Parky At the Pictures (23/6/2023)
(Reviews of Amanda; Pretty Red Dress; Santa Lucia; The Last Rider; and My Imaginary Country)
Echoes of Miranda July, Noah Baumbach, and Wes Anderson reverberate around Carolina Cavalli's deadpan debut, Amanda. Having forged a reputation as a writer on the Italian television series, Zero, she makes a solid start behind the camera by taking a risk in focussing on an unrelatable, but quirkily irresistible protagonist.
Despite being 25, Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) has found it hard to make friends since her parents moved from Paris to Turin. She has been devoted to the family maid, Judy (Ana Cecilia Ponce), since she fished her out of the swimming pool as a child. But her mother, Sofia (Monica Nappo), has ordered Judy to keep her distance to force Amanda into meeting new people.
Dressed in her uniform of sans culottes, bovver boots, and an embroidered waistcoat, Amanada complains to her married sister, Marina (Margherita Maccapani Missoni), that she would have had a boyfriend five years ago, if a stranger at the cinema (Fabian Gibertoni) hadn't been so timid. Consequently, she sympathises with her eight year-old niece, Stella (Amelia Elisabetta Biuso), who has had to break up with her sweetheart because she's not allowed to attend an all-boys summer camp.
Dividing her nights between feeding a horse on some private property, milling between ravers in the dark, and misunderstanding why men go to online chat rooms, Amanda tries to build a social life. But she gets nowhere and reluctantly agrees to visit Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi), the daughter of her mother's best friend, Viola (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). They were inseparable as two year olds, but Rebecca now refuses to leave her bedroom. Amanda regards this as a challenge and sits outside the door for days until Rebecca emerges to try and steal her takeaway lunch.
Following this tussle, Rebecca allows Amanda to enter her room to use her hairdrier. She shows her the trophies she has won for being good at everything and Amanda congratulates her. Emboldened, she talks to a handsome dude (Michele Bravi) standing outside a club. She mistakes him for a drug dealer, but he doesn't take offence and they go for something to eat. He informs her that he gives out free condoms at festivals and she's impressed. When he asks what she does, she fudges and pretends she often goes to the cinema with friends.
Having complimented Dude on looking like an actor, Amanda walks home feeling good about herself. But the mood doesn't last long, as she has a row with Marina over the magnitude of her problems. She has a sleepover with Rebecca and confides about Dude. Amanda also invites her to a party, but she is reluctant to go, even though she has ventured outside to burn some old clothes and toast marshmallows over the fire.
Feeling positive about the direction her life is taking, Amanda goes to see her horse and is confronted by the owner. She wonders why Amanda is so interested in an elderly animal past its riding days, but she doesn't respond. Sulking over the encounter, Amanda picks a fight with Marina over supper and packs a bag to move in with Rebecca.
Jealous of the fact that Rebecca shares her emotions with a therapist named Ann (Giorgia Favoti), Amanda realises that she can't stay in Viola's modernity abode forever. However, she doesn't have a job (as she disapproves of the family pharmaceutical business) and decides to acquire a fan with supermarket loyalty points and sell it online to raise funds.
Excited by the prospect of the party, Amanda meets Dude at a café. However, he asks her to stop sending him incessant texts, as they're not an item and she feels crushed. Moreover, Ann asks her to stop seeing Rebecca, as she's hindering her treatment and Amanda feels worthless. She storms out, dragging her suitcase behind her, and untethers the horse from its yard. Returning to the house, she tries to get Rebecca to run away with her. But she trusts Ann's judgement and informs Amanda that they only played together as children because everyone thought she was weird and Viola was doing Sofia a favour.
Moving home, Amanda floats on a airbed in the pool. Marina keeps an eye on her in case she falls in again and reveals that she had watched her sister remove her water-wings before she had jumped into the water as a girl. She was glad Judy had saved her, but she didn't see why she should abet such a craven bid for attention.
Amanda gets a job at a secondhand shop and annoys Emilio the manager by offering discounts to little old ladies. Viola finds her and tells her that Rebecca often mentions her. However, Amanda pretends not to care, even though she always buys a ticket for Rebecca at the cinema and leaves it at the box office, just in case she comes. One Saturday, though, a gawky man asks to sit beside her and she lets him.
When Dude informs her that a crazy woman came to his party and threw firecrackers into the living room, Amanda knows it was Rebecca. She goes to check on her and learns that she had ridden there on the horse, only for it to bolt when the fireworks went off. They go to look for the creature, with Rebecca wearing nothing but a swimsuit and Amanda is delighted that she had helped get her outside.
There's clearly a cinematic vogue for unsympathetic females at the moment, as Benedetta Porcaroli boldly follows in the footsteps of the Nordic duo of Renate Reinsve in The Worst Person in the World (2021) and Kristine Kujath Thorp in Sick of Myself (2022) in depicting a self-absorbed, maladroit, needy, and thoroughly resistible millennial - and making her utterly compelling. Amanda does everything with an impassive shrug or scowl, whether she's bickering with her sister or bantering with potential dates. Only her niece and her new best friend get cut any slack, although the latter is never entirely sure whether it's worth conquering agoraphobia to wind up pals with such an uncompromising eccentric.
Cavalli doesn't delve into the psychological reasons for Amanda's temperament, as it's more fun to have it as a fait accompli and watch it in action. The way in which she shuts down Dude's story about seeing a deer on the road is as splendid as her rapport with the scene-stealing Amelia Elisabetta Biuso as Stella. Galatéa Bellugi holds her own as Rebecca, while Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Monica Nappo amuse as the contrasting mothers (with the former feasting on gigantic blue cakes and the latter breaking into a delightfully dotty dance routine after one contretemps with Porcaroli).
But Cavalli often keeps Lornzo Levrini's camera at a distance to capture Porcaroli's body language, which is sometimes more expressive than her face. This also means we get to see plenty of Francesca Cibischino's costume design and Martino Bonanomi's witty interiors. Niccolò Contessa's jaunty score also reinforces the aura of droll detachment that leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about Amanada and her nearest and dearest, as well as about the ways in which human interaction is changing in an age of social media and pandemic lockdowns.
By the way, Cavalli has also co-scripted Iranian-British director Babak Jalali's fourth feature, Fremont, which one can only hope also secures a UK release, as neither Radio Dreams (2016) nor Land (2018) was picked up in the wake of the debut success of Frontier Blues (2009). Come on, somebody, pull your finger out.
PRETTY RED. DRESS.
Feted for the shorts, Got Got (2013), Hi, Miss! (2014), and We Love Moses (2016), Dionne Edwards makes an impressive feature bow with Pretty Red Dress. Despite including a number of Tina Turner hits, this isn't another jukebox musical in the vein of Coky Giedroyc's Greatest Days. Instead, it seeks to remove social realism from its political pedestal and return it to its rightful place among ordinary people..
Released on probation after serving time for drug dealing, onetime DJ Travis Clarke (Natey Jones) returns to the Lambeth flat he shares with partner Candice May (Alexandra Burke) and their 14 year-old daughter, Kenisha (Temilola Olatunbosun). She is having a few problems at school and resents being dragged away from her friends for a family meal. Candice works at a supermarket, but has hopes to become a singer and is thrilled when her agent lands her an audition for a West End musical about Tina Turner.
She sees a red dress in a shop window that would be perfect for the gig and Travis is so keen for her to have it that he takes a kitchen porter job in a restaurant owned by his smug older brother, Clive (Rolan Bell). Candice is thrilled and wears the dress for a kinky sex session, in which she makes Travis her `bitch'. However, he has been fantasising about wearing the dress himself, despite worrying that he's turning into a `pussy boy'.
Candice belts out `River Deep - Mountain High' at her audition and returns home for a smoochy celebration. Travis keeps thinking about the red dress next morning and it trying it on with some lipstick when he catches Kenisha bunking off school. Hearing she has a callback, Candice comes to the restaurant to celebrate with Travis, who is needled when Clive plays bountiful boss to show him up.
Alone at home, Travis puts the dress on again, with a wig and full make-up. He's gyrating to moody music when Candice comes back with Kenisha after a contretemps at school. Travis tries to laugh it off as a stoned prank, but Candice isn't convinced and neither is Kenisha. In truth, neither is he.
Candice addresses the issue when he gets home from work by asking Travis if he thinks he's been born in the wrong body. He insists he was merely messing around and tries to be assertive when they have sex on the sofa. But Candice leaves silently as soon as they finish, as she feels he's being evasive. Yet she doesn't notice that Kenisha is being equally cagey on the drive to school when she asks how to let a boy know she likes him (when we know she has a crush on a female classmate).
Meanwhile, Travis has damaged the dress while stepping into it and has to find someone who can sew the beads back on. As a last resort, be bribes Kenisha into taking the blame (after telling her he'd tried to wash it) and Candice buys it because she had been urging her daughter to wear more feminine clothes. However, Kenisha confides in Cicely (Maria Almeida), who thinks it's hot and promises not to tell anybody.
At her callback, Candice is informed by the director that she will have to be focussed for seven shows a week and can't afford any domestic stress. However, she brings it upon herself when she spots Kenisha and Cicely together in the street and gets into a row that continues at home and ends with Kenisha wishing she hadn't been born when Candice asks if she knows where she'd be if she hadn't had to be a mother.
Relieved that Kenisha has kept his secret, Travis tries to coax Candice into accepting their daughter for who she is. He's surprised, therefore, when Candice asks him to wear the dress in the bedroom, only to tick him off next day for not refusing her request. Still nettled by her assertion that this was a one off, Travis gets into a row at work when Clive orders him to quit the cross-dressing if he wants to keep his job.
Determined to do as he pleases, Travis puts on one of Candice's outfits and ventures on to the balcony of their building in wig and make-up. He scurries back inside when the phone rings, however, as Kenisha has got into a fight with a boy at school who called her father `gay'. Travis walks her home and suggests keeping things quiet from Candice because she's got her final audition coming up. They discuss his need to `feel pretty' and Kenisha concludes that they're both a bit `off key'.
Candice does `Proud Mary' at the audition, but is aware the other contenders are equally good. She asks Travis to go to Clive's birthday party and behave himself and he reluctantly agrees. During Clive's speech, however, Travis gets angry when he boasts about taking their mother to Jamaica and jealous when he plays `Simply the Best' for Candice. They get into a fight and have to be separated.
He's sleeping on the sofa when Candice plays the answerphone and hears about Kenisha's expulsion from school. She confronts him and orders him to leave after calling him the biggest mistake she ever made. Kenisha joins in helping to soothe her down. But next door calls the police and Candice is arrested for resisting an officer.
The Shangri-Las hit `Out in the Streets' plays over part of the denouement, while Ike and Tina Turner's `Game of Love' proves key to the closing scene. Keeping a promise, however, the specifics of the action shall remain undivulged.
Treading the Black machismo line walked by Chiwetel Ejiofor in Julian Jarrold's Kinky Boots (2005), stage actor Natey Jones gives a career-making performance as the Lambeth likely lad who likes to express himself in his own off-key way. Newcomer Temilola Olatunbosun similarly impresses as the teenager whose growing pains are exacerbated by the behaviour of her parents. In her first major acting role, X Factor diva Alexandra Burke also shows to advantage, although she is left to bear some of the plot's more spurious aspects.
Even in an age of TV talent shows, Candice's West End shot rings a little hollow, as she doesn't appear to have a body of work to justify landing an audition of this magnitude. She also has a big car and chic clothes for someone with checkout job whose partner is on £8.50 as a skivvy after spending a year in the clink. The sometimes insensitive Candice also tends to go to emotional extremes and doesn't appear capable of biting her tongue. Then again, the script does hurl a lot at her in a short space of time.
Some of the supporting characters rather let the side down, with Clive serving no other purpose than to wind up Travis, while Cicely the cipher exists solely to cause trouble for Kenisha. Indeed, the whole school situation feels strained, as Kenisha is supposed to be a bright student. In addition, too little time is taken to establish the atmosphere on the estate and how the family fits into its milieu. The supermarket and the restaurant also feel included for narrative convenience, with a throwaway scene revealing that one of Candice's workmates wants her to front a band.
Yet, Dionne Edwards succeeds in taking the audience along with her. This is primarily due to her belief in the domestic dynamic, her confidence in the characters, and her trust in the leads. Moreover, it's because she recognises that people can have problems that aren't necessarily rooted in the socio-economic policies of an uncaring and out-of-touch Tory government. Abetted by cinematographer Adam Scarth and production designer Phoebe Platman, she also creates a world that retains its credibility even when the cops arrive out of nowhere to investigate a domestic disturbance that has barely got beyond the raised-voice stage. Let's hope she becomes a familiar voice, as she talks a lot of sense, and that her next picture doesn't take six years to make.
Born in Naples in 1991, Marco Chiappetta has been making films since he was 17. He started ambitiously by setting Anna Ivanova (2009) in post-revolutionary Petrograd, as two tramps get more than they bargain for when they burgle an elderly aristocrat's home. Then, having reworked Charles Dickens in Canto di Natale (2010), he went to Paris to show a novelist making the girl of his dreams the heroine of his new book in Elle (2012).
An artist similarly attempts to fashion a vision of beauty in Eva, while another lovelorn man struggles to commit suicide in Una questione di vita o di morte (both 2013). Unrequited love also sends a student at the Pompidou Centre into a nightmarish spiral in Giallo (2014), while a Parisian finds himself on a dangerous path in trying to return a camera found at Père Lachaise to a couple of tourists in L'étranger (2015).
Following the short travelogue, Lisboa Antiga (2015), Chiappetta viewed the world through a nonagenarian preferring the past to the present in Un giorno nella vita (2016). After a four-year hiatus, he captured the ennui of pandemic lockdown in Video Virale, an experimental work that acquired a companion piece in Locked Out (both 2020). The majority of these items can be found on YouTube and provide an excellent insight into the young writer-director's thematic concerns and stylistic evolution (if only more newcomers made their early outings so readily available).
Back in 2011, Chiappetta went to the Neapolitan district of Vomero district for Kindergarten (2011), which followed a 20 year-old as he pines for the simplicity of his youth. Echoes of that short can be felt in his feature debut, Santa Lucia, which returns to the city for a boldly different sensorial tour full of memories, insights, and regrets.
Forty years after leaving for Argentina, blind novelist Roberto De Rosa) Renato Carpentieri) returns to Naples for his mother's funeral. He is met by his musician brother, Lorenzo (Andrea Renzi), who has always resented his sibling's favoured status and the fact that he was forced to stay behind after Roberto spread his wings. As they've not been in touch, Lorenzo knows nothing about his brother's wife and two daughters. But they chat amiably in the taxi before arriving in the neighbourhood, where Roberto has a flashback to the day Lorenzo (Manuel Carolla) pushed his younger self (Giuseppe Festinese) down the front steps.
Each room in the apartment is filled with memories, as Roberto shuffles along the corridor. He imagines himself lying on the bed next to the body of his mother (Biancamaria D'Amato) before visiting the cemetery, where he rails against ageing and the cruel inevitablities of life, while Lorenzo urges him to stop worrying and enjoy the ride. Pausing before the headstone, Roberto feels a hand on his and he remembers Carmen (Antonia Marrone).
They go for pizza and Lorenzo tries to get Roberto to explain why he vanished and never returned. He refuses to discuss the matter and goes to bed as soon as they get back to the apartment. Haunted by his adolescent self, he struggles to sleep and grumbles when Lorenzo asks next morning if blind people still dream. They visit the football pitch overlooking the bay, where Lorenzo teases Roberto about his lack of sporting prowess and goads him into taking a penalty after he concedes that he doesn't follow Napoli as closely as he might.
Recalling a victory with their youthful team as the moment he wishes he could live again, Lorenzo asks his brother what he would choose. But he claims not to be able to think of anything specific and Lorenzo jokes that it will inevitably involve a girl. Kicking the ball down a steep flight of steps, Lorenzo admits to having not read any of Roberto's books. So, he describes the plot of a story in which a man living in a labyrinth drove himself to despair by trying to see the sea.
Considering the subject matter dull, Lorenzo declares that he won't bother reading the tome and feels affronted that Roberto has based many of his protagonists on him. However, the blind man is distracted by a memory of his first meeting with the young Carmen (Suami Puglia), when she had informed him that she was going to be the next Sophia Loren and mocked him for betraying his feelings by blushing. Following Carmen up the steps, Roberto recalls her turning to kiss him and seductively laying down.
Suddenly, Roberto recollects the birthday when his mother had given him a Santa Lucia pendant and told him that his grandfather had found it in the sea. He believed it would protect her, as Santa Lucia was the patron saint of sight. She had passed it on because she felt he was fragile and had admonished Lorenzo for slapping him and making him cry. The irony of her gesture is not lost on Roberto, as the siblings sit together and carp over the timidity that has Lorenzo in one place and in thrall to the past and the furtiveness that means he still doesn't know why Roberto left all those years ago.
He asks about Roberto's wife and reminisces about how they had always gossiped about girls. When he enquires about fidelity, his brother goes into a reverie about the day he had given Carmen the Santa Lucia, in spite of having promised his mother that he would only ever pass it on to one of his children. Stung by the memory, he demands to go home and Lorenzo chides him for his temper.
Wandering into Lorenzo's room, Roberto finds a gifted copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and ticks him off for lacking the curiosity to finish it. However, he softens when he cajoles his brother into playing something on his guitar and laments that he failed to make the most of such a talent.
Walking by the sea, Roberto claims that imagination is superior to reality and teases Lorezno about his juvenile penchant for chubby girls. He snaps back by asking about Carmen and Roberto denies fixating about her. However, he recalls how she had made him take a vow to think of her every day and he scolds his younger self for letting her lead him astray and coerce him into making wishes on shooting stars.
Over supper, Roberto complains about Lorenzo's poor table manners and thinks back to the swimming lessons that he used to dread, as he was scared of his sibling. He finds himself in deep water and peers through the window of a sunken car. Lorenzo sits dead in the driver's seat and Roberto tells his brother how he had been made to call family and friends to break the news he had drowned.
Unable to face Naples, he had taken a teaching job in Buenos Aires and never returned. Moreover, he had never told anyone about his lost sibling and a dismayed Lorenzo opines that Roberto isn't really blind - he just refuses to see. At that moment, his mother appears at his bedside to reassure him. She has missed him, but is content that he has made something of his life and he tries to compose himself, as the camera floats through rooms that contain only furniture, apart from Lorenzo's, which is still full of his belongings.
Wandering down to the waterfront, Roberto feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns to see the teenage Carmen and she removes his sunglasses to reveal his younger self. They smile at each other. But her fate remains a mystery.
Notwithstanding a Sixth Sense twist that is nowhere near as well guarded as it might be, this is a notable debut that confirms Marco Chiappetta as a talent to watch. Sombrely lit by Antonio Grambone to convey Roberto's blindness and contrast with the brighter tones of the flashbacks, the drama unfolds in a series of dialogues that would feel rather theatrical but for the excellence of Renato Carpentieri and Andrea Renzi. Roberto's reasons for staying away and out of touch for 40 years feel a little specious, even if he does blame his mother for failing to protect his sibling or save his sight. But the shifts between wistful nostalgia and prodigal melancholy are nicely judged.
Lino Fiorito's production design is also impeccable, with the clutter in Lorenzo's room being particularly affecting in the 360° pan that accompanies the guitar song. Chiappetta largely avoids visual gimmicks in suggesting Roberto's perspective and the soundtrack designed by Marco Saitta and mixed by Daghi Rondanini is equally restrained, as it evokes a bygone time and the people who had made it so special that Roberto couldn't bear to be there without them.
THE LAST RIDER.
Back on dry land after the yachtumentary, Maiden (2018), Alex Holmes returns to the theme of cycling with The Last Rider, a profile of American champion Greg LeMond that will doubtless feature in double bills with the acclaimed exposé, Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story (2014). As a result of Armstrong's fall from grace, LeMond is the only American winner of the Tour de France. But his three victories form only part of a remarkable story.
Greg LeMond turns 62 on 26 June. Born in Los Angeles, he started cycling to build up his fitness for skiing after the family moved to Lake Tahoe. Soon, he and father Bob started riding the mountains on a regular basis and a local racer suggested that Greg had a crack at competing. Having finished second in his maiden race, he quickly became the best cyclist in the country and met the love of his life in Kathy Morris in 1979.
Enchanted by the atmosphere of the Tour de France, LeMond determined to race in Europe and he was taken under the wing of Cyrille Guimard, the sporting director of the Renaud-Elf-Gitane team. This was led by serial winner Bernard Hinault, who regarded LeMond as his dauphin. However, Laurent Fignon was equally talented and won his first two Tours in 1983 and 1984 (with LeMond third). Hinault was unamused, however, and was so grateful to LeMond for helping him win a fifth maillot jaune that he vowed to see his teammate over the line in 1986.
However, having built up a six-minute lead, Hinault decided to go for the win himself and LeMond responded with a ride that was inspired by his sense of betrayal and the fact that rumours started spreading that rivals were offering to take out LeMond to ensure Hinault prevailed. However, the American was also under pressure from the a return of the trauma of being sexually abused as an eight year-old by a family friend. He had told no one about the molestation and saw cycling as his path to rebuilding a sense of pride in himself. Consequently, with 80% of the peloton against him, he was driven to win to keep any recurrence of childhood shame at bay.
Unable to enjoy his triumph, LeMond battled depression during the close season. He was then accidentally shot by his brother-in-law, Patrick Blades, during a turkey hunt and surgeons had to battle to save his life. By all accounts, he came within 20 minutes of bleeding to death and several of the pellets were left inside his body (including three in the lining of his heart).
As if this wasn't stressful enough, Kathy went into labour and she had to be whisked to another hospital to manage the birth of her second son. The memory of her husband suspended above a bed and dripping blood on to a white sheet still haunts her. But they struggled on, even after Renault cancelled LeMond's contract because he wasn't going to be fit to ride during the 1987 season. As his father, sister and brother-in-law (who had tried to kill himself at the scene out of guilt) all worked for Team LeMond, the dynamic of the family changed forever.
After recuperating in Montana, LeMond joined the PDM team and tried to regain his racing sharpness. It proved a frustrating season, but the revelation that PDM cyclists had tested positive for doping prompted him to make a swift exit and sign up with the minor ADR squad from Belgium.
In 1989, LeMond returned at the Giro d'Italia, where things went so badly that he contemplated quitting. Kathy flew out to reassure him that they would be fine, but encouraged him to see things through. Feeling as though a pressure valve had been released, LeMond entered the Tour three weeks later feeling carefree and ready to cycle for the thrill of it.
Among the competitors was Pedro Delgado, who admits he was in fine form and hoped to pip Fignon, who was himself returning after a nasty crash. But LeMond started well with the prologue time trial in Luxembourg (which turned into a disaster for the late-starting Delgado) and he started to revise his expectations of the race after taking yellow by five seconds after the fifth stage time trial.
He knew he had to survive the Pyrenees, but Delgado was the mountain specialist and put himself back into contention after Fignon snuck past LeMond. As he badmouthed him in the press conference, LeMond warned Fignon that he had seen him holding the back of a motorcycle and wasn't taking any lessons in leading with grit from him. As a spiky character with press and fans, Fignon was respected rather than loved and LeMond felt confident he could claw back the advantage in the Alps.
Having lost yellow during the time trial, Fignon announced that he would stop LeMond from prevailing. In an interview, he claimed to be embarrassed by the 14-second gap and he hit back with a gutsy ride on Alpe d'Huez before finishing the next stage with a 50-second advantage. Commentators hailed Fignon as the winner and LeMond admits a body still riddled with pellets had gone to its limit and fallen short. But he still wanted to race for pride during the 24km time trial from Versailles to the Champs Elysées.
What no one knew, however, was that Fignon had developed epididymitis during the penultimate ride and his team principals maintained a show of confidence on the train to prevent LeMond from getting wind of the problem. So, when Phil Liggett introduced the UK coverage from Versailles by recalling the Bicentenary of the French Revolution, it seemed as though La Patrie would celebrate the occasion with a home with in La Tour.
But LeMond caught up two seconds on every kilometre and waited at the finish to see Fignon give away an eight-second deficit. It was the closest finish in the history of the race and Fignon collapsed on the tarmac and wept, as LeMond and Kathy celebrated a sensational comeback. It wasn't just a sporting accomplishment, however, as the victory enabled Patrick and the rest of the family to lay down the burden of past guilt and look to the future.
Four weeks later, LeMond won the World Championships and he returned to defend his Tour title in 1990. As the closing caption notes, he remains America's sole winner. But the film is dedicated to Fignon, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 50 in 2010.
The revelations come tumbling out in this compelling documentary, which combines the talents of Alex Holmes as director and sports specialist James Erskine as producer. However, it's the editing of Paul Monaghan and Gibran Ramos that provides the momentum, as they flit between archive footage, home movies, and talking-head interviews. Similarly, Samuel Sim's score deftly conveys the titanic nature of the closing stages of the 1989 classic.
It might have been nice to see the LeMonds together in the present day, as their bond is clearly unbreakable. But Holmes wisely resists asking LeMond about his retrospective restoration to being cycling's only victorious American in Paris.
MY IMAGINARY COUNTRY.
Having captured the spirit of his homeland in the three-part masterpiece, The Battle of Chile (1975-79), documentarist Patricio Guzmán has since celebrated Chile's skies and deserts in Nostalgia For the Light (2010), its coastline and waterways in The Pearl Button (2015), and its Andean spine in The Cordillera of Dreams (2019). Now, in My Imaginary Country, the 81 year-old explores how the baton proudly brandished for half a century by the supporters of murdered president Salvador Allende was passed to a new generaton of activists during the 2019-21 social protests that brought 35 year-old left-wing coalition leader Gabriel Boric to democratically elected power.
When he was a young man, Guzmán had met the French film-maker, Chris Marker, who gave him the advice that shaped his career: `When you want to film a fire, you must be at the place where the first flame will appear.' However, as Guzmán had remained in exile after the fall of General Gustavo Pinochet, he was not in Santiago when over 1.2 million people swarmed around Plaza Baquedano on 25 October 2019 to demonstrate against the corrupt regime of President Sebastián Piñera. While he was forced to follow the `Estallido Social' from afar, however, others recorded the footage that editor Emmanuelle Joly has pieced together to chronicle the uprising that began over a hike in prices on the capital's subway system.
Arriving in 2020, Guzmán filmed the stones still lying in the street after the pitched battles with the police that a masked student insists had to be fought for the break with the past and give her nine year-old son, Tomás, a real future. Guzmán is proud of the way that ordinary people rebelled against the 30 pesos ticket rise and the scorn hurled at the soldiers sent on to the streets after Piñera called a state of emergency. Unlike before, however, this was a spontaneous movement led by the masses and not the political parties.
Student Catalina Garay echoes his sense of optimism, as she recalls seeing grandmothers making their voices heard and she now hopes that Chile will start to put the poor first and give children food and a proper education. Writer Nona Fernández shared the sense of exhilaration and freedom. Photographer Nicole Kramm was also at the heart of things, but was shot in the eye by the snipers, as part of a conscious policy to stop people from filming and to intimidate them. In solidarity, protesters covered their left eyes and chanted about the cowardice of the troops.
First aid volunteer Kitty admits to being scared of the militia because she's a woman and they have weapons of war. But she felt compelled to help, even though she was often targeted, as she tended to those who had been wounded or stricken by tear gas. Journalist Mónica González is dismayed that this sacrifice has yet to yield benefits for those who need them most. She notes that 73% of Chilean children are born out of wedlock and that the women are left to raise them without state help. This has to change so that people get a fair start in life and for the right for women to make love freely to mean something in wider terms.
Camp manager Maria José Diaz curses the officials who try to exploit the homeless for power and wealth. She took part in the protests to ensure that something is done about shanty settlements and that her three children have hope. Interviewed with a Batman logo on her top, she is prepared to keep fighting in order to bring about conclusive change.
Film-maker María José San Martin recalls how people started clanking pans with wooden spoons to keep up a cacophony of protest that allowed everyone to join in. She knows change will be slow, but hopes that generations to come will reap the benefit. Mónica González is certain that the fires started will burn brightly for years to come and remembers the braziers on the railway strikes she had attended as a child with her father.
Academic Claudia Heiss considers the disconnect between the population and the forces of law and order, which still resort to violence in a way inherited from the dictatorship. Now on the ground himself, Guzmán is appalled by the armed response, which feels more vindictive than co-ordinated. Doctor Natalia Henríquez laments this knee-jerk repression and explains how people knew they had to change the constitution to break the cycle. Consequently, they formed Open Councils, which were backed by an artistic outpouring that was encapsulated by the poem `Un Violador en Tu Camino' (`A Rapist In Your Path') by the feminist collective, Las Tesis, which is comprised of Daffne Valdés, Paula Cometa, Lea Cáceres, and Sibila Sotomayor.
The latter expounds on the purpose of the verse and the demand for dignity that extends beyond purely feminist concerns. Over footage of a vast crowd of chanting in unison, the power of the accusations against the establishment is undeniable and deeply moving. Heiss takes up the argument and demands an end of elitism in Chilean politics and calls for a constituent assembly to represent all of the people (including the oppressed indigenous communities) and ditch the conservatism that has become entrenched during the Pinochet era.
Following a referendum in which 80% voted for an assembly, it gathered in the parliament chamber that had lain empty for decades. First on the agenda was a new constitution and lawyer Damaris Abarca and psychologist Alondra Carrillo speak about the responsibility of getting the draft right. Student Valentina Miranda was one of the deputies who brought experience of life on the lowest rungs to the chamber and she speaks with passion and optimism.
Convention chair Elisa Loncón is a specialist in Mapuche culture and she feels that a wind of change is blowing through Chile and her slogan, `Marichiweu', symbolised the will of the people to win the day. Guzmán hopes that they will realise the dreams he shared with Allende and that the country he imagined will finally come about. On the second anniversary of the 2019 protests, a crowd knocked down the wall erected around the plinth of the removed statue of General Manuel Baquedano. He hopes this marks the end of an era, but the chess-loving Abarca fears that the end game may not be so easy to attain.
Closing with Boric thanking the women of Chile during his inauguration speech in March 2022, Guzmán places monochrome inset footage from 1973 beside the credit crawl both to link events 50 years apart and to warn about the fragility of democracy and the need to be vigilant in order to consolidate the new phase in the country's complex history.
An invaluable document that boldly adopts the perspective of the women who seized the moment regardless of personal risk, this may not be Guzmán's most personal, poetic, or profound insight into Chile's turbulent recent history, but it's easily the most upbeat. His admiration for the interviewees is evident and the eloquence of Catalina Garay, Claudia Heiss, and Sibila Sotomayor is particularly poignant and potent.
The wearing of masks on the streets and in the Convention chamber intriguingly links tear gas and Covid-19, but the detail contextualises events and renders the sacrifices made by the protesters all the more telling. One hopes that Guzmán is able to see the new edifice rise up on the stones in the square, but his lifetime's witness will long live on.