Parky At the Pictures (25/8/2023)
(Reviews of The Innocent; L'Immensita; Scrapper; The Dive; The Red Shoes: Next Step; and Mob Land)
As the son of one of the nouvelle vague's more cultish directors, actor Louis Garrel was always like to follow father Philippe behind the camera. To date, he has built up a steady reputation with Two Friends (2015), A Faithful Man (2018), and The Crusade (2018). But The Innocent takes him in a new direction and arrives in UK cinemas on the back of converting two of its 11 César nominations, for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
Sylvie Lefranc (Anouk Grinberg) falls for Michel Ferrand (Roschdy Zem) while running a drama class in a French prison. She breaks the news to son Abel (Louis Garrel) while speeding behind the van taking Michel to a probation hearing and he attends the wedding behind bars with apprehension.
Abel works at an aquarium in Lyon with Clémence Geniève (Noémie Merlant), a tank diver who spies on him during a tour and teases him about flirting with an oceanography student. She has no luck with men and he provides moral support while she tries on a clingy dress for her next Tinder date. However, he's still mourning for the wife who was killed in a car crash while he was driving and Michel offers his sympathies when they meet for lunch. Sylvie is cross when Abel asks how Michel would go about planning a heist. But she is even more furious when he mocks their idea to open a flower shop.
Suspicious, Abel follows Michel from a parole signing to a restaurant opposite the strip mall furniture store where he's working. Convinced he's up to no good, Abel gets Clémence to eavesdrop on his conversation, only for Michel to recognise her from the wedding and come over to chat. He twigs that Abel is snooping when he panic calls Clémence and takes the phone to let him know that he can see him skulking behind the wheel in the car park. In a bid to duck down, Abel and her pit bull, Gino, accidentally let off the handbrake and the vehicle slowly rolls backwards into the car behind.
While out buying stock, Michel asks Sylvie if she misses acting and tells her she doesn't have to be a florist if she'd rather return to the stage. But she assures him that she's never been happier and fears losing her last chance of happiness because she's too old to keep him interested. Following an impromptu salsa session while they decorate the store, Michel asks Abel if he thinks Sylvie loves him and he confirms that he's relieved she's found someone after having had a tough time.
On the night of the grand opening, Abel finds a gun in Michel's leather jacket and slips Gino's dog tracker into the pocket when he leaves for a rendezvous with Jean-Paul (Jean-Claude Pautot). Listening via Clémence's phone, Abel discovers that Michel got the premises at a bargain rate from a dodgy Iranian estate agent in return for participating in a heist. He tries to warn Sylvie that her husband is dangerous, but she dismisses him and even Clémence tells Abel to stop being a buzzkill.
When Jean-Paul spots Abel spying on them in a church, he offers to ice him. But Michel reassures him that he poses no threat, even though Abel is singularly unimpressed when Michel reveals at the aquarium that he is involved with a caviar-smuggling operation. Over coffee, he explains to Abel that the driver (Yanisse Kebbab) follows the same routine when he stops for supper in his truck. This gives them plenty of time to steal the cargo and disappear.
Abel is worried the cops will raid Sylvie's home. But Clémence thinks it's a risk worth taking for such a huge reward and tells Abel he's behaving like a chump as they stride out on a misty walk. She apologises, however, at his wife's graveside and grins when he asks if she'd like to be part of the blag. However, Michel and Jean-Paul drive them hard when they rehearse them through a lovers' tiff designed to keep the trucker glued while his load is being lifted.
Despite being impressed by Michel's intensity when he enacts a scene with Clémence, Abel feels awkward in the diner when the conversation turns to their real-life relationship. He scuttles off to get a drink, leaving Clémence to ask the driver if he will linger to keep an eye on her because her partner is a mean drunk. In fact, he returns to the table to tell her that it kills him whenever she describes her Tinder dates and she follows him into the gents, with the trucker as her back-up.
As Clémence tells Abel she loves him through the door of a toilet stall, Michel and Jean-Paul break into the truck. They have nearly finished loading when the latter pulls a gun and two sidekicks pull up to support him. Having gone to check if the robbery is over, Abel rushes back to fetch Clémence as shots ring out. Michel is hit in the leg, but Clémence uses a traffic cone to impersonate a police bullhorn and Abel prevents her from being shot by ramming the gunman with his car.
In the chaos, Michel jumps in the passenger seat and they speed off in pursuit of Clémence, who has stolen the van full of caviar. She phones Abel to tell him to take Michel to hospital while she loses Jean-Paul and puts the contraband on ice. He's worried for her, but she is having a ball and even pulls over to ask a cop car to chase Jean-Paul away because he's been following her before depositing the crates in the penguin enclosure.
Sylvie is livid with Michel for lying to her and for getting Abel into trouble. But he feels good, as he kisses Clémence before driving off to deliver the caviar to the Iranian. Naturally, he's arrested, but doesn't squeal and smiles when he sees Clémence following his paddy wagon to prison. Michel writes to him in prison, while Sylvie starts afresh as a drama teacher at a school. She tells Abel how proud she is during the prison wedding that ends on a freeze frame of the beaming bride and groom.
Beautifully scripted, impeccably played, and great fun from start to finish, this is a real treat. One can almost imagine this kind of caper being made by Gérard Oury in the 1960s, with Louis de Funès, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Capucine getting the better of a swindling Bernard Blier. Neatly upgraded from this period are gimmicks like the triple split screen showing a close-up of Abel's eyes and shots contrasting the conversations between Michel and his confederates and Sylvie and her customers. But, while the action relies on modern gadgets like mobile phones, the pièce de résistance requires a pit bull, a handbrake, and a gentle backward roll.
Garrel and co-scenarists Tanguy Viel and Naïla Guiguet give Abel some emotional baggage to prevent this from being too knockabout, while both Sylvie and Clémence have known their share of sadness. But Anouk Grinbert and Noémie Merlant refuse to let vulnerability define their characters, as they defy expectations to get what they want from life. Such roles might not score highly on a Bechdel Test, but each woman contributes a splendidly impulsive turn to a treatise on passion, opportunity, and performance that also artfully questions the rules of the game and who gets to set them and why.
Julien Poupard's camera makes the most of the evocative Lyonnais locations, while Grégoire Hetzel's score nimbly references everyone from Bernard Hermann to Lalo Schiffrin in helping Garrel achieve a number of deft tonal shifts. The contrivances stick out like Michel's outsized bow-tie. But those who trust in the cast will find themselves rooting for the underdogs and chuckling throughout.
Born in Rome to Sicilian parents, Emanuele Crialese transitioned from female to male before making his directorial debut with Once We Were Strangers (1997). In the ensuing quarter century, he has made only four further features. But they have all been significant.
Released in 2002, Respiro took the Critics' Week Award at Cannes before landing Donatello and César nominations, while Golden Door (2006) drew six awards at Venice, including the Revelation Silver Lion, as well as 11 Donatello nominations. In 2011, the same festival bestowed the Special Jury Prize for Terraferma. Eleven years passed before Crialese came out as a trans man and he reflected upon his childhood experiences in L'Immensità.
Set in the 1970s and sharing Respiro's theme of maternal unconventionality, this feels like Crialese's most personal picture. But, with its use of monochrome musical reveries to generate a distinctive brand of kitschily subversive exuberance, it also appears to be his most stylistically ambitious.
Spaniard Clara (Penélope Cruz) and her haute bourgeois husband, Felice (Vincenzo Amato), have just moved into a new apartment within sight of St Peter's, with their children, Adriana (Luana Giuliani), Gino (Patrizio Francioni), and Diana (Maria Chiara Goretti). While the family insists on still using the name Adriana, the 12 year-old identifies as female and prefers to be known as Andrea and he is seen on the roof of the building asking the heavens for a sign before wandering inside and noticing that his mother is wearing make-up, which usually means she is going out or has been crying.
Shrugging off Andrea's concern, Clara puts Raffaella Carrà's `Rumore' on the record player and turns laying the table into a dance routine that has the kids beaming. However, the meal is a sombre affair, as Felice isn't on the same wavelength and teases Andrea about wanting to bathe in privacy. He also chivvies him out of the bedroom, where he's watching Adriano Celentano singing `Prisencolinensinainciusol' on TV with his mother, and forcibly removes him when Andrea sneaks back in and hides under the bed while Felice is trying to force himself upon Clara. She leaps to the boy's defence and stays in the children's bedroom until they fall asleep.
The next day, Andrea steals some hosts from the church in the hope of affecting a miracle and succeeds only in bringing on an asthma attack. As they sit on a flight of steep steps, Andrea tells Clara that she made him wrongly and claims he feels like an alien who can't be fixed. They cheer themselves up by charging along a crowded street shouting at the tops of their voices.
Across a dense clump of towering reeds abutting the building is a camp for migrant workers and Andrea sneaks out at night to meet with Sara (Penelope Nieto Conti), who takes him at face value. They dance to a sentimental ballad playing by the campfire. By contrast, when Andrea accompanies Clara to the hairdresser, they are chased to the car by wolfish strangers and Andrea curses his mother for being so beautiful.
Summer comes and everyone sings in the car, as they go on holiday. Clara chides Felice for driving too fast, but the kids enjoy breaking free. When they go out in a boat, she notices him flirting with a younger woman, while he becomes jealous the moment she swims next to another man in the sea. One of the boys asks Andrea to go steady with him, but he refuses.
He does, however, lead the others down a manhole into a labyrinth of tunnels and the mothers panic when they realise where they are. Clara fetches a hosepipe to use as a rope and upsets the others by squirting them while they are trying to discipline their children. Although Clara doesn't believe in smacking her brood, Andrea insists on being punished in front of the other women for being the ringleader. Clara smiles on giving him a playful tap, but Andrea orders her to do it properly and she rushes out of the room after slapping her son's face.
Back in Rome, Andrea seeks out Sara and they wander on to the building site. Inside some stone pipes, Sara places a rose stem in Andrea's mouth and lies on top of him. She tells him to close his eyes, but vanishes and Andrea thumps Gino for snitching on him when Clara warns him not to go beyond the reeds. Diana forces them to make friends, but they listen in dismay as Felice tells Clara to rein Andrea in because the delusion needs to stop because their friends are making fun of them. Gazing into her make-up mirror, Clara asks if they can separate because she's tired of his serial infidelities. But Felice reminds her that they are Catholics and that she needs to stop being as weird as Andrea.
At mass, Andrea sits on the girls' side of the church and imagines the pews sliding back, as Clara joins in a pounding black-and-white dance routine to `Prisencolinensinainciusol'. But it's just a daydream that ends in Communion. Reality really kicks in, however, when Felice's secretary comes to see Clara and conveys her news without saying word. Andrea looks on from behind a door and orders Gino and Diana into the wardrobe for a test of bravery, in the hope that they will be given powers to cope.
The siblings run to Clara's defence when Felice gets home and hits her for making a scene. He storms out and she locks herself in the bedroom, as the children try to comprehend what's going on. When Felice returns, Gino is sent to share his bed, while Clara bunks down with the girls. She reassures them that their parents still love each other, even though Andrea knows the truth.
Andrea sits in an abandoned car with Sara, discussing job options. She lights a cigarette and he takes a puff and leans in to kiss her. Smiling, she calls him a weird boy and they run off together. Following a tense supper that ends with Felice losing his patience, Andrea tells Gino and Diana that they will soon be four and pushes his brother when he jokes that he hopes it's a boy so they can name him Andrea.
Christmas comes and the family gathers at the home of Felice's parents. The children steal napkins to play Blind Man's Buff and slip under the table during the meal. Andrea is embarrassed when Clara joins them because she's bored and urges her to resume her place. As the night wears on, they swap the wallets and keys they find in the jackets on the bed. Thus, when the menfolk dash out in the rain to start their cars, they can't unlock the doors.
Clara takes the kids to see Dr Zhivago (1965) and is still dabbing her eyes when the lights come up. On arriving home, however, they see fire engines in the street and Clara rushes to her bed and hides under the covers when Felice asks her what she's done. Shortly afterwards, she leaves to get some rest at a villa and Andrea demands to know why she doesn't behave like a grown-up and look after them. Grandma Giulia (Alvia Reale) comes to stay and Felice bawls at her when she fails to get Diana to stop playing with her food.
Grandma gets the children to pose for a picture to send to Clara, but Andrea (in a red dress and white knee socks) refuses to smile. Watching TV, he sees Clara impersonating Patty Pravo singing `Love Story' and dresses as a musketeer when they go to collect Clara in carnival costumes. She hugs her children and borrows Andrea's mask when he removes her sunglasses.
Back home, Clara asks Andrea if he kept his promise about staying away from the reeds. He nods, but is dismayed to learn that the camp has been cleared and he rushes to the spot to find it deserted. He imagines himself as Johnny Dorelli in a tuxedo singing his version of the Love Story theme. With the orchestra playing behind him, Andrea grips the microphone stand and gazes into the audience and smiles.
As the credits roll after the slightly deflating denouement to Don Backy's `L'Immensità', we have to take it at face value that everyone makes it through to the other side, as Crialese is here to tell his tale. Writing with Francesca Manieri and Vittorio Moroni, he captures the atmosphere and dynamics of the household with a deft fidelity that makes the more stylised set-pieces all the more effective. The soundtrack is splendid and production designer Dimitri Capuani, costumier Massimo Cantini Parrini, and cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok combine to bring some nostalgic showbiz spectacle to the intimate domestic drama, while also conveying the uncertainties attendant upon a city undergoing regeneration.
Ably supported by Maria Chiara Goretti and Patrizio Francioni, Luana Giuliani is hugely impressive as the tweenager trying to cope with their own identity issues, while also trying to protect his siblings and mother from the callous chauvinism of their father. The scenes with Penelope Nieto Conti are also poignant, with the reeds acting like something out of a fairytale leading into a neverland. Crialese chose a cisgender girl for the role as he wanted to spare someone actually transitioning from living out their experience on screen. It's a tactful gesture that is repaid with sensitivity, discernment, and charismatic fortitude. Yet, for all the autobiographical nuance, the camera can't drag itself away from Penélope Cruz's free spirit on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
It's astonishing that Rob Marshall's Nine (2009) is the only film in which Cruz appears alongside Sophia Loren, as they should have been cast as mother and daughter at least once. Cruz clearly channels her inner Loren in playing Clara, although she also mines the beat italiano vibe to mimic Patty Pravo and go all go-go to `Prisencolinensinainciusol', the wonderful cod-English foot-tapper that features twice in the scenario. Together, Cruz and Giuliani prevent the action from becoming formulaic or saccharine, although not everyone will be convinced by the combination of psychological anguish and pop pastiche.
Islington's Charlotte Regan has packed a lot into the last seven years. In addition to shooting over 200 low/no-budget music videos, she has also produced several splendid shorts since debuting with the BAFTA-nominated Standby (2016). Along with Cleared, Fry-Up (both 2017), Drug Runner, Little Monster, Dodgy Dave, Visiting (all 2018), Oats & Barley, My Boy (both 2019), No Ball Games (2020), and Bikes (2023), Regan has also contributed `Paired Up' to the nine-strong portmanteau, The Love Europe Project (2019). Now, she makes her feature bow with Scrapper, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
Since losing her mother, 12 year-old Georgie (Lola Campbell) has been fending for herself by stealing bikes with her friend, Ali (Alin Uzun), and flogging them to Zeph (Ambreen Razia). She gets the man from the corner shop to pose as her uncle by recording voice messages she plays down the phone to social worker Sian (Jessica Fostekew). But, as a clutch of vox pops suggest, while she can fool the adults in her life, neighbourhood kids identical triplets Kunle (Ayokunle Oyesanwo), Bami (Ayobami Oyesabwo), and Luwa (Ayooluwa Oyesanwo) aren't so keen on a scrappy outsider who insists on doing things her own way.
Ali's mum allows him to sleepover on occasions and it bugs him that Georgie keeps him out of a locked upstairs room. He is also aware how much she misses her mum (Olivia Brady), as she often sneaks out to watch phone videos of her and admits to working her way slowly through the seven stages of grief. They're together when Jason (Harris Dickinson) climbs over the fence and announces himself as Georgie's dad. As he threatens to tell social services, she agrees to let him stay and (via cutaways) debates his recent past with Ali at a nearby café.
Dressed in pink, Layla (Freya Bell) and her gang of mean girls watch Jason and his bleached crew cut shin up a wall to climb through a bedroom window after Georgie locks him out. They confide to camera that nothing surprises them with that family, which they consider to be weird. But they are intrigued by Jason, who tells Georgie and Ali that he has been living with mates on the Costa del Sol. She asks why he abandoned her and never sent any money and demands to know why he thinks he can just waltz into her life and take over.
However, he introduces himself to Sian over the phone and threatens to shop Georgie to the social unless she behaves. Her suspicions are aroused when she finds a bullet in his coat pocket and she tries to find out more about him by scrolling through his phone. But she gets caught and Jason bawls at her for prying, as he clearly has something to hide.
Having been impressed by the tip to remove serial numbers from the bikes they've nicked, Ali thinks Georgie should give Jason a chance, as his presence does make things easier for her. She tells him she's got other mates (although cutaways suggest otherwise) and strops off alone. Ali asks Jason for his advice on patching things up before he goes on his summer holiday and Georgie snubs him when they sit down for supper. She breaks a tooth on a piece of garlic bread and Jason reassures Ali's mother that it had been loose anyway, when she calls to collect him.
The morning after Georgie rejects the tooth fairy money that Jason had tried to leave her, he insists on accompanying her on a bike snatch. He fails to notice a couple of coppers while Georgie is having trouble with a lock and she drops her phone as they scarper. Going out to look for it after dark, she punches Layla for telling her to get a new one (because it wouldn't have the video of her mum on it) and runs home to lock herself in the secret room, where she has created a tower of scrap metal that reaches up to the ceiling.
Keen to keep away from Layla's mum, Georgie ducks out of the backdoor with Jason and they decide to have a day out. At the station, they make-up the conversation of a middle-class couple on the other platform (which they overhear) before going metal detecting. Jason gives Georgie a name bracelet to atone for missed birthdays and they chat as they sort through their finds in an abandoned warehouse. They also have races and share dance moves before heading home.
On the platform, Georgie asks about her grandmother and tells Jason about her mum. Arriving home, she confesses to the fight and Jason promises to fix things. However, Layla's mother refuses a pay-off and warns him that Georgie is out of control. Anxious about what to do (because he doesn't want the police snooping around), Jason sneaks the key to the locked room and not only sees the metal tower, but also what Georgie has scrawled on the walls. Unsure what to do, he phones a mate in Ibiza, but Georgie eavesdrops on the stairs.
Next morning, Jason leaves his phone for Georgie and tells her to listen to a message from her mum. She asks him to come home and, as she tells him all about his daughter, we see the pair together, as they chat, paint clouds on her bedroom wall, and fool around the house. As her mum had told her she was going to heaven, Georgie has been building the tower to try and get closer to her and she goes to lie on the floor beneath it and look up at how far she still has to go.
Heading to the station in the hope of finding him, Georgie finally tracks Jason to a five-a-side court. They chat through the fence, as he apologises for being too young to deal with having a kid and she admits she could get used to having him around. After hugging, they wander home, with Georgie making it clear that Jason has to clear up after himself. Following a vox pop recap of what a nightmare father and daughter are together, we see Ali bringing them some food from his mother, as Georgie and Jason repaint the living room.
While it's inevitable that comparisons will be made with Charlotte Wells's Aftersun (2022), this knowing dramedy dips into any number of recent social realist pictures about plucky kids with ailing or dysfunctional parents. However, Regan has already covered this territory before in Dodgy Dave, in which drug dealer Neil Maskell gets to know son Mitchell Brown when he accompanies him on his round.
It's intriguing to compare the way in which young Lola Campbell interacts with Alin Uzun and Harris Dickinson, as Georgie reluctantly lets her guard down and accepts that she can't keep hoping to game the system. The screenplay fudges the ease with which she deceives social services, her school, and the parents in the terrace with its pastel-shaded houses by claiming to have an uncle named Winston Churchill. But the narrative avoids melodrama and mawkishness by slow-walking the resourcefully mature Georgie and overgrown adolescent Jason to an arrangement that suits them both. Yet he's let off the hook for his absenteeism rather too easily (as is her mum, who seems to have made no arrangements for her future bar a hopeful phone call, even though she knew she was dying). Moreover, we never learn about his laddish sojourn in Spain, with the bullet being a red herring, unless we're to presume he found it hunting metal - and, by the way, where did the detector come from when the twosome had done a back alley flit to avoid Layla's mum?
The dialogue is wittily sharp, although the docu-inserts feel a bit forced, while the cutaway gag is overused, unlike the spiders giving their two-pennyworth is speech bubbles. But such idiosyncratic flourishes are forgivable in a first-time feature, especially an urban fairytale that has otherwise been solidly made in and around the Limes Farm housing estate in Chigwell, Essex. Elena Muntoni's production design is spot on, as are Oliver Cronk's costumes, while Molly Manning Walker's alert format-switching photography is given extra energy by Matteo Bini and Billy Sneddon's skittish editing. Such audiovisual zip has been a feature of Regan's wonderful shorts and it's to be hoped she can continue to combine canniness and authenticity in her sophomore outing.
Having remained resolutely on terra firma with Gravity (2009) and Stereo (2014), German director Maximilian Erlenwein goes all sub-aquatic in his English-language debut, The Dive. With Norwegian Joachim Heden aboard as co-writer, this remake of Breaking Surface (2020) has been compared to Danny Boyle's 127 Hours (2010). But this would make a much better double bill with Scott Mann and Jonathan Frank's Fall (2022).
Sisters May (Louisa Krause) and Drew (Sophie Lowe) have drifted apart in recent months. But they still come together for a long-planned dive to some deep caves beneath a steep cliff at a remote stretch of coast. Surprised to hear that Drew has moved back in with their mother, May ignores the teasing about her penchant for state-of-the-art gadgetry and ensures that their spare air tanks are safely tucked under some rocks. She's lost her enthusiasm for diving, but knows Drew still gets a buzz and plunges in bent on not letting her sibling down.
As they descend, Drew delights in the sensation and suggests coming up for air in a cave. She asks May if she's okay, as she can no longer read her the way she used to do when they were girls. But May is in no mood for soul searching and flippers off into the distance. Drew follows and grows concerned when her sister stops stock still. Over the intercom, she tries to warn her sister, but she's bombarded by rocks hurtling through the water.
After a panicked search, Drew finds May trapped under a rock she can't lift. However, May is calm because they have lots of options providing that Drew can get to the surface and return with another oxygen tank and the car jack within 20 minutes. Promising she's okay, May reminds Drew to stay calm in order to conserve air and think rationally.
While May tries to stop herself from thinking about past events, Drew rushes to the beach store to find that it's been sealed off in the rock fall. Running to the car, she has to smash the window to get at the tanks on the backseat. But, without the keys, she can't open the boot to reach the jack. With time elapsing, she hurries back to the jetty and tries to signal to a passing boat while putting on her diving apparatus. In her haste, she drops the spare cylinder and has to find it before returning to May in the nick of time.
Frustrated that Drew has been unable to get the jack, May reminds her to keep a level head and focus on the doable. She also notices that Drew has a leak in her air hose and warns that she has to surface quickly and decompress before coming down with the last tank. Reassuring her sister that she's fine, May strives to compose herself in the face of onrushing memories, while Drew sprints across the rocks to a church on the headland. Breaking in, she leaves a message scrawled on her map and dashes back to the car brandishing a hammer.
As May suppresses her anger at endangering herself simply to appease her sister, Drew snaps her knife in the boot lock and hammers frantically at the metalwork. Acting on a sudden flash of inspiration, she pushes the car over the cliff, but she can't find the jack and flops back on the rocks in despair. Spotting a fallen road sign, she breaks off the pole and heads back down. Despite her best efforts, the metal snaps and May reassures her that she couldn't have done any more. When Drew asks what their father would have done, May yells at her to take the remaining air and surface. But Drew refuses to give up.
Suffering from the bends, Drew claws her way along the metal jetty and hallucinates that she can see her father on the rocks. May is also flashing back to their childhood when they were bobbing in the water with their father and he held one of them under. As she fights the recollection, Drew returns without an air tank, but with a compressed tube containing a rubber inflatable that she positions under the rock. It lifts enough for May to get free and steer the wilting Drew to the cave, where she can inhale and decompress.
Realising that there isn't enough oxygen in the tiny chamber, May dives back down to collect one of the discarded tanks. She returns to find Drew floating on her back and she uses a rock to break the valve to fill the space with fresh air. Drew revives and the sisters cling together, as May jokes that she chooses the spot next year.
Despite being gnomishly obfuscatory with the backstory, this is an involving saga that benefits from some magnificent underwater photography by Jan Hinrich Hoffmann and Eric Börjeson. Cinematographer Frank Griebe also makes the most of the Maltese locations, as Australian Sophie Lowe hurtles around like a contestant on a survivalist game show trying to retrieve or improvise rescue materials.
Much of Louisa Krause's acting is done with her eyes through the glass of her visor, although she's often made to fight against Philipp Thomas's archly fragmented editing, which seems more intent on withholding information from the audience than on conveying a sense of events flashing through a trapped woman's mind. The original screenplay was certainly more willing to share.
Nevertheless, Erlenwein directs capably, as he strives to make Drew's efforts logical and credible while ensuring that the human angle is never entirely swamped by the scuba action. Occasionally abetted by an intrusive on-screen clock, Volker Bertelmann and Raffael Seyfried's score does a decent job in ratcheting up the suspense. But Corinna Fleig's sound design is far more effective and should perhaps have been trusted more in the pivotal moments as bubbles cascade through torchlight beams in the murky depths.
THE RED SHOES: NEXT STEP.
It's bold to the point of impertinence to name a ballet film after such an iconic classic as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948). But that's what another co-directing team, Jesse Ahern and Joanne Samuel, have done with The Red Shoes: Next Step. The casting of a real ballerina means that the dance sequences have poise and plausibility. But the storyline feels like something submitted for a Noel Streatfeild parody competition.
Crushed by seeing big sister Annie (Daniele Clements) killed by a car while calling to wish her good luck before her big ballet debut, Samantha Cavanaugh (Juliet Doherty) turns bad and gets caught shoplifting with best friend, Eve Leary (Lauren Esposito). When she's sentenced to 200 hours of community service, mother Jennifer (Laura New) pulls strings so she can clean the dance school between classes.
Principal Miss Harlow (Carolyn Bock) makes it clear that Sam is there as a favour and new star dancer, Gracie (Primrose Kern), never misses a chance to humiliate her, as she had been overlooked for the lead when Sam replaced Annie. Prodigal hunk Ben (Joel Burke) reassures her that she deserved her chance and hopes they can dance again. However, he has been paired with Gracie and Sam takes quiet pleasure in seeing her criticised during a Red Shoes rehearsal when Eve pops in to catch up.
Schlepping across the city every morning on an empty train, Sam has learned her lesson. So, when Gracie hurts her ankle and Paige the understudy (Mietta White) doesn't know the steps, Harlow gives her the role and allows her to become a boarder once again. Unsure whether she still has the passion, Sam sits in her bedroom and recalls Annie urging her to dance her own way. She goes to the school before dawn and dances to `Glow' by herana in a dimly lit studio that allows the light to catch her translucent skirt.
Harlow storms out of the first rehearsal after snapping about how lucky Sam is to be getting a second chance. However, as Miss Robinson (Kathy Luu) points out in showing Sam to the room she used to share with Annie, she clearly hoped she'd be back. Ben is also supportive in helping Sam rediscover her passion for ballet, while Eve answers the call for a midnight feast to provide some hugs.
But Harlow continues to find fault with everything Sam does and entire rehearsals are devoted to repetitions and reminders of how good Annie had been and how capable Sam is of emulating her. When she flounces out, Harlow chides her for not understanding the role and lacking the spirit to channel her grief into the choreography. Ben finds her on the roof and reminds her that she is holding the rest of the company to ransom until she discovers whether she has the self-belief to succeed.
Paige and roommate Andrea (Ashleigh Ross) take Sam under their wing and she throws herself into classes. Harlow drives her hard, but she responds and accepts Ben's invitation to dance with him after she sees him performing alone on a half-lit basement stage. However, Sam is called away because Eve is having a tough time after being evicted with boyfriend Freddy (Nicholas Andrianakos) and she berates Sam for failing her when she needed a friend because she was being too self-absorbed.
Shortly afterwards, Harlow shows Sam footage of her dancing after she lost her fiancé. She says it was excruciating and that is why she could sympathise with the loss of Annie. But she admits to being disappointed that Sam didn't trust the school family to help her and hopes that she can now see why a recovered Gracie has to resume the lead in The Red Shoes and that her role is not to help Paige become a good understudy.
Asking her parents to let Eve have her room, Sam wins back her friend. She comes to the performance, where Gracie has a relapse and Harlow has to give Sam a pep talk as she laces on the red shoes. Once on stage, the doubts disappear and a triumph ensues and Sam pays her respects to Annie by leaving the shoes on the stage before joining her parents in the foyer. Ben asks for a quiet word and kisses her.
This very public liplock sums up the lack of subtlety in a cornball saga riddled with clichés and caricatures. It's never made clear what so many American-accented folks are doing in Sydney. but fine detail counts for little in a film of broad brushstrokes that will struggle to appeal to anyone but the most ballet-obsessed tweenager.
Footwear plays a prominent part, whether it comes in the form of the red boots that Annie is wearing during the fateful phone call with red-shod sister Sam or the toe shoes that are regularly bashed on the floor to provide a hint of docu-realism. This is hardly Frederick Wiseman's Ballet (1995) or La Danse (2009), however, as even when the focus does fall on matters terpsichorean, Ahern and Samuel content themselves with tired barre business and exasperated rants from the prickly principal, who is played with Joan Sanderson-like hauteur by the sporting Carolyn Bock.
Juliet Doherty copes with the dreary dialogue, but she is a much better dancer than she is an actress. However, it isn't always clear how good she is, as so many set-pieces are shrouded in crepuscular gloom by cinematographer Kent Marcus and cut to ribbons by editors Inder Aney and Daniel Sievert, whose fussy flits between close-ups of feet and faces ignores the full-figure framing favoured by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly that captures both the kineticism of the choreography and the dynamism of the dancers. The odd Berkeleyesque top shot is also tossed into a mix that prioritises flamboyance over any focus on the ballet story or the emotions of the performers.
It doesn't help that so many of Doherty's solo studio spots are accompanied by slushy ditties by Dominic Cabusi and Bronte Maree O'Neill. But it's the plodding predictability of the plot that makes this such a chore. As each strand is so mired in contrivance. however, this would be perfect for a game of banality bingo.
It's surprising how many first-time directors make it on to the UK release schedule, when there's seemingly no room for established arthouse and indie film-makers. Nicholas Maggio is the latest to display his wares. Technically, he proves competent, while his bid to highlight the problems of small-town America is laudable. But what Mob Land primarily demonstrates is that Maggio watches a lot of movies and feels little compunction about borrowing from them.
Louisiana mechanic Shelby Conners (Shiloh Fernandez) is devoted to wife Caroline (Ashley Benson) and young daughter Mila (Tia DiMartino). However, he hides a pill addiction from them and boss Mike (Jesse Sharp), who offers him extra shifts while he attends a family funeral following an overdose. Times are tough and the cash he makes from drag-strip racing no longer plugs the gaps in the domestic budget. So, when Caroline's brother, Trey (Kevin Dillon), suggests knocking over a strip mall pill mill because it's a sitting target, Shelby is tempted, especially as he knows that the owners prey upon the misfortunes of people left with nothing after the economic downturn.
The trouble is, Shelby is a law-abiding man, who is friends with Sheriff Bodie Davis (John Travolta), who we first see putting a deer out of its misery after he wings it in the woods. Approaching retirement, but having just been given a dire diagnosis by his doctor, Brad is a God-fearing man who is always grateful when Caroline gives him a plate of leftovers from supper. He prefers a quiet life and is dismayed to get a call about a robbery and ends up in the crossfire after Shelby and Trey make their getaway.
The heist didn't go well, with one of those minding the store asking the thieves about their favourite Death Wish movie, as he intends tracking them down. He also warns them that they're stealing from an organised gang who won't hesitate to avenge the crime. Shelby is curious when the old man recognises Trey's voice. But, having insisted on not carrying a gun, he winds up killing the old coot and is furious with Trey (who shot someone else and wounded a female witness) when he discovers that they have taken a consignment of pills as well as the cash.
Putting on an act when Caroline and Mila call from their weekend away, Shelby drinks and curses in self-pity. Across town, Brad surveys the crime scene and CCTV tapes with his elderly deputy, Ben (Timothy V. Murphy). He laments that it looks like another junkie-on-junkie job before admonishing the old timer for having misplaced his boots.
As Sunday dawns, Shelby is still in a bad way. But things are about to get worse, as mob enforcer Clayton Minor (Stephen Dorff) arrives in town and forces an underling to swallow a mouthful of pills, as Ben is explaining to Brad that the pill mill is run from New Orleans and that the DEA is sniffing around. Moreover, he fetches up on Shelby's porch and suffocates Trey in a black bag and threatens to harm his family unless Shelby acts as his accomplice while he's in town.
Returning from having dumped Trey's corpse in a swamp, Shelby finds Brad waiting for him. He buys the story that the door got smashed in a row with Caroline and that he's not since Trey for a few days. But Brad is more dogged than he seems and he keeps snooping, while Clayton gets a reminder from his boss, Ellis (Robert Miano), that he wants an efficient job doing and tells him to stop acting as though he's Steve McQueen or Johnny Cash.
So, having used Shelby as his driver to catch up with the town doctor (Tom Key) on his way home from the bar, Clayton orders him to finish off the bank teller (Debra Nelson) who had witnessed the robbery. When Shelby refuses, Clayton assures him that he never kills innocent people. He also shows him phone footage of Caroline as a frightened hostage and Shelby kills Ms Whitney.
When Brad visits next morning, Shelby introduces Clayton as his new racing sponsor and claims they're off hog hunting. Brad offers some veiled advice to the stranger and takes Shelby aside to ask about Trey. He suggests his brother-in-law committed the robbery and is tying up loose ends before absconding with his loot. Unconvinced, Brad asks Tupelo police to check Caroline and Mila are okay.
Shelby drives Clayton to a rendezvous with Ellis. As they wait, Clayton surprises Shelby by knowing he has Parkinson's disease and he responds by asking when he's going to cut him some slack for a mistake he'll regret for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, that isn't long, as Ellis orders Clayton to shoot Shelby. His henchmen are digging a grave when Clayton pulls a weapon out of the car boot and guns everyone down before finishing off Ellis with the penknife that Caroline had given Shelby.
Needing to get out of the house and worried sick about Shelby, Caroline heads to the drag strip. Bodie finds her there. He's sure her husband will turn up, but he's no idea that Clayton buried him on a hill near the abandoned trailers where he died. Before leaving town, Clayton revisits the diner where he had eaten some pie before embarking on his killing spree. Instead of giving the waitress a tip, he leaves some bundles of banknotes for on the Conners sideboard. But it proves to be the last thing he does, as a single bullet penetrates his forehead as he closes the door.
Hiding the identity of the shooter (while dropping a huge hint), the Tarantino-inspired Maggio literally ends his debut with a bang. In conveying the air of desperation that pervades the dead-end milieu, he does enough with Nick Matthews's brawny camerawork to suggest he could be a decent actor director, even though his car chases need work. His scriptwriting could also do with honing, however, especially as the serviceable storyline he has concocted with Rob Healy owes such obvious debts to Michael Mann's Collateral (2004), Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country For Old Men (2007) and David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water (2016).
Despite his philosophising amorality, Stephen Dorff isn't quite in the same league as the Oscar-winning Javier Bardem, while John Travolta lacks Jeff Bridges's grizzledly laconic charisma. Each commits to his role, however, as does Kevin Dillon, who might have been given more screen time to critique the souring of the American Dream before being unceremoniously suffocated. Dorff also has plenty to say on the state of the nation in deriding Shiloh Fernandez's everyman aspirations. But this atmospheric, if leisurely paced rural noir is much more an old-fashioned shoot-`em-up than a political tract,