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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (26/4/2024)

Updated: Apr 28

(Reviews of That They May Face the Rising Sun; Quintessentially Irish; Kidnapped; and I Could Never Go Vegan)

THAT THEY MAY FACE THE RISING SUN.


Having captured the sights, sounds, and pace of Irish life in such invaluable titles as John McGahern: A Private World (2005), Silence (2012), and Song of Granite (2017), Pat Collins works much the same magic in That They May Face the Rising Sun, a lyrical adaptation of John McGahern's last novel from 2002. Set in County Leitrim in the 1980s and flecked with autobiographical elements, this relishably leisurely, but deceptively eventful saga was nominated for 11 awards and won Best Film at the Irish Film & Television Awards.


Five years after returning from London, novelist Joe Rutledge (Barry Ward) feels he has succeeded in reintegrating into the rural community in which he had grown up. German wife Kate (Anna Bederke) might have retained her interest in an art gallery in London, but she has taken up crafts like carding wool and basket-weaving and is usually happy to see the neighbours when the pop in for a chat over a mug or a glass.


While farmer Jamesie Murphy (Phillip Dolan) wheels his bike along the road to have a gossip over a dram, the grumpy Bill Evans (Brendan Conroy) crunches biscuits and cadges fags before waddling off with the buckets he fills in the nearby pond. Garage owner, The Shah (John Olohan), comes for lunch by car. He wanders with Joe to admire the glorious view to the hill and confides that he's thinking of retiring, as he muses: `The rain comes down, the sun shines, grass grows, children grow old and die. That's the holy all of it. We all know it full well and can't even whisper it.'


Sheep are taken to market and bee hives are inspected, as Joe writes and Kate sketches. Patrick Ryan (Lalor Roddy) drops in to quiz Kate about why she has no children and inform Joe that his brother, Edmund, has gone into hospital and is not expected to recover. He suggests they do some work on the greenhouse that they have been building for two years. While they are treating the timbers, Jamesie's brother, Johnny (Seán McGinley), cycles up in his best suit. He has been working in London and asks Patrick how the outsiders have been getting on before speculating about how Joe copes with Kate wearing the britches.


Over sandwiches, Patrick and Johnny relive a scene they once performed in J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World. But Joe takes exception to Patrick mocking Johnny for taking on a cleaner's job at Ford's Dagenham plant and Patrick stalks out after being reminded that a little tact and kindness can go a long way. Embarrassed, Johnny follows his old friend, who keeps chuntering as they amble down the path and vows not to return any time soon.


Bob (Declan Conlon), Kate's partner in the gallery, comes to visit with the news he is moving on to the National. This means that Kate will either have to agree to a sale or move back to London and Joe is surprised when she lets it slip that she takes her trips to escape the quiet and the unplanned routine that he finds so enchanting. Joe defends Bill when he comes to the door and Bob compares him to a character in a Russian novel. He explains that he's illegitimate and virtually works for Jamesie for free because that's how country life goes. As the local priest has invited him to help take the old folks to Carrick, Joe walks with him to the bus stop to reassure him that everything will go well.


Joe helps Jamesie bale hay in the shadow of the hills, while Kate chats to his wife, Mary (Ruth McCabe), who is doting on her granddaughter. Saddened to hear that Patrick had not wanted him to know about Edmund's death, Joe is cheered by the revelation that The Shah (who is his uncle) is going to marry Susan Maguire (Catherine Byrne) from the hotel and is honoured to be asked to be his best man. But he feels the burden when Kate suggests that he composes a letter on Jamesie's behalf to tell Johnny that there's no room for him in the house after losing his job. Noting that everyone will soon have telephones, Joe realises that no one will need to write to each other any more.


Christmas comes and Joe takes Patrick a bottle. He's in bed and changes to visit his cousins while discussing Johnny's situation and the need to finish the greenhouse. Joe denies writing the letter for Jamesie and helps break out a bale for the sheep. They're warily civil, as though neither can quite trust himself to betray any emotion, because that's the way it is. Bill and The Shah come for lunch and Joe writes about the day having had that gentle ease that can only be taken for happiness.


Following a spring wedding that's enjoyed by everyone, Johnny comes home for a visit. He's landed a DIY job with lodging and claims to be keeping busy. Fibbing that Jamesie had begged him to come home, he tells Joe, as they drive to the village, that `you never know a place more than the one you grew up in'. Over a pint, he reveals he had gone to London after an actress from the play, but had been left high and dry when things didn't work out. Denying any regrets, Johnny suddenly feels afraid he'll get left behind when Joe remembers he needs to call at the shop. Realising that Johnny's spirit has been broken, he orders more drinks and Nora the barmaid (Derbhle Crotty) makes a fuss of him.


Although he claims that everything is `alphabetical' when Joe drops him off, Johnny dies shortly afterwards. As there's no sign of Patrick, Joe agrees to lay him out with cousin Frank (Patrick Ryan). But he and Kate simply look on as everyone prays the rosary downstairs. Patrick is furious that he wasn't called in time, but Joe realises he is simply hurting at losing his best friend and puts an arm around his shoulder as the rasped rebukes turn to muffled sobs.


On the walk home, Kate announces her intention to stay and they hug. The next day, Joe helps Bill and Patrick dig the grave, while Jamesie looks on. They find bones in the earth and Patrick curses that they've widened the wrong end. He insists that Johnny will face the rising sun and prays for the resurrection of the dead.


Perhaps the most audiovisually sublime feature ever to be made in Ireland, this eulogy to the everyday wholly adheres to Graham Greene's maxim about films depicting `life as it's lived and life as it ought to be lived'. Much is owed, of course, to John McGahern's text, which has been deftly adapted by Collins and Éamon Little. Indeed, they even drolly include a self-reflexive exchange between Patrick and Joe, as the former spruce himself up for Christmas Day. `Does anything happen,' Patrick inquires about the book Joe is working on, `or is it the usual heavy going?' After a pause, the author replies, `Not much drama. More day-to-day stuff.' Never was a truer word spoken.


Thanks to Barry Ward, Joe could well be one of the nicest people in screen history. Considerate and considered, he is a former seminarian and medical student who always takes account of other people and has the knack of reacting to their pleasures and pain with an apt phrase. He even refrains from putting pressure on Kate, when he leaves her to decide their future. But it might have been interesting to see how he would have reacted if she had come to a different conclusion.


Judging by Padraig O'Neill's production design and Richard Kendrick's views of the surrounding countryside, it would be hard to justify leaving this idyllic spot. Collins actually filmed on Loch Nafooey in County Galway and the Ozu-esque pillow shots he employs to allow the audience to ponder the previous scene and to convey the passing of the seasons are superbly complemented by the combination of the exquisite sound design and the piano score composed by Irene and Linda Buckley. What a pity no one has ever perfected aroma-vision, as this would be even more irresistible.


Ward isn't alone in giving an excellent performance, however. Anna Bederke is delicately watchful, as she respects her antic guests with only the odd quizzical smile at her husband. Lalor Roddy's gnarled Patrick is a scene-stealing masterclass, but Seán McGinley's display of stifled regret and crushed pride is also outstanding. Philip Dolan and John Olohan are also impeccable, while Brendan Conroy is heart-rending as the ill-used outsider forever hoping to belong.


Much has changed since the time depicted here. But it's hard not to be beguiled by the elliptical scenario and its tranquility. Simple things are still key to the meaning of life and the world would certainly be a better place if everyone heeded Joe's reminder that speaking the plainly may not always be the best way and that we should treat each other instead - whether in person or in online anonymity - with `kindness, understanding, sympathy, tact, humour, maybe'. Now that's the holy all of it.


QUINTESSENTIALLY IRISH.


Having rubbed several critics up the wrong way with Quintessentially British (2022), Frank Mannion crosses the water for Quintessentially Irish. Following much the same format of combining travelogue with talking heads, this is the film equivalent of a good night at the pub - plenty of chat, good company, the odd bone of contention, and plenty of wit and wisdom.


Speaking from his home in Malibu, Pierce Brosnan gets things off to a leisurely start, as he reflects on a childhood divided between Navan and Putney. Inspired to act by Guy Hamilton's Goldfinger (1964), Brosnan is one of many contributors who has felt the need to leave Ireland in order to fulfil their ambitions. But a quick bit of vox-popping on the red carpet at the Irish Film & Television Academy Awards reveals the pride that the likes of Sharon Horgan, Jessie Buckley, and Ciarán Hands have in their homeland, although Stephen Horgan and Bob Geldof hint at a more troubled side that has contributed to the essential Irish character.


The Irish Welcome typifies the acceptance on an individual level that is a key part of the national character and Jeremy Irons (who married into the fabled Cusack family), President Michael D. Higgins, Prince Albert of Monaco (who is fiercely proud of his Kelly heritage), Kingsley Aikins of the Networking Institute, Lord Randal Plunkett (who is 21st Baron of Dunsany), and retired ambassador Daniel Mulhall all chip in with observations about how the Irish temperament and landscape has been channelled in its music, poetry, and prose, as well as the craic for which the country is renowned.


Higgins recalls putting the blocks in place on which the Irish film industry was based and the 14 Oscar nominations in 2023 included Colm Bairéad's Cailín Ciúin (aka The Quiet Girl) being up for Best International Film and Tom Berkeley and Ross White's An Irish Goodbye (both 2022) winning Best Live Action Short. Anne Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, and Kathryn Ferguson (the director of the Sinéad O'Connor documentary, Nothing Compares) express relief that hackneyed clichés about Irishness are being seen less on screen. But Geldof highlights the absurdity and the ability to laugh at themselves that makes the Irish so sociable and adaptable - hence the power of the diaspora.


Mulhall notes how post-Famine Irish refugees had to struggle to get a foothold in the United States, but came to be accepted after the sacrifices made during the Civil War. Aikins points out the pockets of influence that Irish exiles have around the world and President Joe Biden makes much of his own Irish roots during a reception at the White House, which was designed by Irish architect, James Hoban. We hear how a man from late/post-Roman Britain became the patron saint of Ireland and how his 17 March feast day is celebrated with more fervour in the diaspora than at home.


Given St Patrick's origins and the contribution made by so-called `Plastic Paddies', Professor Andrew Burke from Trinity College, Dublin insists that their contribution to how Ireland is perceived globally should never be downplayed. The networks they have established have helped Irish business to flourish and an extended passage is devoted to Joe Biden's sentimental attachment to the land from which his and Barack Obama's shoe-making ancestors came.


A disposable section on sports agent Ricky Simms's relationship with Usain Bolt (who has never been to Ireland) is followed by a fascinating potted history of the Plunkett family and the rewilding project currently taking place at Dunsany. The current custodian is a film-maker and the role played by James Joyce (whose passports were British) in the founding Ireland's first movie house, the Volta Cinema, is referenced in a section that also name-checks W.B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, Lord Dunsany, Seán O'Casey, and Oscar Wilde, who is claimed as a quintessential Londoner by mayor Sadiq Khan.


From Bloomsday celebrations, we pass via Jack Yeats to Paul Hogan and Bill Fogarty and the 12 April 1956 theft of Berthe Morisot's `Jour d'été' from The Tate Gallery in London in a bid to highlight Ireland's claim to the bequest of Hugh Lane, who has perished aboard the Luisitania in 1915. Although Hogan was never charged because it was a protest theft, civil servant father Sarsfield Hogan was passed over for the post that saw T.K. Whitaker transform Ireland's economic fortunes. The coming of free education in the 1960s also abetted the shift of Ireland from being a small island on the edge of Europe to being at the centre of the world.


Not everyone benefited from the boom that enabled the government to invest in the horse-racing industry. Poverty remained and restaurateur Anna Haugh detests potato jokes because it was the staple food for so many in the benighted past. This form of prejudice is particularly strong in proprietorial Britain, which still lays claims of superiority, even though the days of `No Irish' signs in boarding houses have long gone. Haugh also resents digs at the Irish fondness for a drink, although Mannion refines this aspect of Ireland's story by having Rory Guinness explain the work of the Iveagh Trust before revealing how many French vineyards have Irish connections through the so-called Wildgeese who settled in the Médoc.


Rory Guinness challenges St Helens-born Michael Smurfit's contention that his family firm was Ireland's first multi-national, but Aikins notes the number of big businesses and global brands with Irish roots. Smurfit is big pals with Prince Albert, who shows Mannion a portrait of Grace Kelly in the palace and enthuses about his County Mayo ancestry and the Olympic achievements of his rowing grandfather.


We move on to Irish coffee and the perfect storm of unfortunate events that precipitated the decline of the Irish whiskey industry before moving on to the Gaelic Athletic Association, which is explained by Marty Morrissey. He also mentions the 32 counties and the allegiance people owe to their place of origin. This leads into a rather superficial discussion of The Troubles and the prospect of a united Ireland, which is swiftly followed by a comic digression, in which outsiders try to pronounce Irish names. The revival of the Irish language is viewed with pride by broadcaster Áine Lawlor and author Emma Dabiri, while President Higgins laments that it was suppressed for so long.


The concept of the Irish mammy crops up next (with no mention of Mrs Brown) and Brosnan passingly alludes to faith. But all agree that the nature of Irishness is changing and needs to become more inclusive and diverse, especially if the Irish-Nigerian Dabiri's memories of childhood racism are anything to go by. Plunkett hopes that Ireland never forgets its disadvantaged past when it comes to dealing with other nations and uses its new wealth wisely, as the Irish Dream has been driving the world for nearly 200 years.


A few more quips are slotted into the closing credits, as various people execute Irish Goodbyes and President Biden asks Mannion if he's okay when his camera tripod collapses during a press conference. It's a delightful moment in a film that is full of them. The odd section rambles, while others are given short shrift. But this is never meant to be definitive. It's a rattlebag of names and places and the traits and talents that have enabled the Irish to outwit adversity at home and abroad.


Always a genial presence, Mannion doesn't seek to delve into the controversies of Irish history or provide an in-depth assessment of the key works of indigenous culture. His aim is to capture a flavour of the island and its peoples in a light-hearted celebration rather than an academic encomium. In this regard, he succeeds with charm, intelligence, insight, and humour. All quintessential characteristics, of course.


Much is owed to editor Charlie Emseis, who nimbly links talking heads and archive clips with vistas and interiors, illustrative cutaways and instinctive reportage. So what if the tourist board is rubbing its hands or topics missed the cut. This is more enjoyable and acute than its predecessor and is bound to be warmly welcomed, especially by Plastic Paddies everywhere (although some of prefer to be considered Scouse/Irish half-and-half scarves).


KIDNAPPED.


Outside documentaries, films about historical popes have been comparatively rare. Rex Harrison was memorable as Julius II opposite Charlton Heston's Michaelangelo in Carol Reed's The Agony and the Ecsasy (1965), while Manuel Fullola and Brian Blessed faced off as Rodrigo Borgia (the future Alexander VI) and Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pius II) in Christophe Schrewe's The Conclave (2006). This leads the way into the numerous TV series made about the Borgias. But there has yet to be a feature focussing exclusively on the papacy in this period.


Leaping forward several centuries, Henri Vidon was cast as Pius X in Umberto Scarpelli's The Secret Conclave (1952), which recalled the pope's distress at the outbreak of the Great War. Marcel Iureº essayed the controversial Pius XII in Costa-Gavra's Amen (2002), which examines the relationship between the Vatican and the Fascist Axis during the Second World War. His successor was played by Ed Asner in Giorgio Capitani's teleplay, John XXIII: The Pope of Peace (2002), while Bob Hoskins took the title role in Ricky Tognazzi's The Good Pope: Pope John XXIII (2003). Fabrizio Gifuni later starred in Fabrizio Costa's Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest (2008), while Cezary Morawski played Karol Wojtyla in Krzysztof Zanussi's From a Far Country (1981), which traced the early life of Polish pontiff, John Paul II.

More recently, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce played Benedict XVI and Francis I in Fernando Meirelles's The Two Popes (2019). There have also been two biopics of Pope Francis to date. Darío Grandinetti headlined Beda Docampo Feijóo's Argentine feature, Francis: Pray For Me, while Rodrigo de la Serna and Sergio Hernández shared the role of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Daniele Luchetti's Chiamatemi Francesco (both 2015).


Now, in his 31st feature, veteran director Marco Bellocchio takes us back to the mid-19th century for Kidnapped, which recreates a cause célèbre that rocked the already embattled papacy of Pius IX. Loosely based on a book by Daniele Scalise, this sombre historical drama received 11 nominations at the David Di Donatello Awards, where it was overshadowed by Paola Cortellesi's There's Still Tomorrow, which also happens to reach UK cinemas this week.


In 1851, Bologna was part of the Papal States, over which Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon) held spiritual and temporal jurisdiction. Born in the city, Edgardo Mortara (Enea Sala) is the sixth of eight children born to Jewish parents, Salomone (Fausto Russo Alesi) and Marianna (Barbara Ronchi). When Christian maid Anna Morisi (Aurora Camatti) sees them praying over the sickly boy, she baptises him to prevent his soul going to Limbo. She says nothing to the Mortaras, however, and is eventually dismissed for stealing.


Seven years later, Pier Gaetano Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni), the head of the city office of the Holy Inquisition, hears that the sacrament has been administered. As the 1747 papal bull, Postremo mense, states that Christian children cannot be raised within Jewish families, he signs an order to have Edgardo removed. Salomone and Marianna are powerless to prevent Maresciallo Lucidi (Bruno Cariello) from taking the boy on 24 June 1858 and sending him by boat to Rome. Here, he is billeted at the Casa dei Catecumeni, a boarding school for the children of converted Jews.


Having seen a crucifix being carried before a bankside funeral procession and inside Senigallia Cathedral, Edgardo is intrigued by the figure of the dead Christ. One of his female escorts gives him a crucifix to wear around his neck and promises sadness will pass if he kisses it. Fellow boarder Elia (Christian Mudi) is more pragmatic, however. He overhears Edgardo reciting the Shema Yisrael night prayer and urges him to play along with the rigmarole and he will be allowed to see his parents again.


When they have their case taken up by Jewish groups across the world, Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon) is frustrated by the negative publicity. He informs Cardinal Antonelli (Filippo Timi) that, on his election in 1846, he had been hailed as a liberator and he resents being branded a reactionary simply because he is adhering to the laws of the Roman Catholic Church and is striving to prevent the world from moving forward at what he considers a dangerous pace. Having had a nightmare about rabbis coming into his bedroom to circumcise him, Pius arranges for Edgardo to be baptised a second time and seats him on his knee to welcome him to his new family.


Sabatino Scazzocchio (Paolo Calabresi), the leader of the Jewish community in Rome, admonishes Salomone for taking the story to the papers, as they fear the privileges they have been granted will be withdrawn. He is allowed to visit Edgardo and is reminded that he will be free to return home if the family converts. Marianna refuses to contemplate any loss of identity, however, and pulls the crucifix from her son's neck when she sees him. Until now, the boy has done what has been asked of him by the rector, Enrico Sarra (Renato Sarti). But he rushes back to embrace his mother and demands to return to his sibling, as she vows to bring him home.


The morning after Edgardo goes to the chapel and sees Jesus climb down from the cross after he removes the nails, his frail friend, Simone (James Basham), dies. An attempt is made to abduct Edgardo from the funeral and Pius forces Scazzocchio to abase himself on his knees before threatening to return the Jews to the ghetto if the negative press over the Mortara case continues.


Shortly after Pius hides Edgardo inside his cape during a game of hide and seek, Bologna is seized by rebels supporting Il Risorgimento. Pius has an epileptic fit and is confined to bed, although he still issues orders of excommunication. Feletti is arrested for seizing Edgardo, but he cites his vows for refusing to co-operate with Judge Carboni (Corrado Invernizzi). When the case comes to trial in 1860, Anna refutes the evidence of Lepori the grocer (Duilio Pizzocchi) and swears that he had taught her how to baptise the infant Edgardo. She may well have exaggerated the severity of his illness, but Carboni finds that she acted in good faith and only revealed what she had done when she needed money to feed her own son. Salomone strikes himself about the head as the verdict is read, while Edgardo receives a pat on the cheek after being confirmed along with his classmates. The lawyer assures Salomone that the case has made history (even though they lost) and that they will get justice when Rome falls.


This happens in 1870, when Napoleon III (who had been angered by the Mortata case) withdraws the French garrison protecting Pius to fight the Franco-Prussian War. The breaching of the Porta Pia comes shortly after Edgardo (Leonardo Maltese) accidentally knocks Pius over in his enthusiasm to welcome him during a ceremony. He is made to lick crosses into the marble floor as penance, but he detects the pope's affection for him. Thus, when brother Riccardo (Samuele Teneggi) comes to rescue him and finds him wearing the vestments of a seminarian, he is dismayed when Edgardo refuses to leave. As he had chosen Catholicism of his own free will and considers King Victor Emmanuel of Piedmont to be a usurper, he has no wish to abandon his faith, in spite of the pain his parents have endured.


Although the unification of Italy is complete and Rome is proclaimed the new capital, Pius retains his status as pontiff, both within the Vatican and as the head of the Catholic Church. He dies on 7 February 1878 and his body is moved to the Basilica of San Lorenzo in 1881. During the torchlight procession, a mob tries to seize the coffin and toss it in the Tiber near Castel Sant'Angelo. Momentarily losing his head, the now ordained Edgardo joins the throng before running away into the night.


Having failed to attend his father's funeral, Edgardo rushes to his mother's bedside when she falls ill. He offers her baptism to thank her for giving him life, but she puts her hands over her eyes to deny him. Riccardo throws him into the corridor as Marianna passes away and the camera fixes on Edgardo's eyes, as he reflects on what has happened to him and where he goes now.


I COULD NEVER GO VEGAN.


In the four decades since Victor Schonfeld and Myriam Alaux made The Animals Film (1981), various attempts have been made to coax people towards a meat-free diet. It's a fair bet that Thomas Pickering and his co-writer brother James are familiar with the likes of Robert Kenner's Food Inc. (2008), Lee Fulkerson's Forks Over Knives (2011), Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn's Cowspiracy (2014), Louie Psihoyos's The Game Changers (2018), Viktor Kossakovsky's Gunda (2020), Andrea Arnold's Cow (2021), and Ludo and Otto Brockway's Eating Our Way to Extinction (both 2021). It's already a crowded field. But if I Could Never Go Vegan persuades a few more to take the plant-based option, then its UK release on 30 April is entirely justified (https://www.dartmouthfilms.com/icouldnevergovegan).


Having been raised a vegan, Yorkshireman Tom Pickering is well aware of the benefits of his diet. So, he sets out to address the concerns of the non-convinced and starts by enlisting the help of Dr Shireen Kassam and nutritionist Rohini Bajekal to talk us through the myths about malnutrition and vitamin and fibre deficiencies. He also namechecks a bunch of vegan sporting people to show how they have succeeded because of what they eat rather than in spite of it.


Included in this group is 86 year-old ultra athlete Paul Youd, who turned vegan in his sixties and backs Pickering's contention that meat-eating has nothing to do with manliness. His assembled medics also attest to the extent that plant-based consumption reduces the risk of the most common killer diseases and can even extend life expectancy. Yet, despite these obvious benefits, fresh fruit and vegetables are often more expensive to purchase than processed meats and Guardian columnist George Monbiot blames this on the subsidies given to livestock farmers.


While Pickering ponders why four apples are more expensive than a packet of burgers, he tackles the oft-raised claim that animals were placed on the planet to be eaten. Melanie Joy considers why some see meat and are appetised while others are repulsed and explains that what are considered consumable creatures vary between cultures. Pickering is curious to know why eating cats and dogs is frowned upon here, while not in certain Asian countries and why Westerners don't consider cows to be sacred.


Emerging from this section without having become overly emotive, Pickering hops around between discussions of how our teeth work and what our ancestors ate. He alights on the taste and texture of vegan food and holds a blind tasting of burgers, sausages, and non-chicken that fools everyone. We meet chefs David and Stephen Flynn of The Happy Pear and vegan baker Stephanie Lee to discover how quick, affordable, and tasty recipes can be.


The subject of bacon leads to an exposé of the fact that Britain has the world's highest standards of animal welfare. Disturbed by a visit to a well-run pig farm, Pickering investigates a Copenhagen-based project to fathom pig noises. He also goes to a Somerset animal sanctuary, where he launches an assault on the concept of free range and how consumers are being duped by the actual methods being employed. Former pig vet Alice Brough reveals how poorly the majority of British farm animals are treated and how the antibiotics that are being pumped into them is impacting upon their efficacy with humans.


Suitably indignant, Pickering visits a humane slaughterhouse and a sickening montage follows showing the mistreatment of cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs before their brutalisation. Mention is made of the diseases passed on through supposedly healthy meat. But Pickering feels the need to rewind and put the case for meat farming being a major contributor to global warming. Monbiot chimes in with facts and figures about land usage and how local sourcing isn't necessarily a way to cut down on greenhouse gases.


Soya's superfood value is assessed next, as Monbiot reveals that the deforestation blamed on consumers is actually linked to cattle feed. Big Agriculture requires more land than ever to be under cultivation and this exacerbates global warming. The likes of Randal Plunkett, 21st Baron of Dunsany in Ireland advocate rewilding to restore Nature's balance, but Monbiot points out that destruction moves at a quicker pace, as slurry from battery farms is carried by rivers to the sea. There are now 400 dead zones worldwide and they are as demoralising as their name suggests.


Farmer Iain Tolhurst points out how organic methods can help sustain insect populations, while Pickering explains how reducing livestock numbers will reduce the amount of food grown for animals and will allow fields to be reclaimed to boost eco systems. After whistling through greenhouse gases (with Monbiot debunking the myth of regenerative grazing), Pickering considers how the fishing industry fits into the picture and how the plastic from nets (often involved in bottom trawling) is passed on to humans.


Cheese is added to a section on the dairy sector's hideous practice of removing calves from their mothers and the bellowing of two separated animals lingers as Pickering provides statistics on employment opportunities in rewilded locales. He also hops to Finland to see synthetic meat being made by Solar Foods and gets to declare a sample dish to be delicious.


Throughout the film, Pickering has been keeping tabs on Youd's progress in an ultra marathon, Mike Coppock's bid to set a 750km record in Spain, and Sophia Ellis's attempt to win a major powerlifting title. They all excel, thanks to their vegan diets, and Pickering contrasts their achievements with a montage summation of his findings that prompts him to pose the not unreasonable question, when it comes to current human attitudes, appetites, and behaviour: `What the actual fuck?'


Nothing new is disclosed in this wholly committed documentary, which includes Alicia Silverstone among its executive producers. Yet Pickering provides a valuable summation that will reinforce the convictions of existing vegans and persuade vegetarians, piscatarians, and carnivores to have a little think. The tone can feel a bit preachy in places and scolding in others. But the screenplay is deeply rooted in verifiable facts and it would be interesting to see what the Pickerings could come up with if they were permitted to expand their thesis across a TV series that would allow them to examine the complex issues they raise in more detail.


Things can get a bit hectic here, with the serious science often being buried beneath the blizzard of accessible soundbites and blink-and-miss graphics. While the talking heads are eminently sensible, too few get to establish their credentials and too many only make single statements. The frequency of the sporting cutaways is also frustrating, as their human interest value is outweighed by the trivialising impact they have on the grave issues under discussion.


Pickering might also have relied less on calls and texts from his mother in Sheffield as a structuring device. But he makes a genial host, whose commendably slick editing helps drive home his points. As always with such films, however, this is likely to be seen primarily by fellow travellers (this particular one being of some 50 years standing) and it will only stand a chance of reaching a wider audience if someone picks it up for free-to-air television.


Captions inform us that Edgardo was ordained Don Pio Maria in the Canons Regular and spent the rest of his life preaching and proselytising across Europe until his death at Bouhay in Belgium on 11 March 1940, at the age of 88. Yet, for all the meticulousness of the dates and places specified during the film, we receive little insight into Edgardo's spiritual journey and even less into the turbulent times in which this harrowing story played out. The fact that too much of moment occurs off screen is very much the fault of the scenario written by Bellocchio and Susanna Nicchiarelli, which is full of florid speeches, stereotypical characters, and melodramatic flourishes that are designed to play upon modern sensibilities rather than explain the intricate historical niceties.


This is frustrating, as the 83 year-old Bellocchio's direction is masterly throughout. Given the selected locations, Andrea Castorina's production design couldn't be anything other than magnificent. Sergio Ballo and Daria Calvelli's costumes are also exceptional, while cinematographer Francesco Di Giacomo deftly contrasts the bourgeois cosiness of the Mortata home, the spartan simplicity of the school dormitory, and the profane splendour of the Vatican interiors. The classical pieces chosen for the soundtrack are equally thoughtful, although there's a Herrmannesque grandiosity to Fabio Massimo Capogrosso's orchestral accompaniment to the closing crawl.


Italian cinema has a grand tradition of finding cherubic boy actors and Enea Sala excels as the young Edgardo. His fascination with the Cross might have been more persuasive without the imagined deposition sequence, just as Pius's fury with the satirical cartoons would have been more meaningful without the fatuous animation. And, as for the circumcision nightmare! Essentially required to play Pio Nono as a reactionary relict in velvet and ermine who wickedly revels in his tyrannical infallibility, Paolo Pierobon manages the odd flicker of humanity. But, even though Pius seems not to have been directly involved in the decision to remove Edgardo from his home, Bellocchio has his hooks in the Catholic hierarchy and, as a consequence, it will seem more difficult for non-believers to understand why Edgardo would have tolerated his coerced conversion, let alone decided to follow his vocation (especially as Leonardo Maltese struggles with his underwritten role, as Edgardo is swept along by the tide of sketchily outlined events).


As the parents fighting for justice, Fausto Russo Alesi and Barbara Ronchi prove wholly empathetic, although a screenplay bereft of subtlety does them few favours. We learn little about the Mortata family or its relationship with Anna (who was actually 14 when she joined the household). Similarly, no information is provided about Salomone's business, while too much foreknowledge is presumed about either the status of the Jewish community within the Papal States in the 1850s or the role it would play in the Risorgimento. Moreover, the scale of the scandal and its wider implications for both the papacy and European Jewry is barely broached. After all, by the time Don Pio Maria died, the seeds of the Holocaust had already been sewn and Pius XII had embarked upon his own policy of `Non possumus.'




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