Parky At the Pictures (24/1/2020)
(Reviews of Drive Me Home; No Fathers In Kashmir; #Anne Frank: Parallel Stories; Midnight Traveler; and Present. Perfect)
DRIVE ME HOME.
Rather fittingly, CinemaItaliaUK returns for a new decade with a debut feature. After a decade producing such pictures as Fredrik and Magnus Gertten's football documentary, Becoming Zlatan (2015), Simone Catania makes the transition to directing with Drive Me Home, which is showing at the Regent Street Cinema on Wednesday 29 January. A treatise on the binding ties of childhood connections, this queer-centric road movie follows the example of Darren Thornton's A Diary For Mad Mary (2016) in showing how LGBTQ+ characters can have a friendship with straight/cisgender people that doesn't have to involve one-sided crushes and suppressed urges.
As teenagers, Antonio (Vittorio Magazzù Tamburello) and Agostino (Jacopo Vinci) were so close that they envisaged setting up their own independent hamlet by building a crocodile-filled moat around the former's family estate in Sicily. However, 15 years apart means that they are almost strangers when Antonio (Vinicio Marchioni) catches up with Agostino (Marco D'Amore) at a truck stop outside Nijmegen in The Netherlands. Begrudgingly, Agostino gives Antonio some food and a towel for a shower. He also allows him to sleep in his cab, but he refuses to let him borrow his laptop to consult the real estate website handling the sale of the family property.
Cadging a lift so they can talk, Antonio finds himself en route to Düsseldorf and he teases Agostino (who uses the CB handle `Volcano') when he has a radio conversation with control in Flemish. A detour takes them to Antwerp, where Antonio orders three portions of camembert croquettes from a waiter (Dieter Kerreman) and proceeds to get some free champagne out of his manager (Ben Kerremans) by complaining about a pubic hair on one of the plates. Chugging on the bottle down by the docks, Antonio reveals that he has spent the last five years in London and insists that he has tried to track Agostino down without success. He apologises for letting him down in their youth and Agostino responds by inviting him to a nearby sauna.
Following his friend with some trepidation, Antonio walks through the bar area and along a lengthy corridor with people having sex in anterooms. Eventually, they reach the plunge pool, where two women (Sofia Bellucci and Chiara Ombelli) keep Antonio occupied while Agostino makes out with a gay escort (Luca Borromeo). Waking on the bank of the river next morning, Agostino realises he's overslept and he gets his knuckles rapped for being late in collecting his load for Venice. His mood scarcely improves when they get stuck in a traffic jam outside Ulm and he orders Antonio out of the cab after they get into a heated late-night row about dropping everything and going to Australia when Antonio reveals that he is having to auction the estate to pay his €30,000 debt to the government.
Crying as he trudges along an unlit country road, Antonio thinks back to the time they had gone missing for two days as children and how furious his mother, Paola (Chiara Muscato), had been when she found them. He had tried to keep tabs on Agostino after he had been dispatched to a Swiss boarding school to keep the pals apart, but the trail had gone cold and he had given up.
Turning a corner at first light, Antonio sees the truck jackkifed across the road and he pulls Agostino out of the cab. He has sustained a head wound after snorting coke and losing control of his rig. However, they return to the road and reach a commune in the Lessini Mountains in Trentino run by Karl (Lou Castel). While Agostino sleeps, Antonio helps Elodie (Malice Omondi Atteno) and Wwoofer (Nicola Adobati) milk the goats and he strikes up a rapport with the Berlin-born Emily (Jennifer Ulrich). They go for a moonlight walk and she divulges that she is a country girl at heart, despite having a workaholic city father. He explains how he never knew his father and was raised by his mother on her parents' olive farm.
As they go for a skinny dip, we see the young Antonio (Francesco Bianco) and Agostino (Gabriele Vinci) learning how to beat the olives off the trees in the dazzling Sicilian sunshine. The next morning, Agostino leaves early and Antonio has to chase after him, but they arrive on time at Port Marghera in Venice after Annie at control provides Agostino with a viable excuse. They sit in an empty goods wagon in a siding and reminisce about the past. Agostino reveals that he ran away before he could be sent to school and had a tough time in Antwerp before he met a man who helped him settle down. He suffered after they split up, but he is now content to be alone and go where the jobs take him. But he has never forgiven his father (who was the town mayor) for his prejudice and his punishments and he refuses to return home.
Over a car park supper with champagne, Antonio gets a call that Agostino's father has agreed to buy the estate and he apologises that he is in no position to reject the offer. But Agostino offers to drive him south, as he has a job in Naples and could do with the company. They part at the ferry terminal and Agostino promises not to leave it 15 years before they next meet. As he wanders along familiar roads, Antonio remembers rolling down a grassy slope with Agostino and his mother. On entering the house, he recalls the pain of seeing Paola being laid in her coffin and opens the cupboard containing all her holy statues and keepsakes. His phone rings and he discovers that Agostino has used his savings to buy the house and frustrate his father. In a message with the PayPal deposit, he tells his friend he loves him and urges him not to spend the money on drugs and prostitutes.
Antonio had been planning to return to Karl's place and spend some time with Emily, but his fate is left in the air at journey's end. Few will care as much about the future as the past, however, as they speculate about what happened to Antonio and Agostino between Then and Now. Yet Catania and co-scenarist Fabio Natale are content to cast a haze over the facts, as they concentrate on the effect that Agostino's sudden disappearance had on a bond that had been forged around a secret.
For all their nostalgic glow, however, the flashbacks never quite capture the sense of a lost idyll and, consequently, we never entirely believe in Antonio's desperation to keep a place whose memory means more than its ownership. By contrast, Agostino's readiness to buy the property to keep it out of his detested father's clutches feels more tangible, especially as the transaction restores and reinforces the connection with Antonio that he had striven so hard to break.
As the focus falls so firmly on a rapprochement that is so sensitively and plausibly played by Vinicio Marchioni and Marco D'Amore, it's difficult for the minor characters to make much of an impact, even when they are essayed by an icon like Lou Castel. But the sequence in the sauna is adeptly done, as are the scenes in the cab, which bring to mind those in agnès b.'s very different trucking tale, My Name Is Hmmm... (2013). Indeed, cinematographer Palo Ferrari manages to make the metaphorical space look both cavernous and confined, as Catania reflects on the loneliness of the long-distance lorry driver and the rootlessness he shares with the prodigal drifter.
NO FATHERS IN KASHMIR.
Since becoming the first Indian director to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Live-Action Short with Little Terrorist (2004), Ashvin Kumar has alternated between fictional outings like Road to Ladakh (2004), Dazed in Doon (2010) and The Forest (2012) and such documentaries as Inshallah, Football (2010) and Inshallah, Kashmir (2012). Often touching upon contentious themes, his work has frequently fallen foul of the censor and No Fathers in Kashmir has also had its certification issues. For all its good intentions, however, this ambitious mix of political critique, domestic drama, situation comedy and unsettling suspense never really gels.
India and Pakistan have been at war over Kashmir since 1947 and over 100,000 have perished in the conflict. As many as 10,000 have also disappeared, including Basheer, the father of Noor (Zara Webb), a 16 year-old who travels back to the region where she was born to reunite her grandparents, Abdul Rashid (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) and Halima (Soni Razdan). Mother Zainab (Natasha Mago) wishes to marry diplomat Wahid Mirza (Sushil Dahiya) and needs her in-laws to sign documents confirming that her husband is dead. However. they are reluctant to give up hope and Basheer's best friend, Arshid Lone (Ashvin Kumar), disapproves of Zainab's choice of partner.
Feeling out of place in the land of her birth. Noor befriends Majid (Shivam Raina), a boy of her own age who has to raise two smaller siblings with his mother, Parvena (Maya Sarao). He tells Noor the difference between a `militant' and a `terrorist' and she is shocked when a soldier beats him for posing with a gun so she can send a selfie to her secret boyfriend in Britain. Noor is even more dismayed to discover that her father had not abandoned her, as Zainab had told her, but had been `picked up' by the Indian army and not heard of since.
Left with her grandparents, while Zainab and Wahid file the documents, Noor discovers that her grandparents had destroyed every picture in their photo album in case they could be used to incriminate the innocent. She also creates a Facebook account for Majid and posts the picture of him posing as a freedom fighter so he looks cool.
She also goes snooping around the village after witnessing Abdul arguing with Arshid about what he teaches in his madrasa. Curious about the fact he can no longer have sex after being tortured by the Indian forces, Noor sees him chastise Parvena for sleeping with a merchant in order to persuade him to buy the scarfs she makes and sneaks into his house to see him tending to a wounded militant in his attic. From her hiding place, Noor also watches Arshid being quizzed by Major Pandey (Anshuman Jha), who suspects he is harbouring fugitives and receiving a bundle of banknotes for his co-operation. What she doesn't see if that Arshid deposits the money in a collection tin for bereaved militant families.
In escaping from Arshid's house, Noor drops her phone and he returns it to her when she finds him digging a deep grave for martyrs in the woods. She asks about Basheer and he explains how he and Majid's father were tortured in Sarwan after the Indians decided they were terrorists. He also reveals that her father was killed and that his body was dug up by ravenous dogs. Determined to see his grave before she returns to Britain, Noor asks Majid to take her to Sarwan after they go for a nocturnal scooter ride. They trek through the spectacular mountain scenery and kiss by firelight when they camp for the night.
Waking early. Noor wanders off alone and takes photographs at a ruined domicile and screams when she pulls a skeleton out of a clump of soil. Her cries attract a patrol and the teenagers are arrested, with Majid trying to hide the grenade that Noor had unearthed during her search. Hiding her phone in a crack in the wall, she has to listen from her cell to the sound of Majid being tortured. Moreover, she has to leave him behind when Wahid arranges for her release. But, when Zainab sees the footage of the boy's mistreatment in the forest, she breaks up with Wahid over his refusal to get Majid released.
Pandey comes to the house to demand the return of the phone and he tells Noor that he has an awful job, as everyone in the region is a compatriot and a foe. She hands over the phone and realises she has repeated her father's error when the major asks her about Majid's Facebook photo. Powerless, Noor watches as soldiers tear her grandparents' home to shreds to find evidence and she is frightened when they discover a bag of photographs that Basheer had hidden beneath the floorboards. When Pandey enquires where he is, Noor sneers that he should know and she looks on in dismay as he crushes her phone with his boot and a flash montage shows the memories that are being lost forever.
Noor confronts Arshid with the fragment's of Basheer's torn snapshots and threatens to report him for sheltering the militant unless he secures Majid's release. She also accuses him of betraying her father and he counters that he put Islam before nationalism to ensure a free and holy Kashmir. But Noor has no time for such goals and it's only when Abdul explains that Arshid had been forced to withstand the torturing of his mother before his own ordeal that she comes to appreciate the complexities of the situation. Moreover, Abdul reminds her that she would be behaving just as badly if she exposed Arshid's duplicity in order to help Majid.
Arshid leads a protest from the village and a television news crew records the banners and the chants demanding an end of the disappearances. When a soldier tries to block his way, Arshid demands to speak to Pandey or he will reveal what he knows. As Parvena sobs in distress and lashes out at Noor for landing her son in his predicament, Arshid emerges with the boy and there is rejoicing. However, Majid refuses to look at Noor, who is left alone as the party shuffles away from the army headquarters. At that very moment, a jeep brings in a fatality from a skirmish with some militants in the hills and Noor recognised the turbanned trooper who had given her biscuits in her cell.
Parvena refuses to let Noor see Majid, but she sneaks into the house to present him with her father's prized trainers. He reveals that his mother is going to marry Arshid and Noor watches her friend dance at the wedding. She wants to tell him the truth about his new father, but Zainab advises her to wait. As they take their leave the next day, Majid comes to ask Noor to stay, but she says she has to get back to school. They clasp hands through the car window and Noor looks back through her tears to see Majid chasing after her across the bridge.
Although dedicated to the `half widows and half orphans' of the Kashmir valley, this is a film that strives nobly to be fair to both sides. The fact, however, that the Central Board of Film Certification insisted on the toning down of the political content suggests that Kumar's original edit may not have been quite so magnanimously non-partisan. Yet the version showing in UK cinemas is actually uncut, which demonstrates what a sensitive topic this is across the subcontinent.
There's no overt depiction of the militants here and no mention at all of Pakistan or China, who also have stakes in the region. Moreover, while the Indian troops are often shown brutalising the population, Pandey's speech about not knowing who to protect and who to kill makes as equally an indelible mark as any of Arshid's pronouncements on patriotism and faith. By contrast, Noor's interjections and actions are contrivedly naive and the way in which Kumar uses them to advance the plot often leaves it looking enervatingly melodramatic.
The tonal intensity of Loic Dury and Christophe Minck's thoughtfully cross-cultural score similarly tips the balance. But the debuting Zara Webb and Shivam Raina flesh out their characters more convincingly than some of their adult co-stars, although Kumar steals the show with a performance that recalls the way that Spike Lee often employs himself as the contentious conscience of his own films. Cinematographers Jean-Marc Selva and Jean-Marie Delorme also make evocative use of the forbidding terrain, a feat that is all the more remarkable given that the crew was often shooting under curfew with limited access to electricity. But, in striving to convey the traumatic tragedy of the disputed region, Kumar struggles to find the requisite narrative nuance.
#ANNEFRANK: PARALLEL STORIES.
Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp 75 years ago next month. Showing in cinemas to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army, #AnneFrank: Parallel Stories examines the life and writing of the German-born Dutch-Jewish teenager and sets them against the experiences of five other women who survived the war and have spent the rest of their long lives dealing with its traumas. Hiring Helen Mirren to read extracts from the diary that Anne kept in a cramped Amsterdam annex, Italian film-makers Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migotto not only seek to celebrate one of the most remarkable documents of the entire Second World War, but also to remind audiences of the pernicious prejudices that were exploited by the Third Reich hierarchy and which, hideously, continue to threaten the stability of the continent in the second decade of the 21st century.
Sitting in a reconstruction of the Achterhuis behind a bookcase at the Opekta offices on the Prinsengracht, Mirren reads extracts from the diary, while a teenager using the handle @KaterinaKat (Martina Gatti) wanders around the visitor centre at Bergen-Belsen and pays her respects at the memorial stone that Anne shares with her sister, Margot. She uses her phone to take pictures of the displays and send messages to Anne, while Mirren describes how she received her diary as a present on her 13th birthday on 12 June 1942 and hoped that her jottings would one day by read by someone other than Kitty, the imaginary friend to whom it was addressed and who was inspired by a character in Cissy van Marxveldt's Joop ter Heul novels.
Anne's yearning to be remembered is deeply poignant and reinforces the ordinariness that connects her to today's celebrity-conscious youth. Doubtless Arianna Szörényi, Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard, Helga Weiss, Fanny Hochbaum and sisters Tatiana and Andra Bucci harboured similar hopes in their own adolescence. They are all now in their nineties and recall the war years with an awful clarity that makes their quiet courage all the more humbling.
As Mirren recalls, Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British on 15 April 1945 and the SS guards were forced to bury their victims in mass graves, while the nearby townsfolk looked on. In mentioning the brutal warden of the women's section, Irma Grese, Mirren denounces the locals for turning a blind eye to the crimes being committed in their name. She also reveals that Anne and Margot were interred in a common grave, along with 22,300 others and @KaterinaKat takes another snapshot and messages on Instagram to ask if the dead retained any hope. Rather crassly, she taps that their journey ended where hers is about to begin, as she goes in search of answers to the questions, what happened and why.
Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard defiantly proclaims that her children are her revenge on the Nazis. Born in Danzig in 1928, she was arrested during the infamous Vel' d'Hiv round-up on 16-17 July 1942. However, she escaped the velodrome and spent two years in hiding in Paris with her mother before being recaptured and deported. After a spell in the internment camp at Drancy, Sarah was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau before being sent to Bergen-Belsen, where she briefly met Anne Frank.
Back in Amsterdam, the camera surveys the emptiness of the rooms at Prinsengracht 26, which reflect the wishes of Anne's father, Otto Frank. The family had moved from Frankfurt when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and had watched in dread as the National Socialists passed repressive laws against German Jews and declared their intention of eradicating them in a Final Solution. But, from the reconstructed room that Anne had shared with fiftysomething dentist Fritz Pfeffer. Mirren notes that the walls were covered with pictures of such popular film stars as Deanna Durbin, Ginger Rogers, Greta Garbo, Heinz Rühmann and Sonja Henie, as well as images of the Dutch Royal Family and Princess Elizabeth, who was three years Anne's senior.
Born in Fiume in Italy in 1933, Arianna Szörényi was deported from San Daniele del Friuli in 1944 and spent time in Risiera San Saba, Auschwitz and Ravensbrück before being sent to Bergen-Belsen. Here, the 11 year-old had a gun pointed at her by Irma Grese and she realised that she could die before the Allies who has just landed in Normandy could rescue her. Mirren ponders the part that chance played in camp survival, along with cunning, tenacity and the sacrifice of others.
Fellow Fiume residents Tatiana and Andra Bucci (who were born in 1937 and 1939 respectively) were fortunate in being able to help each other through the ordeal that followed after they were captured in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz from Risiera San Saba. They were mistaken for twins and became part of the group investigated by Dr Josef Mengele, the so-called `Angel of Death'. A sympathetic guardian had warned them not to step forward if they were ever asked if they wanted to see their mother and they recall with dismay the fact their cousin Sergio ignored the advice and was taken to his death on his seventh birthday.
Yves Kugelmann, from the Anne Frank Fonds in Basel, explains how Otto tried in vain to obtain emigration papers before Margot received orders to report for a work camp detail. Refusing to split the family, Otto took them to the hiding place he had been preparing for several months and Ronald Leopold, the executive director of the Anne Frank house, laments the fact that the Netherlands had the highest rate of wartime Jewish deportation in Western Europe (a shocking 75%). That said, public transport workers did their best to hinder the process and Leopold pays tribute to their courage.
However, historians Michael Berenbaum and Marcello Pezzetti stress the fact that local people played a key role in the Nazi round-ups, which resulted in Jews being sent to the detention camps that were the Western European equivalent of the eastern ghettos. The Franks were sent to Westerbork in Drenthe province and, while the increasingly tiresome @KaterinaKat wanders soulfully around the grounds and the exhibits, Mirren and Ethnic-psychologist Nathalie Zadje describe how Anne was a normal teenager, who argued with her mother and sister and took every opportunity to rebel against what she perceived to be endless criticism about her appearance, attitudes and manners.
Over some of the many photographs of Anne that have survived, Kugelmann admits she can be spiky. But he marvels at the wit and wisdom of a young girl who has been forced to grow up by her situation. She certainly had no illusions about what was happening to the Jewish neighbours who had already been sent east in cattle trucks, as she had heard about the use of gas from the Radio Oranje broadcasts on the BBC. Having confided to Kitty that this may well be the least horrible way to die, Anne found herself aboard the last train to leave Westerbork on 3 September 1944.
As Andra Bucci recalls the piles of corpses that became a familiar sight in Auschwitz, @KatherinaKat travels to Prague, where Helga Weiss had been born in 1929 and was a talented artist as a child. She was arrested on 4 December 1941 and was variously detained at Terezin, Auschwitz, Freiburg and Mauthausen. Arianna remembers being whipped by a kapo because she refused to sing in German, while Sarah remembers racing lice along the hem of her dress. In her diary, Anne records seeing lines of people being frogmarched through the streets by bullying thugs. Mirren chokes on the words, which combine anger, sorrow and fear, as Anne tries to temper anxiety with hope.
Violinist Francesca Dego dedicates her music to the ancestors who perished and Zadje notes the importance among survivors of seeking to avenge their loved ones by thwarting the Nazi plan by living long and well. Arianna Szörényi's grandson, Lorenzo Giovanella, has a tattoo of her number on his arm, while names on the wall of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague are frequently repainted to that no memory can fade. We also see memorials in Milan, Westerbork and Paris, where Alain Grant of Jewpop.com believes that Holocaust trauma is passed down to the descendants of victims and survivors alike.
Aviv. Thal and Omer Hochbaum come to see the Shoah Memorial in Paris with their grandmother, Fanny Hochbaum, who was born in 1938 and now lives in Israel. Her grandfather died of starvation in the Lódz ghetto (misspelt as `Lodge' in the often indistinct subtitles) and she was sent into hiding in southern France in order to protect her. The grandchildren admit that seeing the memorial has made Fanny's stories seem more vivid and they recognise the duty they have to counter Holocaust deniers by repeating her truths.
Mirren reads Anne's 1943 entry about the ring tightening around the family, as @KaterinaKat visits a Parisian bakery and messages about how much freedom would have meant to Anne. We hear how the Holocaust was pushed into the background until Adolph Eichmann went on trial in 1961, the year in which Laura Giovanella was born. She believes she was 20 days late because mother Arianna was scared to bring a child into the world. Indeed, Laura remains convinced that her mother has never got over leaving Bergen-Belsen alone and suggests that part of her has remained in the camp ever since. Arianna was baptised by her Catholic mother, but she was detained because her father was Jewish and such `mixed' ancestry afforded no protection.
Both Arianna and the Bucci sisters managed to meet up with their mothers in the camp, although Tatiana recalls they were too scared to hug her because she had become so thin and that they have always regretted the pain that this must have caused her. By contrast, Arianna smuggled some butter and two boiled potatoes to her mother and was scolded by her sisters for crying through the barbed wire.
In all, 230,000 children and teenagers were deported to Auschwitz and only 700 were found alive when the Soviets arrived on 27 January 1945. Anne continued to tell Kitty about her hopes for the future and her longing to experience the simple joys of freedom. Sarah Lichtsztejn-Montard also remained optimistic in the drab tenements at Drancy, which deported 700,000 French Jews during the course of the war. As @KaterinaKat moons around the site and wonders if time heals wounds, photographer Simon Daval opines that everyone in the camp knew that they would eventually be sent to the east and invented the term `Pitchipoi' for their unknown destination. He followed the 2000-mile route to Auschwitz and is dismayed to see the iconography of Fascism in several places along the way.
Helga Weiss worries that lessons have not been learned and Laurent Montard despairs that racism and anti-Semitism are on the rise in France. Michael Berenbaum criticises the role that social media has played in affording like-minded haters a platform and a megaphone, but Chanat sees Anne Frank's image and the diary found by helper Miep Gies as a beacon that exposes the bigotry of the neo-Nazis.
A week after the Franks moved into the annex, they were joined by 15 year-old Peter Van Pels and his parents, Hermann and Auguste. Initially, Anne found him awkward, but she grew to enjoy their conversations and tells Kitty all about their first kisses in a passage that Mirren reads with a fondly swooning breathlessness. Helga also experienced first love in Terezin and shows off the shirts belonging to Otto, who was to die in Dachau a few days after its liberation. She also kept a journal and used drawings both to comment on her situation and escape from it. Fortunately, her uncle hid her notebook in a wall and her work survived, although it has never achieved the same attention as Anne's diary.
As Marcello Pezzetti explains, the fortress at Terezin was presented to the world as a model ghetto, which housed a number of Jewish and mixed-race celebrities. Kurt Gerron famously made the 1944 film Theresienstadt that included footage of a Red Cross party approving the living conditions. But the camp was a holding bay for the extermination camps, as 93 year-old Doris Grozdanovi confirms. During her three and a half years in the camp, she was photographed tending sheep at Terezin and her apartment in Prague is filled with over 1000 stuffed toys that have been sent to her by well-wishers. Every week, she goes to the fortress to tell visitors about the realities of the regime and she quotes the Karel Svenk hymn that became a rallying cry for the prisoners.
Meanwhile, the tiresome @KaterinaKat reaches Amsterdam, as Mirren informs us that Anne started editing and correcting her diaries after hearing exiled education minister Gerrit Bolkestein promise that all testimonies about the suffering of the Dutch people would be published. On his return to Holland, Otto had misgivings about releasing the text and discreetly changed some names and removed passages about Anne's rows with mother Edith and any references to her awakening sexuality. But the book appeared under the title Het Achterhuis in 1947 and he hoped it would help fight prejudice around the world.
Kugelmann reminds viewers of the dangers of letting history repeat itself with the migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe, but the Bucci sisters fear that the youth of today knows less about the past than it should. Cutting away from Anne's sense of optimism on D-Day (Tuesday 6 June 1944), the camera accompanies @KaterinaKat through the empty rooms that Leopold avers are designed to be a mirror to show visitors how easily this could have been them - on either side of the divide. Berenbaum mourns the loss of Anne's talent and the infinite possibilities that the Nazis crushed by murdering so many children.
Mirren reads the last entry in the diary, which was written three days before the hiding place was discovered on 4 August 1944 by SS-Oberscharführer Karl Silberbauer of the Sicherheitsdienst. In the 75 years since, Anne's words have informed and inspired, none more so than the inscription on the inside cover: `Be Kind and have courage.' Rather cornily, Mirren slips out of the reconstructed room as @KaterinaKat wanders in without noticing her.
The whole conceit of the woke woman earnestly texting mindful questions while following in the footsteps of Anne Frank and her surviving peers keeps threatening to undermine this well-intentioned documentary, as do Helen Mirren's occasional switches in the pronunciation of Anne's first name and some of her more emotively mannered line readings. But Fedeli and Migotto deserve praise for the idea and for acquainting us to the seven estimable survivors who have emerged from the shadows described by Primo Levi in order to bear witness to the atrocities they endured as young women.
It might have been nice to hear more about their postwar experiences, as much is made by the assembled experts of how Anne's future might have panned out if she had lived. But the co-directors wisely avoid making too many contrasts with the ongoing migrant crisis, although they are made manifestly evident by one of this week's other cinema releases, Hasan Fazili's Midnight Traveler.
Production designer Paolo Di Benedetto makes a neat job of the notional bolthole, although Alessio Viola's restless camera seems overly conscious of the need to pander to the 3-D audience. Lele Marchitelli's score comes close to mawkishness in some of the lusher orchestral passages, while the busy nature of Valentina Ghilotti's editing is somewhat dictated by the script's insistence on avoiding linearity in flitting between Prinsengracht 26 and the parallel stories unfolding in the camps. Such misgivings aside, this is a useful introduction to the Shoah for teenagers and should send those more familiar with the events covered back to a volume that has been translated into over 60 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies.
In many ways, films like Afghan refugee Hassan Fazili's Midnight Traveler are the digital equivalents of Anne Frank's diary. Offering an immediacy missing from objectively observational accounts of the ongoing migrant crisis, this phonecammed record reveals first hand how a family of four sometimes risked their lives and frequently become bureaucratically becalmed in their three-year bid to make a fresh start in Western Europe. Recalling the way in which Guy David assembled Palestinian smallholder Emad Burnat's ad hoc footage for 5 Broken Cameras (2011), this is a potent and poignant picture and its absence from the major end-of-year awards after taking prizes at Sundance and Berlin is truly astonishing.
While raising daughters Nargis and Zahra, film-makers Hassan Fazili and Fatima Hussaini ran the Art Café and Restaurant in Kabul. Reputed for providing a place where men and women could meet as equals to discuss politics, culture, religion and reform with complete freedom, the venue incurred the wrath of a fundamentalist mullah and was closed down following a series of increasingly intemperate protests. In 2015, the Taliban issued a fatwa for Fazili after he made a film about a murdered commander. However, he was tipped off by friend Hussain Hashemi (who had joined the Taliban and would eventually die in Bagram Prison) and the family was able to flee to Tajikistan.
After 14 months in exile, however, they were deported and had to travel by car to Afghanistan's fourth-largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif, to await contact with people smugglers who could get them across the border into Turkey. Facing the prospect of a 1500-mile journey to reach Germany, Hassan and Fatima try to keep Nargis and Zahra calm, while also appraising them of the gravity of the situation and the need for them to be on their best behaviour in some trying circumstances. At one point, Hassan wraps a scarf around his head to impersonate a menacing Taliban adherent, only for Zahra to composedly threaten to eat him unless he removes it. After a fortnight travelling in cramped vehicles, Nargis is delighted to hear the sound of a bird in the Turkish countryside and notes that the mountains resemble a painting (she will later prove equally enraptured by the sea), while Hassan and Fatima are merely relieved that the 14 days between leaving Istanbul and arriving in a safe house in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia pass without major incident.
Having agreed to keep a visual record of their odyssey, Hassan and Fatima teach the girls how to film with their three Samsung mobile phones. It's never stated who took which image (although Hassan was the principal operator), but they have an intimacy and an immediacy that even brings an urgency to shots of car interiors and walking feet. But, while these sequences are the building blocks of the documentary, episodes like Nargis and Zahra's flight after they are caught scrumping plums from a neighbour's garden have a delightful home movie feel about them. However, danger is never far away and trafficker Abbas Yusuf threatens to abduct the girls unless Hassan comes up with more cash. His wife curses him for being too trusting, but agrees that they should separate from their travelling companions to give Yusuf the slip.
Unfortunately, they don't get very far before they are caught by the Sofia police and have their phones confiscated. After 12 days in the cells, the family is reunited at the Ovcha Kupel refugee camp on Day 51 of their trek. Zahra gets boils on her hands and face because of the mosquitoes and dirt in the room, while Nargis cries because she's bored. Fatima snaps at her and she also loses her temper with Hassan when he tells a woman on their corridor that she looks prettier every day. He protests that he was only trying to be friendly, but Fatima insists that she doesn't want her husband giving other women compliments. Hassan teases her about having to play roles when appearing in films and she grumbles that it's different in real life. However, she struggles to keep a straight face when she opines that she can see why people think cinema has become a corrupting influence on impressionable minds.
On Day 102, after we see Nargis playing cops and travellers with her new friends in a park, she declares that she hates Bulgaria because a man had tried to punch her when they went to buy a warm coat. Hassan protects her, but another in the group gets cut during a scuffle with some demonstrators outside the camp. An ambulance is called and the police attempt to disperse the crowd. The next day, Hassan gives an interview to a TV reporter, in which he seeks to reassure the locals that the migrants pose no threat to them or their lifestyle. However, Fatima is concerned by the growing vehemence of the protests on the campus and they decide to travel 245 miles to Serbia after the cops do little to quell a violent protest and even use electric shock devices on the migrants, who are branded ISIS agents and a menace to Bulgaria.
Exactly a week later, the family has to run through a field near Dimitrovgrad after having spent four nights sleeping in a forest. The convoy makes it through, however, and, on Day 114, the tenacious foursome reaches Belgrade. They are forced to spend a period sleeping in a camp corridor and have to make do with a half-finished building that barely keeps out the cold, as the snow begins to fall. But they are together and protected and life improves on Day 189 when they are billeted in a large family room in Krnjaca Camp in Serbia. To celebrate, Nargis dials up Michael Jackson's `They Don't Care About Us' on her phone and dances and the sense of optimism continues over Christmas, as everyone helps build a snowman. They also have a snowball fight before gathering to watch the festive fireworks.
Feeling settled and reluctant to place themselves back in the hands of unpredictable smugglers, Hassan and Fatima agree to wait until their names come up for a legal passage to Hungary. Fatima is particularly worried about the lasting effect that the trauma will have on her daughters. But Hassan cheers her up by agreeing to lead religious services in the camp, even though he is agnostic and is the only one of six brothers who isn't actually a mullah. She is touched, however, when he preaches about equality and she teases him that he will have to become a Muslim after having previously dabbled with several other faiths.
Shortly afterwards, Zahra goes missing and, over a black screen, Hassan recalls the panic and helplessness he felt as they waited for news. Moreover, he curses himself for thinking like a film-maker by imagining how it would feel to find her under a bush, as this would have been the standout scene in his documentary. He joins the search party and is mightily relieved when Nargis runs up to let him know that her sister has been found. as for a brief moment, he had allowed his artistic métier to distract him from his paternal duty. For some time after, Hassan hates himself and cinema for landing him in trouble in Kabul and for seducing him into thinking it could help him make sense of his predicament. Once they are reunited, however, Hassan films Zahra catching thistledown floating on the breeze and her joyous innocence and infectious giggle proves deeply touching and crucially redemptive.
As an official from the European Union informs Hassan on Day 560 that his name is approaching the top of the waiting list, Nargis tells her mother that she doesn't want to cover her hair. Fatima confides to the camera that she had helped make her husband more open-minded and is happy with the way her children have turned out. She is coaxed into learning how to ride a bicycle, but is very unstable on two wheels and ruins her best shirt in a nasty crash in the camp grounds.
After 475 days in Serbia, the family is granted permission to travel to Hungary in order to plead its case for asylum. They go by train and by Day 594, they have been ensconced in the Roszke Transit Zone. Unable to leave the soulless camp, they are forced to wait for three months for news of their application. Hassan imagines happy days at journey's end and an adorable montage follows of the girls leading normal lives - rollerskating, going on fairground rides, smiling into the camera, being sulky and just growing up.
As the images fade, Hassan worries that they have simply been a mirage. But a closing reveals that their claim was upheld and that they have been given the right to remain in Europe. They have had to smuggle themselves across two continents and risk all sorts with perils to prove they had been persecuted in their homeland. But, even as the picture ends, Hassan, Fatima, Nargis and Zahra still don't know where they will be given a permanent home.
While Midnight Traveler was doing the rounds on the festival circuit, Fazili was still was still awaiting a decision on his application to remain in Germany. However, the authorities sought to return the Fazilis to Hungary under the terms of the Dublin Convention, while the first lawyer they engaged took their money and refused to help them. As a consequence, their new attorney had to start the process from scratch.
One suspects that a film of this calibre couldn't do his prospects any harm, as any country should be proud to welcome such courageous, tenacious, intelligent and resourceful people. But, for all the moments of precious humanity and artless lyricism, this is also an unflinching account of a gruelling ordeal, in which two young girls and their parents were subjected to exploitation, racist abuse, danger, despair and humiliation. No wonder Fazili has Nargis read the line from Afghan writer Said Bahodine Majrouh's Ego Monster about the road of life winding through Hell and Hell being inside us all.
There's never a hint of self-pity in Fazili's demeanour, however, as he remains sufficiently cinematically astute to realise that the more hardships his family has to endure, the more compelling the resulting film will be. Yet, the reaction to the endless hours of downtime proves as revealing as the way in which the quartet copes with threat and adversity. As Fazili has stated in interviews, the tougher the conditions on the road, the more gripping the footage is. He only touches on the ethical issues that this approach raises. But it's the interaction between bored children and their cooped-up parents that many viewers will identify with and give this historical snapshot a universality that should sweep away the fears and prejudices that currently shame this country and the wider continent.
While Fazili and Hussaini were in constant consultation during the shooting of the film, the cataloguing and ordering of the hundreds of hours of footage was undertaken by editor-producer Emelie Mahdavian, who took receipt of the various memory cards each time the family crossed a border. Fazili credits Mahdavian with capturing emotions that weren't always evident in the raw material and much of the film's reality and beauty comes from the deftness of the juxtapositions.
The intensity is reinforced by the miraculous sound editing of Daniel Timmons and by Gretchen Jude's feedback-heavy score, which echoes the pounding tension that the foursome must have felt while on the move and the gnawing frustration at having to sit and wait in confinement. Ultimately, while it has a political subtext and takes the docu-road movie in a new direction, this is a study of the distance between places and people, aspirations and actualities. As of yet, it's a story without an ending and one can only hope that Fazili is eventually able to provide us and his family with a happy one.
On 1 June 2017, the Beijing authorities passed the Cybersecurity Law, which sought to regulate live-streaming inside the People's Republic of China. The phenomenon was barely a year old and Zhu Shengze seeks to celebrate its dynamism and diversity in Present. Perfect, a 124-minute compilation of vlog clips that has been drained of colour and edited down from over 800 hours of footage that was downloaded over a period of 10 months. Providing a unique insight into daily life on the margins of Chinese society, this is also a dispiriting exposé of the way in which cyberspace brings out the worst in those lingering in its shadows.
At the height of the streaming boom in Year Zero, over 422 million Chinese regularly logged on to platforms presenting a dizzying range of live content. Armed with cellphones, digital cameras and selfie sticks, the hosting `anchors' broadcast to viewers who could interact directly through text comments known as `bullets'. They could also make virtual gifts that could be redeemed for hard cash.
Opening with the view from the cab of a high-rise crane, we see perspectives from a JCB demolishing a house, as well as a pilot and various factory workers. On the streets of Shenzhen, a woman in protective work clothes is fascinated by a young man dancing to `Unknown Pleasures' in order to elicit some donations. A farmer offers to provide eco-friendly `agritainment' for rich people who enjoy watching people toil on the soil, while a young woman takes a break from feeding the pigs on her father's farm to pop to the toilet. She dims the sound, but leaves the camera running outside the simple outdoor privy, so she doesn't lose her connection with the viewers.
A 30 year-old man whose body stopped maturing at puberty wanders around a wasteland and answers questions about his genitals with genial good humour. The crane driver appears in a safety helmet and camouflage overalls to perform a Michael Jackson Moonwalk before ducking down to read the phone screen to see if anyone has bulleted him. A 23 year-old divorcée from Guizhou who works in a garment factory in Fujian with a camera smuggled past her supervisor keeps up a conversation while sewing underpants, while a surly punk (or is this our street dancer striking a pose?) questions the sexuality of a guest who wants him to dance naked.
Back on the street, a pavement artist of restricted growth makes light of his misformed hands and feet cheerfully answers questions about chopsticks and turns the camera in excitement when three figures in Pikachu costumes walk past. While one woman lip-syncs and dances to a pop tune, another flirts with her callers while drinking beer. A twentysomething shows off the bleeding cut on his arm and argues with those who claim that the wound is a fake and that his `hobby' is sick. He is quite prepared to insult his detractors, but a man whose face is disfigured along the right side with burn scars tries to reason with those who doubt the veracity of his looks and criticise him for streaming when he should keep himself hidden. Although he is happy to take tiger tokens, he admits that he broadcasts because he is bored and lonely in the wee small hours.
A young woman turns the camera on her wheelchair and thanks visitors for their compliments and notes their request not to smile because it spoils her doll-like beauty. The pavement artist fields the same questions about having to use spoons to eat and keeps having to explain that he was born with his condition in 1987. He remains jaunty and readily agrees to show one caller how he walks. In the underwear factory, the seamstress chides those treating her site like a matchmaking bureau, as she discusses her young daughter and a 16 year-old co-worker who landed a job through her auntie after she got bored at school. She concurs with one caller that she will regret the decision to abandon her education and jokes that she works faster when she's not streaming.
The pre-pubertal 30 year-old from Heze in Shandong Province shows users around the house he shares with his parents and older brother's family. He explains that it will soon be demolished, but they hope to move into two new flats, which will pass to his sibling when their parents die. Streaming while washing his feet and doing his laundry, the street artist remains resolutely upbeat, as does the dancer, who bounces back from being ordered to move from under a flyover by an officious functionary to perform on an overhead walkway at night. Meanwhile, the seamstress shows everyone what she's cooking, as she scolds her daughter for grizzling. She is bored by questions about why she's not at work and threatens to cut the connection, but needs to be online as much as her viewers.
Back in Heze, the man-child eats a bun and recalls how he first became involved in streaming and took the name `Opposite Attitude' to try and force himself to change his life. He confesses to a crush on a male anchor and how he used to shower him with gifts. But he realised presenting his own show gave him the chance to become more independent from his parents and he now enjoys his minor celebrity.
The seamstress takes her daughter to work and she chatters away, while the three year-old keeps bobbing up and down behind her. She is clearly bored and wants to see what her mother is doing, but she needs room to work and stay in the centre of the shot for her patrons. There have been times when she wishes she wasn't a mom, but she reveals that her daughter gives her back rubs and cheers her up when she cries. Times have been tough, but she hopes they have turned a corner.
The man with the burn scars sings in a karaoke bar, while the street dancer gives a heartfelt (or is it diva-ishly acted) speech with a kitschy musical accompaniment about wanting to please his audience and being hurt when they side with the trolls. He tells them to watch TV if they want to see professional performers, as he can only do his best and hopes that this is enough to win some subscribers and receive the odd gift. In the midst of an enjoyable chat about the nature of friendship, the street artist mocks his caller for being addicted to video games and is disappointed when he exits the showroom.
Meanwhile, Opposite Attitude has found a factory job in order to give himself a little more independence from his parents. He admits to struggling with the dialect, but enjoys relying on himself. The climb up the stairs to the third-storey room he shares with another worker takes it out of him, but he perks up when he realises that he has left his key in the door all day and show his viewers his bunk bed with a typically infectious giggle. When we next see him, he is cleaning his ears as he chats with the scarred man in an insert on the screen. They seem to be chatting to each other, as well as their callers and it's never quite clear to whom a particular comment is addressed.
An unseen figure (possibly the street artist) plays a video game, in which a soldier drives a variety of vehicles over rough terrain before engaging in a fire fight. Over footage of scuttling cockroaches, another unseen anchor compares the traits the insects share with humans before we play out with the street dancer bopping to Psy's `Gangnam Style'. He has attracted quite a crowd, but nobody is watching him perform. Instead, they are all gazing intently at his screen to watch his broadcast image and read the bullets he receives. Why bother with real life when you can have a on-screen facsimile?
Produced in Chicago, Zhu Shengze's third documentary after Out of Focus (2014) and Another Year (2016) is a classic clips collection from the golden age of Chinese streaming. Inspired by the 2017 accident that saw an anchor fall to his death while attempting to stream himself doing pull-ups from the side of a skyscraper, it has not been shown in Zhu's homeland, as it prioritises those on the lower rungs of a society that increasingly sets greater store by prosperity than struggle and conformity than individuality. Artist Xu Bing attempted something similar with Dragonfly Eyes (2017), which showed at The ICA in London. But this is a rougher and readier compilation, whose insights into the needy narcissism that drives this brand of cyber-shooting-gallery celebrity fascinates and frustrates in equal measure.
Part of the problem lies in the awful subtitling, whose white lettering is often impossible to read against the lighter patches of the monochrome image. But much on-screen text goes untranslated, including the names of the anchors at the end of the film, which is pretty unforgivable for a US-Hong Kong co-production. It's also unclear why the action is divided into four chapters, as there is no obvious thematic or tonal link to each segment.
Furthermore, the absence of backstories makes it tricky to get a handle on the various contributors and why Zhu selected them over the oodles of others seeking the attention of their compatriots. It's more apparent in the cases of the street artist, the burn victim and Opposite Attitude, who have seized the opportunity to commodify their situations. But we never learn why the crane driver drifts off the scene or why we see so little of the `agritainment' farmer, the swineherd's daughter and the woman in the wheelchair. Were they alienated by the often aggressive bullets fired off by their followers or did Zhu herself lose interest in them?
Even though her structuring imposes a certain subjectivity, Zhu is restricted by what the anchors said back in 2017 and the viewer can't expect to be spoon-fed. But this feels meanderingly random at times, while the decision to decolorise the footage imposes a uniformity that seems unintentionally dehumanising. Yet there is something intriguing (and revealing) about the process of archiving found footage that was intended for instant consumption and how differently it was viewed by the populace at large and the regime that controls it. Many of the virtual showrooms that sprang up during the 2017 boom were closed down and it's unsettling to think what happened to their vanished hosts. Is there anybody still out there?