swapped roles, with Fry's gift for booming bombast perhaps better befitting the Reaper, while Laurie's greater range might have suited Sir Simon's shifts from being terrifying to tormented. Nevertheless, such is the acuity of each that they carry off their roles with typically enjoyable aplomb.
CATS OF MALTA.
Following in the Cypriot and Turkish pawprints of Vsevolod Shilovsky's melodrama, The Byzantine Cat (2002), and Ceydar Torun's actuality, Kedi (2016), Sarah Jayne Portelli's Cats of Malta pretty much does what it says on the tin. There is a human element to this ailurophilic documentary. But primary focus of the images photographed and edited by Ivan Malekin is firmly on the feline.
As an Australian with Maltese heritage, Portelli arrived on the main island in 2017 to explore her roots. However, she quickly became fascinated by the country's 300,000 stray cats and the readiness of the locals to care for them. A montage shows a Heinz variety of cats mooching and sunning themselves, while an aerial shot captures the natural and architectural beauty of Malta, as well as the turquoise hue of the Mediterranean.
In St Julian's, restaurant owners Michelle Deguara and Salvu Gibson recall how they were adopted by an independent white cat called Nanu, who had to have a front leg amputated after being kicked by a man for attacking his small dog. An animated sequence recreates the night that Nanu terrorised the entire household after going wild after being fed post-operative antibiotics, painkillers, and sleeping pills. We see him living in uneasy harmony with Silver and Ginger, as the couple describe how Nanu (who must be approaching 20) gets fed by fishermen and other café owners, but remains wary of Michelle.
Grumbling about them prowling for titbits, she's not as smitten with cats as Salvu, whose late wife used to feed strays and pay for them to be neutered. Some were sent to Germany for adoption and he feels duty-bound to continue the work because cats have healing powers and humans can learn a lot from them. Clearly, neighbour Roza Zammit Salinos feels the same way, as she runs a makeshift cat village that is always busy at feeding time.
She has been caring for cats beneath a wall built by the Knights of Malta for five decades and she likes the fact that tourists come to see them and sometimes ask to take a kitten home. As she worked at the university, she also ran a Cats on Campus scheme so that students could have a companion to get them through difficult or stressful times.
Unfortunately, a building project forced Roza to move the village and Portelli returns two months after the interview to film the vacated space. As she bids her farewells, Malekin films a beautiful young black-and-white cat gazing into the lens.
Moving to Sliema, Portelli visits the cat park in Independence Gardens. She meets artist Matthew Pandolfino, whose giant fibreglass statue of a sitting cat acts as a patron saint keeping an eye on its flock. It's undergoing renovation and Matthew has painted it blue and covered it with pink clouds and fish and star shapes. While she watches, Portelli is befriended by a taciturn ginger named Bob, who sits on her lap.
Next stop is Naxxar, a bustling city that is home to Maltese-born British actor Polly March. She has been feeding cats since Christmas Day 2006 and among her current charges are Tigger, Erica, and Milly, who gets by without a nose. The prospect of her passing upsets Polly, as does the cruelty that is meted out by those who see the strays as vermin. However, she is convinced that an education and neutering programme would improve the situation considerably.
In addition to the 20-odd strays she feeds, Polly also has seven of her own, including a ginger den daddy named Bertie and Loopy Louis, an all-white cat with a penchant for climbing on shelves and breaking things. She is amused by his superior air and accepts that she is nothing more than a tin operative.
Two weeks after the interview, Portelli learns that one of Polly's brood, Blackie, has gone missing. He's found after being hit by a car and Portelli and Malekin foster him while searching for a permanent home. Fortunately, Margaret Micallef came forward and she is amused by the fact his tummy clock goes off at 7:15am every morning. Moreover, he has also put her small dog Gigi straight about who is boss.
Descending on St Paul's Bay, Portelli meets 13 year-old Isaac Muscat, who feeds around 35 cats, as well as the three he has at home. He spends his pocket money on food and fishes during the holidays to vary the diet. Moreover, he saved up to buy a trap, so that he could get cats neutered. Fellow cat lover Nikki Micallef sings his praises because he's so young and together they persuade a couple of ginger kittens to accept some food. Isaac loves the way cats help people bond and he also enjoys his celebrity in the neighbourhood.
Nearby, Caroline Borg and Karmen Coleiro run Animal Guardians Malta and arrange for cats to be neutered and adopted. They also run cat therapy sessions. Karmen calls for NGOs to get together to provide a more joined-up approach and urges the government to help feeders because they are performing a service to society and give freely of their time and money. She tells how one grey cat was found with its head stuck in a tin can and how it had to be cut free. But it's now settled down and appreciates being fed and safe. When they load another into a basket for a vet visit, its miaow sounds like a plaintive, `No!'
As Portelli sums up what she has discovered while making her film, Polly reminds us that stroking cats reduces the risk of heart attacks. But, as anyone who shares space with a cat will already know, they do so much more. They have a sense of humour and are markedly more affectionate than people give them credit for. Moreover, they remind you of your own insignificance...until feeding time.
Nicely filmed with a respectful appreciation of feline temperament, this is anything but a cosy cuddle fest, as Portelli focuses as much on the problems facing Maltese cats as on their appearance and personalities. The discussion of cruelty and neglect is sobering, as are the descriptions of some of the emergency cases. But, while some of the carers rightly use their camera time to appeal for reform, education, and donations, others exude generosity and geniality, as they do their daily rounds with evident compassion and delight.
Philip Vella's jaunty theme and the more melancholic moments in Asher Pope's score can feel a tad insistent. But this is a picture put together with care and affection and it makes a worthy companion to Kedi.
A CAT CALLED DOM.
Since meeting at Edinburgh College of Art, Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson have collaborated on such notable projects as The Making of Longbird (2011) and Monkey Love Experiments (2014). They make their feature bow with the hybrid documentary, A Cat Called Dom, which took five years to complete and boldly combines actuality, animation, and meta-fiction to tell a deeply personal story with wit and warmth.
Will and Ainslie are working on an animation project in Edinburgh, amusing each other with improvised gags like chips being described as `a Glasgow salad'. When Will goes home to the Highlands for Christmas, however, he learns from his mother that she has been diagnosed with mouth cancer. Too devastated by the news to process his emotions, Will accepts his mother's insistence that she's in good hands and heads back to the capital to work. Distracted, Will avoids Ainslie and spends his time conversing with an animated cat called Dom, who has formed around a single pixel in the bottom left corner of his laptop screen.
Bantering with Dom (who is voiced by Tobias Feltus) in much the way he usually does with Ainslie, Will tries to hide the news about his mother so that he doesn't have to discuss it. When they do meet up, Will is evasive and disappears off to an animation festival in Japan without confiding in his partner. Instead, he natters with Dom on the plane about in-flight movies and poems. He is also able to socialise with fellow delegates, as they know nothing about his private life. Ainslie discovers the truth, however, and the pair have an awkward Skype call.
Returning to Scotland, Will takes his mother to the hospital in Aberdeen and waits in the corridor with Dom. Envious of the fact that his father is able to go gliding to deal with his anxiety, Will finds it hard that his mother is unable to speak for a while. Moreover, he struggles in a Zoom meeting with Ainslie to make a worthwhile contribution about their ongoing project. Eventually, however, Will's mother goes into remission and he shows her the footage he has been amassing and the dramatised scenes that he has staged to create the flow of a story.
As they sit at the desk, Will blurts out that he was lost for words at the prospect of losing a mother he thought would live forever and admits that he made the film as a way of telling her he loved her. He also concedes that it's difficult for an animator used to controlling every aspect of their work to accept being helpless. His mother understands and ventures that she is almost grateful to the cancer for making her appreciate the preciousness of life and the value of her family.
With the crisis over, Dom begins to disappear from the laptop, pixel by pixel. It's a poignant moment, but also feels cathartic in a Mary Poppins kind of way, as the computer cat has fulfilled his remit - as, indeed, has the film, just as Anderson had used his animated solo short, Betty (2020), to come to terms with a broken relationship. Also working on his own, Henderson had done something similar with the BAFTA-nominated, I Am Tom Moody (2014), which riffed on his musical career after his appearance on Fame Academy.
This meta-ani-docu-faction often feels chaotically fragmented, but that's precisely what it's supposed to be. Sat in front of a screen in a yellow woolly hat that hides his thinning hair, Anderson talks into a webcam and continuously clicks on files to produce clips or images that either chart the progress of his project with the sidelined Henderson or explore his relationships with his colleague, his parents, and Dom.
It's a boldly innovative approach and reflects both modern lives lived on computer and phone screens and the jumble of emotions that bombard people in the throes of anxiety or grief. This scattershot shuffle runs the risk of self-indulgence. But it also brings an intimacy that persists even after the film-makers pull back the curtain and reveal some of the techniques they have used to compile this intriguing insight into the roles inertia and inspiration play in the creation of art and artifice.
`It's meant to be a funny film about cancer. But it's not,' Anderson admits at one point. Later, he laments, `It's all a bit of a mess.' He's right on both counts, but not entirely.