top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (24/5/2024)

Updated: May 25

(Reviews of Slow; Hoard; The Present; Ospina Cali Colombia; and Big Banana Feet)


SLOW.


Born in 1991, Marija Kavtaradzė graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and made her feature bow with Summer Survivors (2018). Her sophomore outing, Slow, earned her the Best Director award in the World Cinema Dramatic strand at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. However, it has attracted attention because it's one of the few features, alongside Paul Bartel's Eating Raoul (1982) and Sonja Schenk's The Olivia Experiment (2014), to explore asexuality.


Hating herself for going along with Vilius (Pijus Ganusauskas) when he insists he can only become aroused if she tells him she loves him, Elena (Greta Grinevičiūtė) is taken by the unassuming gentleness of Dovydas (Kęstutis Cicėnas), when he comes to the dance studio where she works to sign for a session with a group of deaf students. She's happy to see him loitering nervously for her to finish and they stroll along discussing how they fell into their professions after doing badly at school.


Telling colleagues that she feels as though she has known Dovydas for ages, Elena looks forward to the next class. He spots a crucifix tattoo on her ankle as she changes her socks and she tells him about her religious friend, Viktorija (Laima Akstinaite), as they walk along. Intrigued, he mentions that he was in a church the day before for marriage instruction and she's relieved that he was merely signing for his deaf brother.


Elena invites Dovydas home for soup and she is showing him around her bedroom when he reveals that he's asexual. She's confused and he explains that, while he likes her very much, he doesn't feel any sexual attraction. Wishing he's said nothing, but knowing he had to make his position clear, Dovydas leave and doesn't see Elena again until the class takes a coach trip to the coastal summer camp where they are to perform. Feeling guilty for having sought physical solace with Vilius, she keeps her distance and smiles weakly when he turns round to congratulate her when the dance goes well.


They go for a beer and he apologises for ruining the moment in her room by springing his truth on her. She admits to having Googled asexuality and still finds it difficult to understand. So, he divulges that he had tried to fight his lack of feeling by watching some pretty weird things online. Eventually, he just came to accept himself, but he still hopes that they can have a relationship. Elena allows Dovydas to hold her hand and their fingers close together in a hesitant moment of intimacy.


Another follows a visit to her cold mother (Rimante Valiukaite), who can't believe that Elena pursued her interest in dance despite having been told she had the wrong body shape. Sensing her pain, Dovydas puts his arm around Elena and kisses her when she asks if he likes her. She feels close to him and attends his brother's wedding. After the bride and groom dance in silence, Dovydas puts music on his phone and asks Elena to dance with him. He suggests they go somewhere quiet and she holds his hand against her cheek. Waking next to him next morning, she kisses his neck, but she's still confused as to what is going on, as she feels that sex is a natural part of a growing bond.


She pays a visit to Viktorija in her convent and shows her the cross tattoo. After a dance rehearsal, she gets tipsy with some of the troupe and she gets flirty with Dan (Matthew Woodcock). He tries to kiss her in his hotel room, but she resists and tells Dovydas that she would normally have followed her passions, as she is used to being free. However, she feels a connection with him, even though she doesn't know exactly what it is and he says they can be exclusive without things being as `normal' as she may want. Snuggling up to him on the bed, she suggests they try being an item.


He signs the lyrics to a pop song about the intensity of love, while she throws herself into a dance routine. In between, she wakes one morning and tries to cajole Dovydas into fooling around. She's uncertain about what to do, as he doesn't seem to be responding, and struggles to relax when he offers to touch her. Eventually, she gives up and wipes the menstrual blood off his fingers on the sheet before letting out a sigh of frustration. But, when he meets her from work, he refuses to let her push him away and they end up hugging.


Soaking him with her wet hair, Elena clambers on to the bed next to Dovydas. He's amused by the fact that she is using a piece of white coiled telephone flex as a tie-up and she takes a while to understand a joke he makes. When she finally laughs, he claims this proves that things are better when they take time to appreciate and she realises he is talking about their relationship.


Dancing well because she feels good about herself, Elena is annoyed when a drunken Vilius bangs on the door at 4am and declares his love. Dovydas tries to be cool about it, but Elena despairs when he says he could knock Vilius cold with a single punch when he suggests they fight over her. She makes him a bed on the sofa and she asks Dovydas if he'd do the same for her after they split up. Seeking to reassure her, he lies on top of her, but proves so clumsy in his movements that Elena asks him to stop and, with Vilius snoring in the next room, she rolls over with tears in her eyes, as she feels Dovydas has been motivated by jealousy rather than desire.


Next morning, she asks him about this, when he tries to find out when she had visited Vilius. He shrugs that he didn't know what he was thinking and they kiss. Deciding against buying Elena flowers, Dovydas goes to watch her perform (with the audience wearing Covid masks) and seeks her out backstage. where Dan is hanging round her. She ignores him when he texts in the night and Dovydas asks Elena if she misses the freedom to do what she likes. When she admits to missing the look a guy gives when he's into her, he falls silent.


He's still pensive the next day, when she tells him how much she wants him when they're fooling around hanging out laundry. Dovydas tells her that he can't keep apologising each time he turns her down and Elena looks sad, as she rests her cheek on his chest. On a visit to the convent, she asks Viktorija about whether she misses intimacy and she explains that she has never doubted her vocation and never feels alone because she always knew what she wanted. Mulling this over, Elena tries to put herself in Dovydas's shoes. But she feels so drawn to him when he does cute things like wave to her across the bar when they're out with friends.


Dovydas gets drunk and tells Elena in the taxi home that she can sleep with people if she feels the need. She thinks he's being silly, but he says they don't need to abide by other sets of rules, so long as they reach a mutual understanding. Putting him to bed, she snuggles up to him and assures him that she likes things the way they are. Next morning, however, she hears him masturbating in the shower and refuses to believe him when he claims it's just a physical exercise that he executes without any emotional or erotic stimulation involved. He's dismayed when she accuses him of lying to her and apologises for not being enough of a man for her. Elena feels lost because she loves him and wants to understand. But his suggestion that they remain a couple while she sleeps with other men to satisfy her sexual needs crushes her.


Elena meets Vilius in a bar, but he's wary of getting involved in a ménage. Dovydas is hurt when she calls to tell him and she follows him to a park bench to reassure him that nothing happened. Unconvinced, he boards a train to the coast and she follows, wondering why she is going to such lengths if he is going to dump and forget her.


Lying on twin beds in their hotel, they get the giggles, as they have no idea how to deal with the situation. He swears he will never stop caring and lies beside her, as they profess their love. However, it's not entirely clear, as she smooches with a dance partner and he signs lyrics for another pop song in front of a blue screen whether they have found a way to be or gone their separate ways.


This is a fascinating study of a rarely discussed topic. Greta Grinevičiūtė is outstanding as the kinetic life force having to rethink her expectations, assumptions, and priorities, with Elena's joie de vivre coming through her dance routines, as well as her rapport with people. Perhaps Kavtaradzė pushes her luck by giving Elena a nun for a best friend, especially as celibacy and asexuality aren't the same thing and Viktorija dodges the question anyway. But a more inimical flaw is the depiction of Dovydas, who seems to exist in a single register regardless of what he's doing.


Needing to be so precise in his work, he is always in control and rarely allows himself to display much enthusiasm, let along emotion. Kęstutis Cicėnas plays a difficult role with charisma and discretion, but the screenplay avoids the kind of in-depth discussion that would help Elena (and the audience for that matter) gauge the delineating parameters of Dovydas's physical and psychological tolerance for affection, romance, and intimacy. It would appear that he doesn't know himself where these lie, as growing closer to Elena causes them to shift. But Kavtaradzė makes Dovydas somewhat unknowable by consistently favouring Elena's perspective.


This doesn't make the burgeoning relationship any less compelling. But it does tilt the table, as we are only permitted limited glimpses of Dovydas's life away from Elena. We never meet any of his friends outside the brief wedding interlude, in which Elena doesn't get to interact with his family. By contrast, we get to know her mother, workmates, a long-lost friend, an old flame, and a casual fling. Yet, because she's too disorientated (or embarrassed) to discuss her plight with anyone, we don't get much insight into how Elena is coping with the emotional toll being taken by a relationship with a man who is willing to kiss, caress, and even gratify while remaining impervious to arousal.


Kavtaradzė offers hints through Elena's dance moves and the lyrics that Dovydas interprets, as she examines such everyday issues as allurement, becoming acquainted, commitment, and jealousy. But a little more direct communication might have spared two genial people a good deal of confusion and heartache.


Whether framing Grinevičiūtė's body in motion or in close proximity to Cicėnas, cinematographer Laurynas Bareiša achieves a mix of tact and tactility that makes the story all the more involving, while rooting it in reality. Reaching the conclusion that staying in what seems the perfect place is trickier than it sounds and that no one has all the answers when it comes to love, this is a film filled with wit, tenderness, sincerity, and ace needle drops, and it confirms Kavtaradzė as a talent to watch.


HOARD.


Joining the ranks of Charlotte Wells's Aftersun (2022), Charlotte Regan's Scrapper, and Adura Onashile's Girl (both 2023) in exploring the relationship between a young girl and an imperfect parent, Luna Carmoon's Hoard is an arresting debut feature that reinforced the good impression made by the acclaimed shorts, Nosebleed (2019) and Shagbands (2020) by winning four prizes during Critics' Week at the Venice Film Festival: two audience awards, a Jury Special Mention for its teenage lead, and the Authors Under 40 Award for its 25 year-old writer-director.


Eight year-old Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) adores her mother, Cynthia (Hayley Squires), and enjoys their treasure hunts in the dumpsters around their South London neighbourhood in 1984. Cynthia insists the stuff they find is part of their `catalogue of love' and they loudly sing `I'm the King of the Castle' to celebrate their hauls. However, the nightly dives and the mustiness of the flat result in Maria getting teased at school for being smelly. Moreover, she often dozes off in class and incurs the wrath of her teacher, Mrs Norwood (Alexis Tuttle).


Undaunted, Cynthia gives Maria a nice dinner and they sing `Row, Row, Row Your Boat' in the bath before drifting off in the soothing water. Already embarrassed after being thrown out of the choir, Maria is so ashamed after being forced to do PE in her underwear (because Cynthia had forgotten her kit) that she throws her lunch and its wrapping off a railway bridge. Arriving home, she asks her mother why they can't live a normal life and hurts Cynthia by claiming to be humiliated by the state of the house. As they argue, they discover that the Rat King has died under a yellow bag and started to putrefy.


In an effort to apologise, Cynthia allows Maria to stay off school and they have a nice day watching television and munching popcorn. They call each other `Rhubarb' and `Custard' and have a game of `Hot and Cold' before Cynthia presents Maria with a jar full of chalks she has been squirrelling away. She also gives her a bag of chocolate coins and they get the giggles making piggy grunts while showering each other in popcorn.


As Christmas approaches, Cynthia and Maria have a bop around the hoarded bric-a-brac. When they go to the supermarket, they bump into Mrs Norwood and Cynthia gives her an earful for not appreciating how special her daughter is. Back home, a fascinated Maria watches the sherbet scene in Volker Schlöndörff's The Tin Drum (1979) and asks if she can have money for sweets. Cynthia hands over a special gift, while their pet ferret tinkles the ivories of the unused piano. Despite being touched, Maria still wants to try spitting into a palmful of sherbet and skips off to the corner shop, despite it being late.


On the way home, Maria is flashed at by a stranger, but thinks nothing of it, as she fusses over some baby rats in her bedroom. Suddenly, however, she hears a crash and Cynrhia calling out to her. A ceiling-high pile of treasure has collapsed and trapped her mother, who sobs quietly in pain. An ambulance is called and the police take Maria to stay with Michelle (Samantha Spiro), an experienced foster mother, who reassures the child that she will take care of her.


A decade later, Maria (Saura Lightfoot-Leon) still lives with Michelle (who she now calls `mum') and is about to leave school. She bunks off with best friend Laraib (Deba Hekmat), who lives across the road with her strict Palestinian father, Ali (Nabil Elouahabi). She is scared he will find out that she's been seeing Pete (Tim Bowie), an older man with a flash car. But, even though she disapproves, Maria promises to keep her secret.


Maria arrives home to bump into Michael (Joseph Quinn), a 29 year-old former charge of Michelle's who has asked to kip down for a few weeks before he can move into new accommodation with his pregnant girlfriend, Leah (Ceara Coveney). He works as a dustman and Maria finds his odour consoling. They flirt on the stairs and make pig noises before he writes `Nice to meet ya!' on her white school shirt. Michelle is pleased to see Michael again and chides friend Sam (Cathy Tyson) for eyeing him up when she calls round with her acerbic daughters, Ellie (Pena Ilyambo) and Holly (Honey Makwana).


Joining Laraib and Pete in the pub, Maria plays pool with a posh boy, who tells her to use some chalk on her cue. The blue dust reminds her of Cynthia and she smears it on her cheek, without realising that Michael is watching her from the bar. She gets home drunk and Michael has to turn off the kitchen tap, as she lets a glass of water overflow. They go into the garden, where they bounce on a circular trampoline. Michael confides that he was a crack baby, but can't coax Maria into revealing anything about herself. He asks her to choose a hand (a game that Cynthia had also played) and she is delighted to find the pool chalk that he has nicked from the pub. She's touched, as he strokes the cube across her cheek, but they're interrupted by Michelle, who orders them inside before they're spotted by their nosy neighbour, Janice (Sandra Hale).


Although Michelle occasionally nags Maria about helping out and tidying up after herself, she's a much more understanding parent than Ali, who tries to keep a tight rein on Laraib. However, Maria feels betrayed when a man delivers a box containing Cynthia's ashes and opines that she must have died in the last few weeks rather than a decade ago, because they wouldn't store the ashes that long. While she's trying to process the ramifications of the news, Maria is distracted by Laraib's tearful revelation that her father has found out about Pete and is sending her away for an exorcism and she has no idea if she will ever be allowed to return.


Sitting at the foot of the stairs in something of a daze, Maria sees a shaft of light seeping through the letter box. She puts her hand in the slot and moves it around, as she had done once with the pelvis of a skeleton that had been hanging in a classroom after she had been ejected from choir practice. The brightness dazzles her and she realises her hand is stuck. Luckily, Michael is able to free her and she drifts into the kitchen to eat some cereal. He clears up when she knocks the bowl over, but the looks he gives her is anything but foster-brotherly (just as it hadn't been when he commented on the forcefulness of her open-doored peeing).


One day when Michelle (who is a nurse) is working late, Michael sags off work to be alone with Maria. They watch a bullfight on the television and are soon having their own in the front room. As they tussle, Maria starts to dry hump the prone Michael, only for them to jump up and pretend nothing untoward has happened when Michelle gets home early.


The next day, they go for a walk. Maria spots some sheets on a washing line and insists on playing under them, in the ways she had once done with Cynthia. Michael is also good at the kind of rhyming games that Maria had played with her mother and he becomes enthralled by her. However, the bubble bursts when they get home to find Leah waiting for Michael and Ellie and Holly can't resist passing snide remarks about how well Michael and Maria are getting along.


After Michelle goes to bed, the pair have a food fight with a shepherd's pie, which reminds Maria of the `red sky at night' saying that Cynthia had intoned when the room had been illuminated by a red bulb. In the melee, she falls back on a yellow bag and thinks she hears Michael say, `Rat King', because the gravy slime reminds her of the suppurating corpse. However, he's trying to tell her that he thinks she's the best thing that has ever happened to him and that he's having second thoughts about becoming a dad.


Missing work again, Michael tags along with Maria when she goes dumpster diving. They're rude to Janice when she greets them and they bundle into the house, where Maria persuades Michael to burn her stomach with the iron. Confused, but desperate to please her, he does as she asks. But, while he's trying to take care of her, Leah calls round and they have a row on the doorstep when he lies that he's home alone and feeling unwell. Returning to Maria, he finds her with a packet of sherbet and they spit into the white powder before licking it off their hands. Michael rubs some into the burn on Maria's abdomen and she laughs, as she squirms to look upwards into the camera with a gaze that seems to challenge the audience to dare judge her.


While out wandering, Maria comes across an old man on a railway bridge. He has a tin drum and she parades along the bridge banging it, as a train passes beneath her. She tracks down Michael's bin lorry and he's cross that she's had an adventure without him. He follows her home and tells him to leave her alone when he wrestles her to the grass. When Janice tries to intervene, they both yell at her.


Michelle returns from work to find the heating on and a strange smell coming from one of the cupboards. She is bemused by the bags of rubbish that Maria has stuffed inside and reminds her that she needs to start working out what she wants to do with her life, as five months have slipped by since she left school. Maria promises to pull herself together and takes the trash to the bin. But she sneaks out to recover it and stashes the bags under her bed. She even stuffs items behind the sofa cushions, as she wallows in the knowledge that bins hold secrets and hugs herself with pleasure at having recreated a memory and reclaimed a space she can share with Cynthia.


Going out, Maria sits next to a woman at a bus stop (Phoebe Naughton). She confides that she has just experienced a stillbirth and reveals that she can hear the baby's voice, even though she had never made a sound. Maria is taken by the contention that a mother's bond can never be broken and she offers the stranger her coat and receives a token in return, which she insists will prove helpful to her.


Returning home half frozen, Maria is glad to see Michael. He tries to warm her feet and is concerned about the chilblains on her toes (from which Cynthia had also suffered). Moved by his kindness, Maria has sex with him, only to get the giggles at the sound he makes. However, she seems more pleased to see a rat sniffing around on the carpet and she cradles it while Michael sleeps.


He is still butt naked when Leah calls the next morning. She is wearing an engagement ring because Michael had proposed the day before. Michelle is delighted for them and makes a fuss, although the atmosphere between Michael and Leah is still frosty. Feeling used, Maria storms out and Michael rushes after her. As he tries to explain, they hear the noise of a traffic accident and Michael rushes for help, while Maria kneels beside the elderly woman lying in the middle of the road. She burbles biblical passages and Maria puts coins over her eyes before wandering off and clambering into a dumpster.


Heading home on Christmas morning with several binbags, Maria is greeted by an incredulous Michelle. Leah arrives in a fury because Michael has broken up with her via a text to her sister's phone. They argue, but Michael wants to see Maria and breaks down her bedroom door. She is surrounded by rubbish and recollections of her mother, as she sees herself as a girl dancing on Cynthia's feet, playing the Hot and Cold game, and snuggling together in bed. Even the ferret slinks into view, as Maria regresses into her lost childhood.


Trying to get through to her, Michael tells Maria he loves her. But she pushes him away and he departs, reluctantly, with Leah. Michelle tells Maria she's as daft as a brush and they spend Boxing Day tidying up. All seems well as New Year approaches, with Michelle asking Maria to tape Jools Holland's Hootananny in case she's late off her shift. During the show, however, Maria wanders out of the house and catches a bus. She touches her tummy. as she watches revellers at the other end of the upper deck. Getting off at the tip, Maria lets off a rocket (as she has fond memories of watching fireworks with her mother) and settles back into a pile of black binbags. Chatting to Cynthia, she reminds her that they are the Kings of the Castle, while `you lot' are the Dirty Rascals!


In promoting her first feature, Carmoon has pugnaciously positioned herself as `the Amy Winehouse of film'. In fact, her proselytising zealotry recalls a young Quentin Tarantino, as she namechecks titles she's seen on Putlocker with the punkish pride of the outsider cineaste who has convinced themselves that they are the first person to have ever discovered the likes of Ken Russell's The Devils (1971), Alan Clarkes Diane (1975), Volker Schlondörff's The Tin Drum (1979), Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue (1980), and David Wnendt's Wetlands (2013). While the film's self-reflexive moments are occasionally cumbersome, it's wonderful to hear her good to hear her enthusing about these films, as aspiring directors will learn more from them than the entire contents of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her love of the Woodfall productions that launched the British new wave in the late 1950s is also admirable, although it should be noted that they were made by bourgeois Oxford graduates, the very kind of safariing puppeteers whom Carmoon correctly blames for social realism having become so debased and didactic over the last 30 years that it is now little more than cos-played poverty porn.


This uncompromising attitude to both her filmic inspirations and the personal experiences that have shaped her (`the mythology of her own memories') has led the trendy media to fawn over Carmoon in a rather fawning manner. Her bluntness makes for good copy, especially as (much to its shame) British cinema has seen nothing like her before. But, while the visceral and unfiltered Hoard is undeniably very good, it's not on a par with Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (1999), Amma Asante's A Way of Life (2004), Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (2009), or Savannah Leaf's Earth Mama (2023), which counts in this conversation, even though the Londoner made her debut in the United States.


The searing honesty of the scenario and the raw intensity of the performances cannot be faulted. Dutch-born RADA graduate Saura Lightfoot-Leon is particularly impressive as the impulsive and compulsive Maria, especially in the latter stages when she starts to struggle with the psychological ramifications of the truth about her mother's fate. It's never made clear whether Maria is possessed by Cynthia's spirit after she takes receipt of her ashes or whether she reverts to childhood after suffering a kind of breakdown. But Carmoon becomes so distracted by Maria's emotional response to the news that she overlooks more basic reactions, such as asking Michelle what has been going on or contacting social services to demand to know why they have been colluding in a decade-long lie.


Given her devotion to her mother, it feels in infeasible that Maria would not want to know where Cynthia has been all this time and why she never tried to contact her, even if she was in no fit state to resume parenting. Maria is a bright girl, with an independent streak. So, it seems unlikely that she would accept such seismic news so passively and merely internalise it.


This willingness to tolerate contrivance is also evident in the Michael aspect of the story. Maria has lived with Michelle for a decade, but seems to have no prior knowledge of Michael. It seems odd, therefore, that he would think of Michelle's as somewhere to doss down while he waits the few weeks for his new lodgings to become available. Does he not have a mate who could offer a sofa or what about Leah (whose living arrangements are never revealed)? It's too convenient for him to return to the nest after so long away and immediately fall for Maria, just as she is about to become so vulnerable after the loss of her friend and the truth about her mother. Their attraction feels genuinely transgressive and animalistic, but its spontaneity frustratingly feels meticulously storyboarded.


There's nothing wrong with a bit of melodrama, even in a picture that strives for everyday authenticity, as life is not without its coincidences and unlikelihoods. But it feels a bit rich to rail against those who are currently misappropriating the term `social realism' when some of one's own plot twists are somewhat on the soapy side. Otherwise, this is a film to laud. The doubling of words and gestures across the timeframes is inspired and unforced and it will be interesting to see if this takes on a new life as a Christmas ghost story.


In addition to her steady handling of the cast, Carmoon makes deft contrasts between the living spaces designed by Bobbie Cousins. Cinematographer Nanu Segal also shifts assuredly between fluent camera moves and jittery close-ups in charting Maria's psychological shift. Indeed, in keeping with her promise to `make films for gross girls',

Carmoon finds innovative ways of conveying the emotions and sensations that Maria experiences at both eight and 18, which reinforces the impression that she thinks like a film-maker rather than a dramatist. Her insights into how mothers and daughters bond and why women give each other such a hard time are also spot on and feel more significant than the damaged Michael's predatory and pseudo-incestuous pursuit. But it will be interesting to see where Carmoon goes next, as she has claimed that her second feature will be `an anti-man manifesto'.


THE PRESENT.


Film distributors do the darnedest things. Barely a fortnight after Isla Fisher announces her divorce from Sacha Baron Cohen, Verve Pictures releases Christian Ditter's The Present, in which a couple's three children exploit the presence of a handy time machine in their basement to coerce their parents into a rethink. Obviously, movies sat on a shelf make no money and critics are all too quick to equate extended stays with acknowledged deficiencies. But, surely, the suits might have waited a month or two and spared Fisher a little embarrassment at an already trying time?


When Jennifer (Isla Fisher) and Eric Diehl (Greg Kinnear) announce to children Emma (Shay Rudolph), Max (Mason Shea Joyce), and Taylor (Easton Rocket Sweda) that they have decided to have a trial separation, Taylor swings into action. A troubled boy who refuses to speak or allow anyone to touch him, he haunts the family basement and doodles on an etch-o-sketch when not using a Barack Obama voice simulator to communicate with his bickering siblings and stressed parents.


As an old grandfather clock has just been delivered, Taylor uses its power to turn back time by 12 hours to restart the day. Leaving the house, he rushes downtown to slip almonds into a cake that the nut-allergic Richard (Ryan Guzman) has ordered as part of his bid to seduce Jen, who is his gym instructor. She suspects he's been up to something, but his phobias are usually so crippling that she can't believe he's been outside.


She seems to be the one pushing for the separation, as Eric attempts to flirt with her after another unsatisfactory session with their marriage guidance counsellor, Dr Polhemus (Alphonso McAuley). Indeed, he's hoping she will call the whole thing off. But, just before dinner, Eric discovers that she's been with Richard and is about to go through with the announcement when Taylor leaves the table in a hurry.


A second rewind sees us view the day through the eyes of Emma, who is hoping to lose her virginity to Jacob (Sam Wasylenko) at a party. With blue tints in her hair, she is acting in a school production of Macbeth and is so dismayed by Jacob's single-minded lust that she agrees to go to the movies with co-star Dylan (Jaden Betts). However, she's forced to rush home to a family emergency, which turns out to be Taylor letting her in on the secret (in the voice of a British pop star) so he can enlist her help in sabotaging Richard's clumsy advances and blackmailing Polhemus into doing a better job on counselling by threatening to harm his prize orchids unless Jen and Eric stay together.


All goes well, if somewhat frantically (this appears to be Taylor's 23rd attempt to change time), with Dylan agreeing to waylay Jen in the supermarket with a speech from the Scottish Play about delaying hasty actions. But, while the ruse seems to have worked, Jen's curiosity about the Shakespearean episode leads to the truth coming out and the separation being on again. So, Emma rushes downstairs to set the cogs whirring again.


This version centres on Eric, who is looking for a bachelor pad when Emma talks him into having a makeover. Jen likes it and they wind up in bed together after Polhemus urges them to give it another try during their couples session. He's hurt by the discovery that Richard wants private fitness time with Jen, but is willing to make more of an effort, as he admits he's felt alienated from Jen since Taylor was born because he finds it so hard to deal with him. Once again, things seem to be heading in the right direction, but this time Jen finds a message about the new apartment on Eric's phone and Emma and Taylor have to start all over again.


Max is the key player in this reworking, as he finds out about his mom and dad's first date and the kids recreate the orchestra, beignet wagon, and falling snow to bring them back together. But Richard and Walo the realtor (Michael Daruler) burst in at just the wrong time and the hands have to be wound back again. However, Taylor is concerned that the clock is beginning to age and he fears that they may be running out of time to save their parents' marriage.


A montage shows failed attempts using a feigned cancer diagnosis, a bogus college scholarship, and a $1 million swindle. But everything has a catch and the kids become so desperate that Emma and Max break the clock in an argument about turning the dial one last time. While they agree to collaborate on a new plan, Taylor toils alone beside the broken clock. His siblings come up with a song about staying together, but Taylor simply joins everyone's hands in a big hug and does the trick. Jen and Eric suspect nothing, but the old bearded face on the clock dial has broken into a satisfied smile.


As every critic worth their salt will feel compelled to say, this meld of The Parent Trap and Groundhog Day just about holds together. This has much more to do with the eagerness of the juvenile leads than anything in Jay Martel's screenplay or the direction of Christian Ditter, whose CV rather aptly includes the Rebel Wilson comedy, How to Be Single (2016). As the platitudes about sibling bonding are churned out, Mason Shea Joyce and Easton Rocket Sweda do well enough as the clumsy Max and the haphephobic, electively mute, and largely self-sufficient Taylor (whose mental well-being is never once discussed). But it's Shay Rudolph who holds things together with a performance that's equal parts Hayley Mills, Lindsay Lohan, and Diane Keaton.


Fisher and Kinnear do what they can with chess-piece roles that require them to hint at rounded personalities while remaining oblivious to the time-looping shenanigans going on around them. But they are trapped in a sitcomedic scenario with a modest special effects budget that is delivered from utter forgettability by the slick editing of Josie Azzam and Kristine McPherson, whose comic timing is surpassed only by the pacy precision of the amusing montage sequences.


OSPINA CALI COLOMBIA.


It took scholars a long time to discover the rich history of cinema in Latin America and, even then, the focus largely fell on Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. As documentarist Jorge de Carvalho reveals in Ospina Cali Colombia, however, innovative films were being produced in other countries within the Third Cinema tradition.


According to Luis Ospina, cinema is a gimmick that relies on the telling of lies in order to reveal the truth. A pessimist who believes that humanity is living through its worst phase (as it blithely destroys the planet it inhabits), Ospina believes that agreeing to be interviewed is a noble gesture, as there is still something to be said for the superstition that the camera can steal away one's soul.


The son of an engineer who liked to shoot Kodachrome home movies, Ospina started making his own shorts with Vía Cerrada (1964), a silent he filmed on his grandmother's farm with two friends. Going to the pictures several times a week, he was reared on Hollywood masters like John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Jerry Lewis. When he went with the housemaids, he saw lots of melodramas and came to appreciate Douglas Sirk. But he and older brother Sebastián preferred Westerns and loved Gunfight At the O.K. Corral (1957) because it co-starred their respective heroes, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.


On going to school in Boston, Ospina discovered American underground film, as well as arthouse cinema. He was particularly taken by the nouvelle vague and quickly abandoned an architecture course at the University of Southern California to study film at University of California, Los Angeles after visiting the campus in 1968 during a protest against a visit by Governor Ronald Reagan. On the course, Ospina made Act of Faith (1970), an adaptation of a Jean-Paul Sartre story that anticipated Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), while also owing debts to Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968).


During a term in which the students ejected the faculty, Ospina directed El Bombardeo de Washington (1972), which he now admits was a bad piece of militant nonsense. However, he did better on returning to Cali to make a record of the 6th Panamerican Games. Teaming with friend, Carlos Mayolo, he sought to counter the propaganda of the official documentary with Oiga, Vea! (aka Listen, Look!, 1971), which viewed the event from the perspective of those who had been excluded from participating.


This was very much influenced by the Third Cinema coined by Argentines Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. But Ospina and Mayolo also admired Cuban film and the Cinema Novo of Brazilians like Glauber Rocha. With Ospina handling the sound and Mayolo the camera, they produced Cali: De Película (1973) and Asunción (1975), while also launching the journal, Ojo al cine (Eye on Cinema), with the critic Andrés Caicedo, and forming the Cali Cine Club. This became a hub for independent film-making and earned the city the nickname of `Caliwood'.


Deeply affected by Caicedo's suicide at the age of 25 on the day he published his landmark 1979 novel, ¡Qué viva la música!, Ospina would later pay tribute in the documentary, Andrés Caicedo: A Few Good Friends (1986), which included clips from Angelita and Miguel Ángel (1971), Caicedo's only film, which he had co-directed with Mayolo.


In the interim, Ospina and Mayolo agreed to keep making films in the provocative spirit of The Vampires of Poverty (1977) and their 1978 manifesto, What Is Misery Porn?, which attacked the way writers, photographers, and film-makers (particularly from Europe) exploited deprivation in order to boost their own reputations among politically driven critics. The duo also denounced the praising of miserabilism at the expense of the aesthetic innovation that characterised so much Latin American cinema in this period.


Taking cues from Luis Buñuel's Los Olvidados (1950), a mockumentary following a German crew filming street kids, The Vampires of Poverty is both witty and astute in the way it staged scenes to draw onlookers into the debate. We see clips from En busca de María (1985) and Capítulo 66 (1994), which Ospina co-directed with the Chilean auteur, Raúl Ruiz. Collaboration was a natural departure after Ospina and Mayolo formed Grupo de Cali, the collective behind the former's debut feature, Pura sangre (aka Pure Blood, 1982), the story of a sugar plantation owner who requires the blood of young boys to combat a rare disease that drew on George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) in creating Colombia's first vampire picture.


In the linking interview with Carvalho, Ospina admits that this intensive period of creativity was fuelled by cocaine and that there was a point when he feared that the Grupo would go down the road of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's cabal. During this boom period for Colombian cinema, Mayolo directed Carne de tu carne (1983), which reflected on the dictatorship of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla and the decade-long civil war known as `La Violencia'.


However, the Cali moment proved frustratingly short, as the Grupo's films were too abrasive for the mainstream and a shortage of money led many to relocate to Bogotá to work in television. Ospina attempted to soldier on, tackling the growing problem of narco-trafficking in Soplo de vida (aka Breath of Life, 1999), a psychological noir that he wrote with his brother, who lost his apartment after it flopped at the box office. Other film-makers, however, viewed cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar as Robin Hood-like characters, but Ospina equated him with the United States in using a clip from P. P. Jambrina's silent allegory, Garras de oro (1926), in Cali: ayer, hoy y mañana (1995), which explored how the city had been transformed by the drug barons. A long extract follows from La Desazón suprema: Retrato de Fernando Vallejo (2003), in which the writer who went into exile in Mexico commiserates with his compatriots for having had the misfortune to have been born into hell on earth.


With his commercial prospects dwindling, Ospina started making avant-garde videos like Ojo y vista (1987), Adiós a Cali (1990), and A La Carrera (1991), which considered how the Babylonian excesses of the cartels were impacting on all aspects of Colombian society, including architecture and the arts. He also made the decisive shift into documentaries with items like Al Pelo, which focussed on barbers, and Cámara ardiente (both 1991). As he tells Carvalho, he liked the idea of luck dictating how an actuality worked out, as he often left writing and shaping the material until he started editing.


Carvalho asks about staged reality and cites the examples of Louis Lumière's La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière (1895), Robert Flahery's Nanook of the North (1922), and Dziga-Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera (1929) in showing how authenticity was re-enacted for the camera. But there was no faking the footage in It All Started At the End (2015), as Ospina chronicled his own decline from stomach cancer. He flummoxed the doctors by making a recovery and continued to work, noting that Jean Cocteau had said that filming was recording death in action.


In Q&A clips, he claims that documentaries are about recording memories and capturing change, with Nuestra película (aka Our Film, 1993) being about his artist friend, Lorenzo Jaramillo, who was dying of AIDS. He also profiled collage pioneer Pedro Manrique Figueroa in Paper Tiger (2007), a mischievous hoax that explored the notion of fabricated truth and anticipated the concerns we now have with fake news. In one of his last films, Selfish (2017), he examines the millennial obsession with chronicling life and experience through social media snapshots and postings and wonders whether the phenomenon is purely rooted in narcissism or says something fundamental about the mindset of humanity in terrifyingly uncertain times.


When Carvalho interviewed Ospina during the Doclisboa retrospective in Portugal, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro were the poster boys of populist politics and his pessimism seemed well founded. Convinced that film's purpose was to reflect rather than drive agendas, Ospina seemed content that he had done his best to make useful films that will stand as testimony in the future. Sadly, he didn't get to build on his legacy, as he died in September 2019. But, this reverential profile suggests he can be proud of his achievement.


We should be grateful to Jorge de Carvalho for drawing attention to Ospina, Grupo de Cali, and the `tropical gothic' genre. But this is a frustrating documentary, as it presumes so much foreknowledge of the subject, as well as the history of postwar Colombia and the evolution of its film industry. Moreover, while the main titles in Ospina's 30-strong canon are recalled, only a handful are explored in any detail. Thus, the extracts will hang limply for all but aficionados, as not only do they lack a context, but their content is left unexplained.


It hardly helps that so many of the subtitles are virtually illegible because they have been printed over the white Grupo de Cali t-shirt that Ospina is wearing. This is a recurring gripe of this column and it leaves one to wonder whether film-makers would rather preserve the integrity of their visuals or have the audio understood by non-speakers.


Although some were screened at Tate Modern in 2014, Ospina's films are not easy to come by. However, the excellent DA Films website has a selection of 13 titles, including many of the ones cited in the film, including It All Started At the End (2015), which harks back to Ospina's partnerships with Mayolo (who died in 2007) and Caceido. They can be rented on an individual basis or for free via a monthly subscription of £6.99, which allows access to other material on the site and can be cancelled without fuss. Considering the price of a ticket to see the documentary at The ICA in London, such an offer seems like a bargain.


BIG BANANA FEET.


Half a century ago, a former welder from the Govan shipyards became the talk of the British comedy circuit. At a time when television stand-up was dominated by Dave Allen (who always sat down) and the likes of Bernard Manning and his cronies on The Comedians, Billy Connolly's 1975 appearance on Parkinson seemed less like a breath of fresh air than a game-changing whirlwind. Made towards the end of the same year, Murray Grigor and Paddy Higson's Big Banana Feet (1976) captures the impact that The Big Yin had on a country in the doldrums. But this restored version of a documentary that had dropped out of circulation also says much about how much comedy and freedom of expression have changed over the intervening five decades.


At the end of his UK tour, Billy Connolly took a private plane to Dublin Airport on 20 October 1975. Travelling with a couple of trusted insiders, he jokes about having to carry his own equipment from the tarmac and is amused by the number of people with his brother's name at the swanky hotel where he'll be staying in the room that had once hosted Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, and Rod Stewart.


Reluctant to do in-depth press interviews until the journalists have seen the show, Connolly charms his way through a reception, as he fields questions about religious sensibilities and the potential danger he faces by crossing the border to play in Belfast. Shrugging that he feels dutybound to play to the people who buy his records, Connolly avoids controversy before heading off to the theatre, where he is unceremoniously left a pot of tea on a tray by the stage manager.


As he waits to go on, he hears a banjo in a number being played by the support act, Spud, and frets that it will overshadow his own frailing. Tuning up in the dressing-room is intercut with an instrumental from the stage show, in which he retunes as he goes along. But he still has to pull on the big banana boots that were his trademark at the time and he tells the story of the bootmaker calling to apologies for the fact that they weren't identical, because no bananas are.


Waiting in the wings, he has an amiable chat about bluegrass with Spud's banjo player, who commends him on the performance on Michael Parkinson's chat show that made him a national treasure overnight. Connolly is worried that the audience will expect more of the same, as his stand-up act is very different. However, he's greeted warmly and soon has the assembled in the palm of his hand, whether he's discussing the unsteady progress of a Glasgow drunk with a fish supper or singing his bawdy variation on Buddy Holly's `Oh Boy!'


Having been woken early to do an unplanned radio interview, Connolly answers questions about the vulgarity in his act (accompanied by clips from spiels about willies and toilets) from the presenter. He also deals with the subject of hecklers and we see a perfectly timed rejoinder to the man who shouts `IRA!', as Connolly wonders whether he'd be brave enough to repeat the bawl at Ibrox, the home of Glasgow Rangers. As a Partick Thistle supporter, Connolly's free to mock either side of the city's sectarian sporting divide.


Intercut are exchanges with print journalists at the airport, where Connolly is amused by a call for a `Mr Jamaica'. He reflects on his routine about a recruitment advert for the British Army, in which he claims that soldiers are duped by a warped system. The stereotypes he mocks come in for more banter, as Connolly belts out `The Dambusters March' on the plane to Belfast and imitates the received pronunciation of the RAF pilots who did their bit for Blighty and scones on the lawn.


Following a perfect impersonation of Ian Paisley, Connolly (a former Territorial) chats to three Scottish members of the 15th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment on the tarmac. We see him singing `Sergeant, Where's Mine?' before he meets some members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the stage door of the ABC Cinema, where he's going to play gigs at 19:00 and 21:30. Teasing the tea lady about a slow-pouring pot, Connolly tunes his guitar, as the first house queue starts to move. Left alone, he ignores a notice about not smoking in the dressing-rooms and knocks the cap off a beer bottle on the side of the table. He examines his fingers and composes himself before setting off through the warren of tunnels to the stage.


Starting off with his rendition of `Help Me Make It Through the Night', Connolly explains how he's invented the words `basa' and `getifa' to avoid swearing around his kids. He thanks Kenneth Tynan for breaking the taboo on the BBC and pokes fun at the rhyming slang connections of Mary Whitehouse's surname before singing `A Four Letter Word', with its saucy final verse about tea-sipping old ladies.


On a roll, Connolly discusses the ban on contraception south of the border and riffs about purchasing condoms as a teenager in order to show off at school. He tells a joke about a man with a facial twitch whose pockets are stuffed with prophylactics because chemists keep mistaking his tic for a wink. A routine about snotty noses at school is followed by a classic Connolly bit about farting. Having confessed his envy of the classmate who could break wind at will and had an extensive repertoire, he wonders whether the act would cause less embarrassment if it involved the fingers rather than the bum.


Closing with `The Welly Boot Song', Connolly gets a rapturous reception and he retreats to the dressing-room for more slow tea and press interviews. He's glad he came and vows to return, while an RUC officer on duty claims that Ulster has been crying out for someone like him to restore a bit of normality. He admits he dropped `Green and Orange' material that he had used elsewhere on the tour and steered clear of The Troubles (apart from pretending that a rose someone had given him on stage had detonated).


Back on stage, he plays banjo on `Oh No', a track from his days in The Humblebums alongside Gerry Rafferty. Once again, the ovation is tumultuous and Connolly takes numerous bows while the credits roll. A final gag has him praying to Gentle Jesus, as a small boy, in the hope that he can wake up with the ability to fart like his classmate.


The influence of D.A. Pennebaker's Bob Dylan profile, Don't Look Back (1967), is readily evident throughout this observational documentary. Cinematographer David Peat keeps the 16mm camera attentively still while filming Connolly at the microphone, although other camera operators pick up his physical shtick and guitar/banjo-playing in full-body shots. It's a simple approach, but it's hugely effective, as not only does it capture a master at work, but it also shows him reacting to the audience and thinking about either the delivery of the next line or the risk/reward value of tossing in an ad lib.


Live albums and online clips mean that much of the material feels familiar, even though the film has been largely forgotten. The backstage stuff is fascinating because it reveals Connolly to be humble and appreciative with hotel and theatre staff and remarkably polite to the journalists posing often inane questions in the brief windows he has to himself either side of the three shows packed into 24 hours. Particularly amusing is the business about stiff-upper lippery and the starchiness of pre-60s British cinema, which chimes back into his gratitude to Kenneth Tynan for goading the BBC into letting the vernacular seep into Play For Today and The Wednesday Play. Today, the debt is owed to the 81 year-old, who now has other battles to fight. But a nation should wish him well and say, `Thank Phuq for Billy Connolly!'

7 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (21/6/2024)

(Reviews of Green Border; and Strike: An Uncivil War) GREEN BORDER. Trained at the FAMU film school in Prague and mentored by compatriots Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland has bee

Parky At the Pictures (14/6/2024)

(Reviews of Freud's Last Session; Àma Gloria; Rosalie; and The Moor) FREUD'S LAST SESSION. Anthony Hopkins played C.S. Lewis in Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands (1993), which was adapted by William

Parky At the Pictures (7/6/2024)

(Reviews of Here; Four Little Adults; The Dead Don't Hurt; Hard Miles; and Food Inc. 2) HERE. Belgian Bas Devos is another emerging director who has only just been picked up by British distributors. F

Comments


bottom of page