(Reviews of Lost in the Night; Time Still Turns the Pages; Tish; and Ronnie O'Sullivan: The Edge of Everything)
LOST IN THE NIGHT.
It's been seven years since Mexican director Amat Escalante last directed a feature. Having debuted with Sangre (2005) after a spell assisting Carlos Reygadas, he presented a shocking insight into the plight of illegal migrants working across the US border in Los Bastardos (2008). More controversy followed with Heli (2013) after it won the Best Director prize at Cannes and The Untamed (2016), which brought Escalante the Silver Lion for Best Director at Venice. Subsequently, he has been working on the Netflix series, Narcos: Mexico (2018-21), but now returns to features with Lost in the Night.
Three years after Paloma Flores (Vicky Araico) went missing after protesting against a Canadian company opening a mine in her part of Mexico, son Emiliano (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño) still doesn't know what happened to her. We see her being captured n the night by a corrupt cop named Rubén (Jero Medina), who had taunted her that her time was up. He's now in cahoots with Rigoberto Duplas (Fernando Bonilla), a conceptual artist who lives in the vicinity in a modernist edifice with his pop singer partner, Carmen Aldama (Bárbara Mori), and her daughter, Mónica (Ester Expósito).
She posts fake suicide videos online and, when a dying cop tips off Emiliano that his mother's remains might be buried on the estate, girlfriend Jazmín (Maria Fernanda Osio) uses her familiarity with them to stop Rubén from arresting them for snooping around the perimeter fence. Indeed, she also makes a fuss of Carmen and persuades her that she could babysit for her, while Emiliano could do odd jobs, so that they can mooch around without arousing any suspicion.
While repairing windows shattered in an explosion from the mine, Emiliano gets to see Rigo and Carmen squabbling. He also has to deal with Mónica flirting with him because she had spied on him petting in the scrub with Jazmín. She jumps into the lake so that he has to rescue her and is frustrated when he refuses her request for mouth-to-mouth. Nevertheless, she lures him up to her eyrie at the top of a lookout tower and has him and Jazmín invited to tea with her younger sister, who has made cupcakes.
Rigo gives them a book about an artwork he has made that included body parts from the paedophile founder of the Aluxes religious order. He also quizzes Emiliano and Jazmín about their attitude towards the mine. But Emiliano's sister, Violeta (Mayra Hermosillo), who is also investigating what happened to her mother, can find no connection between either Rigo or Carmen and the mining company.
Emiliano is curious, however, about Rigo's friendship with Rubén and tries to find out more when they pay a call on the Aluxes after the housekeeper's baby daughter is abducted and Emiliano finds her tied to a bush in the scrubland. He listens to both sides, as Rigo accuses them of waging a campaign against his family and they claim he abuses his wealth and status to persecute them when Mexico is supposed to have religious freedom. Rubén warns preacher Felipe about his future conduct, as two of Rigo's dogs have also been poisoned, but he denies any wrongdoing and refuses to back down.
Still intent on finding out about Paloma, Emiliano goes snooping one night to check out the water tank, as bodies have recently been found in another one nearby. Rigo finds him and accepts his explanation that he had heard a noise, but Mónica asks what he was up to when she brings him lunch next day. He deflects the question by praising her singing voice and she reveals that she was planning to become a singer when one of Carmen's friends tried to rape her and they had been forced to flee to Spain after her mother had shot the man in the groin. She also confides that she knows about Emiliano losing his mother and offers her sympathies.
Rigo calls Emiliano to his office and informs him that the Aluxes leader is not the body in his installation. He also asks why he's working for him because he knows about Paloma. Moreover, he suggests doing a project that shows how their paths came to cross. But Emiliano is unimpressed and storms out to join Jazmín, who breaks the news that her parents want her to stop seeing him because he's never going to amount to anything. Back at the house, Rigo reminds Carmen that he was involved in Paloma's disappearance and warns that there could be trouble ahead.
There has also been an incident in the town, as a six year-old girl has been killed in the crossfire between two drug cartels. Some hot-headed youths arm themselves and drag Emiliano into a truck to confront them. Violeta pleads with him not to go, as does Jazmín, who tries slows the vehicle to appeal to her boyfriend. But he turns away, only for his nerve to fail him and he jumps down and trudges back to town. When he calls on Jazmin, she breaks up with him because she is tired of his antics. When he pleads with her, he is set upon by her father and wakes in the back of Rigoberto's boat in the middle of the lake in the dead of night.
Close to a breakdown, Rigo confesses that he had asked Rubén to deal with Paloma, as he had invested heavily in the mine and stood to be ruined if it was stopped. He had no idea they would kill her and her driver and offers to turn himself into the cops because his conscience is frayed. On docking, however, Carmen greets them and tells her husband to stop being foolish. She refuses to let him turn himself in and leaps on to the boat when Emiliano grabs a rope and starts strangling Rigo from behind. Mónica arrives with a gun and she fires into the air to end the fracas.
Emiliano stalks away from the jetty, but Mónica follows him and they spend the night together in the scrub. She asks him to put his hands around her throat for a social media video and they begin to kiss. When they wake next morning, Jazmín finds them and is dismayed that Emiliano has betrayed her. But worse is to follow, as Carmen has gunned down Rigo in cold blood and told the cops that Emiliano had a grudge against him. They ignore Mónica's protests and cuff their suspect and put him under armed guard in the back of a truck.
Believing him to be a hero for killing Rigo, the Aluxes ram the vehicle and Emiliano is able to escape. Cutting the rope on a fence post, he jumps into the lake and swims out to a derelict concrete cupola. He is wounded in the thigh by the cops, but makes a tourniquet with his shirt and hides underwater when they take a boat to search the ruin.
Returning to the house under cover of darkness, he sees Carmen thanking Rubén for pursuing the culprit and informing him that they are going to leave for Spain. Climbing up to Mónica's room, Emiliano asks her to give him an alibi, as he doesn't believe that Carmen will hire him a good lawyer to plead for a reduced sentence, as Mónica suggests. She agrees and goes to the turret of a structure abutting the lake and threatens to jump unless her mother clears Emiliano.
Unaware that Mónica is recording, Carmen confesses to shooting Rigo and looks on in horror as her daughter films herself falling to her death. Emiliano is released and the film ends with him kissing Jazmín through her window.
Stoutly played by a committed cast, this is a trenchant study of the chasms dividing Mexican society and the roles that greed, corruption, violence, and injustice play in keeping the downtrodden at heel. Religion, the art world, the media, and the drug cartels all receive side swipes, as Escalante reveals how difficult it is to affect meaningful change in such a dysfunctional country.
Yet, while these themes are well worth exploring, the scenario co-written by the director's brother, Martín, feels somewhat makeshift, especially when compared to the provocative potency of Heli and The Untamed. The subplots involving the Aluxes and the drug gangs sit awkwardly, while the backstories of Rigoberto and Carmen are unpersuasively sketchy. The same goes for Emiliano's relationship with Violeta, as we never really know how old he was when his mother disappeared and how he has occupied his time in the interim.
The incohesive and suspense-free plot also receives too many contrived shoves to move it along, such as the deathbed confession of the cop, the ease with which Emiliano lands a job and becomes a trusted member of the household, the Aluxes ram raid, and the convenient breakdown that prompts Carmen to dispose of her spouse.
Other sequences feel protracted, such as the nocturnal search of the water tank and the fugitive swim out to the ruin. More intriguing is Emiliano and Mónica's mutual fascination, particularly as he is so devoted to Jazmín. But the suicide vlog feels gimmicky and gives rise to a tumbling slo-mo denouement that is made all the more melodramatic by an over-emphatic passage in Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein's otherwise noteworthy score.
Cinematographer Adrian Durazo's widescreen views of the Guanajuato locations are admirably atmospheric, although it's never made clear where the modernist pile sits in relation to either the town or the mine, which is reduced to being a MacGuffin, in spite of Emiliana spying on a visit to the compound by a woman who works there. Daniela Schneider's production design is also interesting, as we see so few interiors outside of Rigo and Carmen's status symbol domicile. But, while Escalante made his intentions known by naming the family dog Buñuel, there's precious little of his scathing wit or edgy incisiveness in this disappointing picture , which falls short of the standards set by Natalia López Gallardo's Robe of Gems, with which is has much in common, including an architecturally chic setting and Juan Daniel García Treviño.
TIME STILL TURNS THE PAGES.
Since 2015, Hong Kong has been experiencing an increase in juvenile suicides. Debuting writer-director Nick Cheuk Yik-him considers this disturbing trend in Time Still Turns the Pages, a sensitive if self-consciously structured story that weaves together strands from three different time frames.
Ten year-old Eli Cheng (Sean Wong Tsz-lok) goes to the roof of a tall building and bellows in frustration before preparing to jump from the ledge. He is tired of father Chi-hung (Ronald Cheng Chung-kei) favouring his gifted brother, Alan (Curtis Ho Pak-lim), and embarrassing him front of his adored mother, Heidi (Rosa Maria Velasco). In order to deal with his feelings, he starts to keep a diary and this is found years later by his older self (Lo Chun-yip) after a janitor at the school where he teaches has found a suicide note in a waste paper basket.
Feeling low because his wife, Sherry (Hanna Chan), has filed for divorce, Cheng tries to find out who wrote the note and help the student before they do anything drastic. As he supervises a class, he imagines each of the girls pondering a crisis that might have driven them to despair. But a trusted girl shown the note insists it could have been written by a boy, in spite of the reference to a boyfriend.
Beaten for having to retake a year after failing his exams, Eli takes solace in the kindness of his piano tutor, Miss Chan, who assures him that he will become a good teacher one day. His concern for his students bears out her confidence, as Cheng and colleague Helena try to identify the writer of the suicide note. They think it might be Bethany, who has wrist scars and keeps missing PE lessons. But she assures them she is fine and points them in the direction of Vincent (Henick Chou), a bullying victim who is nicknamed `Van Gogh' because he has a hearing impairment.
Aware he has also called Vincent by that name, Cheng reflects on how insensitive he can sometimes be. He had been madly in love with Sherry, who is a anime voiceover artist, and had been thrilled when she married him. But he had reacted badly to the news she was pregnant and she had left the next day claiming he would never be ready to be a father. Although they have not spoken for a while, Cheng writes Sherry a letter about a childhood incident when his favourite manga artist jumps from a rooftop and he had asked his mother if he could visit a psychiatrist because he can't discuss his problems with anyone else.
Eli is distraught when Miss Chan is replaced by the strict Simon (Charm Man Chan) and his resentment at his father builds. Thus, when his secretary, Zoey (Rachel Leung), urges him to visit Chi-hung in hospital, he can't wait to leave, as the sight of him eating dim sum reminds him of a humiliating episode in a restaurant as a boy. He also recalls his fury after he takes Alan to a rooftop to let off steam in return for help with his homework. However, they were caught and, with Heidi disowning him for making things so hard at home, he was subjected to his father's scornful indifference.
Alan had been promised a trip to the USA because of his excellence and Eli had climbed into his bunk bed the night before he left and propped him up from behind for a tearful hug. He had been too sleepy to return it, but never saw Eli again, as he had jumped after bidding farewell to his diary. Blaming his parents, Alan had vowed to become a teacher like Miss Chan and had kept Eli's diary and rucksack after his other belongings had been boxed away with any photos. After his mother left, however, Alan had felt alone and he ends his letter to Sherry by explaining how his experiences had shaped his attitude to parenthood, as he never wanted to become like his father and put pressure on a child.
As he writes, he reminds her how they had first met as teenagers, as she was the sister of one of his pals. He had been drawn to her because she talked to a plush hippo in the same way that Eli had given voice to a rag doll. They had broken up because he'd claimed not to be ready and had bumped into each other by chance years later and married. But his reminiscence is interrupted by a text and he rushes to the hospital, where Chi-hung is dying.
Knowing nothing about Eli, Zoey tells Alan that his father had always kept a cassette of him playing the piano and been moved when he had completed a song somewhat shakily. Realising Chi-hung had kept a tape of Eli allows Alan to hug his father and share his own regret at not coming to his sibling's rescue because he had also looked down on him. But his own life had not turned out as he had hoped and he concludes his confession to Sherry by apologising for being a bad husband.
Having come to pay her respects at the funeral home, she had taken the diary away and is pleased to see Alan when he comes to the studio where she's recording. They talk and he also gives his class his number before their last lesson in case anyone needs to talk. A boy comes forward and Alan is able to reassure him before he goes to leave flowers on the rooftop. Turning to go, he sees Eli smiling shyly at him.
It's hard to disagree with this heartfelt critique of the expectations that Chinese parents place upon their children. Nick Cheuk may be a little heavy handed in the depiction of the browbeatingly abusive father, who is played with pony-tailed hauteur by Ronald Cheng. But he coaxes an affecting display of eagerness, vulnerability, and confusion out of Sean Wong, whose clamber on to the top bunk to manhandle his brother into a last somnolent hug is one of the most memorable screen moments of the year.
Cheuk's screenplay and direction earned him nominations at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards, where Wong was also recognised in the Best Supporting Actor category. Yet, such is the emphasis on concealing Mr Cheng's identity that Lo Chun-yip is consigned to playing a rather hollow character for the first two-thirds of the story. It's only when it's confirmed that he's Alan rather than Eli that his haunted impassivity starts to make sense. Nevertheless, Cheuk sometimes struggles to invest the plot strands involving Sherry, the ailing Chi-hung, and the school suicide note with the same emotional intensity as the flashbacks to Eli's relentless torment.
Composed by Hanz Au, Jolyon Cheung, and Iris Liu, the score has a tendency to well up at poignant moments, while Cheuk and Keith Chan's editing contributes to the more melodramatic tone of the later sequences, which stand in contrast to the subtler handling of child death and marital break-up in Koji Fukada's Love Life. But Meteor Cheung's photography is more finessed, as it shows how small Eli seems in a world stacked against him and how paralysingly isolated Cheng has become as a consequence of his childhood trauma.
Between co-directing the music-related profiles Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain (2015) and Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (2021) with Nathan Hannawin and Celeste Bell, Paul Sng directed the scathing social exposé, Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle (2017). Poverty is also very much at the forefront of his latest project, Tish, which chronicles the career of Tyneside photographer, Tish Murtha.
When Tish Murtha died of a brain aneurysm the day before her 57th birthday in March 2013, daughter Ella Murtha contacted curator
Gordon McDonald to ensure that her photographs of working-class life in the North East and London's Soho district were given their due. Born in South Shields, as one of 10 children, she had spent much of her childhood in the rundown Elswick area of Newcastle. Siblings Eileen Murtha-Brown and Glenn Murtha recall how tough life was in the 1960s, but how their mother had encouraged their artistic inclinations.
Glenn recalls scavenging for scrap for his father and Tish's pictures of the kids in this derelict wasteland suggest his sense of adventure and taking ownership of their stomping ground. She found the camera in an abandoned house and felt safe around some of the dodgier characters prowling the neighbourhood. At about 15, she started taking a serious interest in photography and was abetted by students Bob and Jos Mahon, who had a dark room in their digs.
Dennis Birkwood was her first formal teacher and photographer friend Ethel Cass tells Ella how her mother had an eye and an empathy for her environment that stressed humanity rather than poverty, yet still possessed a political and sociological significance. Her aim was to document and highlight in the hope of countering injustice and improving lives. Photographer Chris Killip and brother Mark commend the courage it took to take such intimate pictures on rough streets, although people accepted her as one of their own and her work always had an insider perspective.
Encouraged to apply to the School of Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, Murtha was readily accepted by founder David Hurn, who was part of Magnum Photos. He helped her buy a camera from Dixons on HP, while fellow student David Swidenbank gave her his spare room. Classmate Daisy Hayes recalls assignments and how forthright and dedicated Murtha was to her work and her subjects. As we see pictures and contact sheets, Daisy recalls her fascination with pub life, while David remembers her street party project during the Silver Jubilee in 1977 that ran contrary to the contention of one of the speakers that `history is so posh'.
Returning to Tyneside, she documented the closure of the Vickers plant at Scotswood and friends describe her as scary in her pursuit of the truth in defence of the working class. Brothers Glenn and Carl reckon she derived this trait from her parents, as her father was a no-nonsense `man of his time' and her mother put up with him for the sake of her children, who had spent time in care after he had been evicted for rent arrears.
The 1970s saw a boom in juvenile jazz bands in Newcastle and Murtha critiqued the militarist impetus behind the council backing the formation of uniformed bands. She also captured those kids excluded from the official bands who formed their own units and earned the nickname `the Demon Snapper' in the local press for questioning the rationale behind this form of controlled leisure activity in an exhibition at the Side Gallery.
Photographer Mik Critchlow admired Muthra's willingness to spend time with the people she captured and got to know them and their milieu. This intimacy is evident in the fact she captured lives being lived not posed portraits and the montage accompanying his chat with Ella reveals how Muthra took serial images in a chosen location in an effort to create a narrative for those who had no voice of their own.
Read with feeling by Maxine Peake, a diary entry she wrote in 1980 about the conditions facing her brothers and their pals shows up the callous cynicism of Thatcherism with seething eloquence. What's so depressing, of course, is that everything she says about failed youth and a government with no sense of direction in time of transformatory technology and dwindling opportunity is just as relevant today. Indeed, someone could easily produce almost identical photographs of disaffected kids and exploited workers in 2023 and relate similar tales of workplace bullying and limited prospects.
Murtha's refusal to compromise led to feuds with the Side Gallery and her complaints against its management are heard in a letter. As shedisliked the art world idea of poverty being beautiful, she struggled to find commissions and grants and spent long periods on the dole. This made her work all the more authentic, but more difficult to place. Consequently, she moved to London in 1982 to collaborate with a Canadian dancer named Karen on a collection on Soho sex workers for the `London By Night' exhibition at The Photographers' Gallery.
Actor Philip Herbert recalls her time in the capital and becoming Ella's fairy godfather when she arrived unexpectedly. Daisy Hayes photographed the birth and reassures Ella that her mother adored her and never felt that her horizons had been narrowed by her arrival. It was difficult being a single mother, but jobs came and went more because Murtha was so mistrustful of the art/photographic establishment than because she had to prioritise child rearing.
Murtha moved back to Elswick and did a series on how it had changed in her five years away. She also worked on a study of race relations in the area and later in Central Middlesbrough. Shooting in colour as it became more difficult to get hold of monochrome stock and chemicals, she applied to the Arts Council to support a Teesside show, but was turned down.
Sng is a bit vague about how Murtha survived and occupied her time during periods when she wasn't working on projects. The absence of any home movies or audio recordings makes her somewhat elusive as a personality, although Sng attempts a sense of presence by using a model in a series of restrained recreations. Clearly, Murtha could be combative and found it hard to trust authority. But, thanks to editors Ling Lee, Angela Slaven, and Lindsay Watson, Murtha's work speaks volumes for her compassion, canniness, and commitment and, in this regard, the film reflects Murtha's own professional priorities.
It saddens Ella that her mother couldn't make a living from her photography when everyone agreed she was so talented. Towards the end of her life, she was applying for various jobs more in hope than expectation, while problems with her camera meant she took fewer photographs. Sitting on her mother's favourite bench on the South Shields waterfront, Ella tells Eileen about the shoddy treatment she had received from the Department of Work and Pensions while trying to ensure that Murtha wasn't sanctioned for not signing on while in a coma.
Yet, Tate Britain acquired her collection and Ella visits the gallery before closing captions detail the books she has since curated of her mother's pictures. This is more than an act of filial devotion, however. It represents an artistic and political statement that sends echoes down the decades that the wrongs Murtha recognised have not been righted and that consecutive governments have betrayed the working people they are supposed to serve. By fetishising poverty in a way Murtha never did, the mass media and the art cabal have also done immeasurable damage. Let's hope that this worthy memorial to Murtha and those she photographed can prick some consciences among those who can bring about a genuine change for the better.
RONNIE O'SULLIVAN: THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING.
Released a week after the world's number one snooker player had decided not to defend his Champion of Champions title in order to protect his mental health, Sam Blair's Ronnie O'Sullivan: The Edge of Everything tells you all you need to know about what makes this remarkable sportsman so loved, divisive, driven, and vulnerable. Produced by David Beckham, it's an unflinching and emotionally exhausting chronicle of the three decades that have transformed `The Rocket' from a promising talent into a tormented genius.
In December 2021, Ronnie O'Sullivan arrived in Llandudno for the Scottish Open (don't ask) having not landed a tournament for over a year. Celebrity pals Damien Hirst and Ronnie Wood are firmly in his corner and hoping he can get back to winning ways. But he tells Sam Blair that he's in a decent place and enjoying his snooker rather than wondering about whether he should have a hip replacement to improve his cueing action.
He loses to John Higgins in the semi-final and feels relieved because he can go home. Blair reveals the role that family had played in O'Sullivan's rise and how father Ronnie Senior had invested in his future from the age of nine. In addition to a snooker room in the garden, he got his son into clubs and tournaments and he was making headlines as a teenager while Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White were dominating a sport whose TV appeal was still strong.
We see lots of clips of Ronnie Senior being the life and soul and why his son adored him. But he thought Ronnie Junior would never play again after he was jailed for murder in 1992. Moreover, mother Maria confides in voiceover that she reckons he never forgave her for keeping the news so that he could play a tournament in Thailand.
Despite still being the dazzling newcomer (who was followed by the press when he took his first big trophy to show his dad in prison), O'Sullivan soon found the pressure of the tour impacting upon him, as bottled-up emotions resulted in him earning a bad boy tag in the press. Even after scoring a 147 in five minutes, he was dissatisfied and started drowning his sorrows. Hirst remembers getting an anguished call to take him to the Priory to conquer his addictions. In the event, he decided to stick with the tournament and won and O'Sullivan now jokes that he was 20 years ahead of the curve in having mental health problems and claims others have jumped on his bandwagon.
Crediting running for helping him retain his psychological balance, O'Sullivan arrives at Alexandra Palace for the 2022 Masters. He's on edge before his first game and we see a clip of him conceding to Hendry during the 2006 UK Championship. Acknowledging that he gets stage fright, O'Sullivan muses on the fact that rhythm and form can be so elusive and impossible to control. As the camera gazes down on him lying on a bed, he admits that the feeling he gets when everything is clicking is one of power and peace because there's no room for demands or demons.
Backstage after a statement victory, he complains to Ronnie Wood that he had hoped to have a scone tea, but he insists on M&S and had to go without. Wood alludes to Anton Chekhov in noting that anyone can rise to a crisis, but everyday living is the deal-breaker and O'Sullivan concurs after he loses to Neil Robertson when he felt in the groove. Partner Laila Rouass commends him for taking defeat with more equanimity than before and she thinks that having Ronnie Senior out of prison has given him a new lease on his own life.
Sports psychologist Steve Peters has also had an enormous part to play in helping O'Sullivan maintain his perspective of Kipling's two imposters. During the World Championships at the Crucible in Sheffield, Jimmy White pops in for breakfast to give his mate a pep talk after a sticky first round victory, while Peters tells him to stop fixation on the potential of a dodgy cue tip costing him the title.
Chatting effusively in his dressing-room, scarfing on sandwiches, slurping tea, and having crafty snouts out of an open window, O'Sullivan keeps himself sharp during games and works out in the gym during his off-time, as his dad had always told him that he was a lazy kid. We see him playing park football as a lad and hear Ronnie Senior over a montage of his son's changing faces being baffled by the pain he feels when he has such natural ability. O'Sullivan admits to being better when he plays instinctively and grumbles during the interval about how slowly John Higgins is playing in the semi-final. But a dramatic last frame clearance sees him extend his lead going into the second day.
He makes the final, where Judd Trump awaits. We hear from his parents, as they discuss their own emotions at following his career. Ronnie Senior recalls 600 cons banging on their cell doors after one of his World title wins, while Maria confesses that she hates the Crucible because the atmosphere is so oppressive. Over shots from the tense opening frames, O'Sullivan describes the building of inner momentum that lets him know he's on a winning roll and he repeats the trick in the 2022 final by racing out to a 12-5 overnight lead.
Nerves hit the next day, however, and Peters has his work cut out to keep the panic and fear at bay, as Trump closes to 14-11. O'Sullivan tells Peters how `battered' he feels and he's still feeling `bashed' as he regains control of the match. Ironically, Ken Doherty says on the BBC commentary how cool O'Sullivan looks, when he is going through the wringer. A cheeky cannon gets him a chance to wrap things up and the lapel mic captures a priceless exchange with Trump, whose magnanimity and pride at being O'Sullivan's friend does him credit.
Greeting his family, O'Sullivan sobs that he can't do this any more, as the crowd cheers and the commentators reach for superlatives. It's a remarkable moment of intimacy on such a public stage and it elevates this already outstanding profile. Ronnie Senior joins the line for the victory snaps and a slo-mo shot captures a raised eyebrow exhalation of relief, as the ticker-tape floats down. The fire still burns, though, and O'Sullivan launches into a supine rant against those who have spent 30 years building him up and knocking him down, because they've not got to him and he's achieved everything on his own terms. He smiles, as he admits he didn't know where that diatribe came from. But anyone who watches this fine film will have a pretty good idea.
Credit Sam Blair for being in the right place at the right time and for sufficiently earning his subject's trust to give him the security he needs to speak his mind on camera. But this documentary would be very different without O'Sullivan's courage to bear his soul and exhibit aspects of his personality and psyche that many people in his position would want to keep firmly under wraps. What's more, he manages all this while building towards a record-equalling seventh World Championship. He may struggle, he may antagonise, and he may frustrate. But his success is all the more impressive because of the slips and setbacks. Love him or loathe him, no one will be able to view Ronnie O'Sullivan in quite the same way ever again.
Blair is greatly abetted by the fact that O'Sullivan spends so much time alone, whether he's on the road to tournaments, staying in hotels, stewing in his dressing-room, or eating in restaurants. This allowed Edward Edwards to get his camera up close and highly personal. But Blair's shot selection during the sporting segments is also spot on, with one slo-mo of a long red heading inexorably into the middle pocket being pure sporting poetry in motion. At other times, however, the balls are of no interest to Blair, particularly during the pivotal semi-final clearance, as he focusses on O'Sullivan's facial expressions and body language that accompany the curses hissed into the lapel mic as he gees himself up.
Editing with Paul Monaghan, Blair also makes fine use of archival footage and the contributions of O'Sullivan's friends and family. We don't get much information about his private life or the ways in which he spends his time away from the baize. But his stall is set out in these regards in an old TV Q&A, in which he refuses to give many straight answers, let alone any insights. Yet it's possible to feel that one knows (or at least understands) O'Sullivan better after this encounter - and that's quite a commendation and a recommendation in itself.