Parky At the Pictures (26/6/2020)
(Reviews of The Girl With a Bracelet; Resistance; Radioactive; MS Slavic 7; The Wishmas Tree; The Booksellers; and Messi)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
THE GIRL WITH A BRACELET.
Having impressed with his first two features, 40-Love (2014) and Cléo & Paul (2016), Stéphane Demoustier takes an adroit sidestep away from cosy domestic matters to remake Gonzalo Tobal's Argentinian courtroom drama, The Accused (2018), as The Girl With a Bracelet. Few will have seen the original, as it was largely confined to the festival circuit. But it would hardly come as a surprise to see this tense, teasing thriller get a Hollywood makeover.
Two years after she is arrested on a secluded beach at La Bernerie-en-Retz while relaxing with her family, 18 year-old Lise (Melissa Guers) goes on trial in Nantes for the murder of her best friend, Flora Dufour (Émilie Lehuraux). Surgeon mother Céline (Chiara Mastroianni) opts not to come to court, but father Bruno (Roschdy Zem) is there to support Lise, whose younger brother, Jules (Paul Aïssaoui-Cuvelier), has asked if he can have her room if she goes to prison.
The first witness, the victim's mother, Béatrice (Anne Paulicevich), describes finding her daughter on her bed after a sleepover. She notes the extent of the wounds on her torso and the fact that her face had been untouched. But she also tells the defence counseil (Annie Mercier) that the front door had been open and that anyone might have entered from outside. When asked by the judge (Pascal Garbarini) to give her account of the events leading up to the death, Lise gives matter-of-fact details about crashing out after partying with her friend and leaving next morning to collect Jules from school.
After a medical expert shows photographs of the stab wounds and establishes death at some time in the hour after midday, Lise is cross-examined by the prosecutor (Anaïs Demoustier), who challenges her timings on the morning of the crime and remarks that Jules made no mention of a trip to the park in his first statement. On being shown CCTV footage of her slumping forward on her scooter while Jules goes into a garage shop to buy a sandwich, Lise clams up and the prosecutor informs the six jurors that she had been similarly reticent during her initial police interviews. When the judge asks Lise how she feels on seeing the forensic pictures of her friend, she claims not to know.
There's a panic that night after Céline gets home and finds Lise missing. Bruno calls her friend, Noémie Rigaud (Victoria Jadot), and drives to the home of Diego (Léo Moreau), who had called at their house the day before the trial began. He's out and his father resents Bruno insisting on searching his room. Eventually, he finds Lise sitting beside the tributes outside Flora's house and reminds her that she is wearing an electronic tag and has to be available should the prison service call. She listens impassively to his advice about being more co-operative in court and asks that he stops telling her what to do once the trial is over.
Bruno takes the stand the next day and the prosecutor presses him on his relationship with Lise. He admits to not having seen her in the week before the crime because Lise had been revising at the beach house and concedes that he had not known the full details of the pornographic video clip that had resulted in a row between the friends after Flora had posted it on social media. Refusing to be provoked by the suggestions that he wasn't as close to Lise as he had claimed, Bruno also has to choose his words carefully when the prosecutor asks him to speculate on who else might have murdered Flora if Lise is actually innocent.
During the next session, the court sees the footage that Flora filmed of Lise performing oral sex on Nathan (Mikaël Halimi) and hears Noémie tell the defence counsel that they had a Snapchat spat before Flora realised that people were gossiping about Lise and took it down. The prosecutor draws attention to the fact that Lise twice told Flora that she was going to kill her, but Noémie swears they were just meaningless threats and that they quickly kissed and made up.
When Nathan takes the stand, he reveals that Lise had sucked him as part of a forfeit for getting a lower score in a maths test. Yet, she had acted as a go-between because she knew that Flora and Nathan fancied each other. He also tells the prosecutor that the feud with Lise had rumbled on because Flora didn't think that she had been forgiven and that she felt afraid of what Lise might do. While he's still under oath, the defence lawyer shows the court phone footage of Lise and Flora dancing happily at the party, but the prosecutor counters that she could have been feigning friendship as part of a premeditated murder plan. She also asks Lise how it felt to be known as `easy' within her social circle and whether she was jealous of Nathan dating Flora. But she is unequivocal in her indifference to her both reputation and Flora's love life.
Bruno is aghast at these revelations and Céline agrees to come to court the next day. Neither know that Diego has climbed into Lise's room after dark, although Jules spots him and is ordered to keep quiet. After a profiler reports that Lise's DNA was found on and around Flora's body, the defence lawyer asks her client for a full recollection of the events after the party. She explains that she had brought Flora to orgasm while sharing a single bed and that they had slept together naked in each other's arms. But the prosecutor considers the DNA evidence to be damning rather than exonerating and again implies that Lise had ulterior motives for pleasuring Flora, even though they had done it lots of times before.
After a forensic witness establishes that the stab wounds had been made by a left-handed person and that a knife similar to the one used has gone missing from a set the Bataille beach house, Lise gets slightly flustered in the face of the prosecutor's persistent questioning. She also shrugs at her barbed remark about her memory for salient facts being conveniently inconsistent.
Piqued by the way her daughter is being perceived, Céline asks to take the stand. She admits to the prosecutor that she had endured moments of doubt over the previous two years, but had been more discomfited by the emotional effect that the process was having on Lise, who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the judge avers that Céline's absence from court for the first few days had left a negative impression, she insists that she had to work to earn money and keep up a semblance of normality, as the case had taken over the whole family's existence. But she also concedes that she didn't have a great deal of confidence in the system to reach the right verdict and felt it was better to let Bruno represent her because he's a stronger personality. As she resumes her seat, Lise jumps up and says she has never felt abandoned by her mother, as she knows she has a different way of dealing with things to her father.
Lise asks to stay in Nantes with Diego, while the family go to La Berenie to clear out the beach house. Jules finds the missing red-handled knife in a toolbox in the shed and Lise is summoned to explain how it got there. She remains calm and has no qualms about them handing it over to the police. In court, Jules testifies that he (although he says `we') hid the knife in the secret compartment in the tool box after borrowing it without permission to cut a rope for a crossbar to play football. When the prosecutor insists that this changes nothing in relation to the murder weapon, the defence counsel snaps back that she has been stymied because the evidence of the Bataille knife set has been proved insignificant and the prosecutor blenches at having her seemingly solid case shaken.
When the judge asks Lise if she is relieved that tests have proved that the knife was not used to kill Flora, she shrugs. She claims she would have tossed any murder weapon into the sea or the River Loire. But, as she didn't kill her friend, she has no idea where the crucial knife might be. Perplexed by her answer and her attitude, the judge adjourns before closing statements.
Unsurprisingly, the prosecutor returns to Lise's sullen silences and expedient memory lapses. She also dwells upon her loose morality and the premeditated manner in which she had set about isolating Flora in order to exact her murderous revenge. By contrast, the defence lawyer urges the jury to remember that teenage codes of behaviour will have changed since their day and that it is their duty to judge the evidence not Lise's perfectly legitimate sexual activities. In concluding that acquittal is the only just action they can take, she returns to her seat. Lise asks for leave to speak. She apologises to Béatrice for coming to her house on the first night of the trial and tearfully begs forgiveness for not having stayed with Flora on the morning she died, as that regret has been gnawing at her ever since.
In a novel twist, the verdict is delivered in voiceover, as Lise has the tag removed. As she walks free, she removes her necklace and winds it around her ankle before pushing open the doors. This downbeat denouement is very much in keeping with her character, as she has proved something of a closed book throughout so that the audience can decide whether she has exhibited the inappropriate demeanour for someone facing 15 years in jail. However, it also preserves the ambiguity that Demoustier has striven so hard to maintain from the moment that a family day out is disrupted by the police.
He is certainly abetted in this regard by Gonzalo Tobal's scenario, although he appears to have removed a twist whose antic contrivance didn't meet with the universal approval of critics of the original film. Taut though the scripting is, however, it's the performances that make this version so compelling, as the debuting Melissa Guers suffers both the loss of her friend and the breakdown of her relationship with her parents, while having two years of her youth taken away from her by law enforcement agencies that had struggled to find any conclusively incriminating evidence.
While Guers admirably maintains her inscrutable facade, Roschdy Zem and Chiara Mastroianni prove equally buttoned up in their attitude to their daughter's plight and what it says about their parenting and the state of their marriage. Among the court officials, Annie Mercier is splendidly unflappable in defending Lise, while Anaïs Demoustier does her brother a favour in making the prosecutor so resistibly conceited.
As for the technical aspects, Sylvain Verdet's camerawork is as steady as Carla Pallone's score, while Stéphane Demoustier makes deft use of extraneous footage to enliven courtroom scenes that are less suspenseful than insinuating in their denunciation of the way in which young women are expected to conform to outdated standards of behaviour. Moreover, apart from leaving the case wholly unresolved, he intriguingly posits that the customary presumption of innocence on which most justice systems are based is under threat from the implication of guilt created by the tendency to make instant judgements based on outward appearances in an age of social media platforms that are far harder to regulate than the traditional press - whose absence represents another notable departure from the original. Perhaps MUBI or Netflix could unearth to allow closer comparison?
There have been numerous accounts of selfless heroism during the Holocaust, but few have featured a protagonist as famous as mime Marcel Marceau. He risked his life in wartime Vichy in order to save hundreds of Jewish children before becoming a translator for General George S. Patton. His exploits are rightly celebrated by Jonathan Jakubowicz in Resistance, which steers a careful course between inspiration and sentiment. But, while Marcel Mangel was a teenager for much of the period under discussion, he is played here by Jesse Eisenberg, whose resemblance to Marceau is compromised by the fact that he is two decades older than the character he's portraying.
The picture opens poorly, as it leaps from Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey), a young Jewish girl witnessing the murder of her parents during a Kristallnacht round-up in 1938 Munich, to General George Patton (Ed Harris) addressing the 7th Army in the Kongresshalle in Nuremberg in 1945. In order to show his troops why their heroism has been worthwhile, Patton tells a tale of civilian courage that takes us back to Strasbourg on 14 November 1938.
Much to the dismay of his kosher butcher father, Charles (Karl Markovics), Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg) hopes to become an actor and performs a mime act as Charlie Chaplin at the local cabaret. However, scouting cousin Georges Loinger (Géza Röhrig) wants Marcel to help with the party of 123 orphans, whose passage out of Nazi Germany has been paid for by the Save the Children Foundation. Border guard brother Alain (Félix Moati) is sceptical when he sees Marcel chatting up neighbour Emma (Clémence Poésy), as the convoy arrives. But she is enchanted when Marcel use his miming skills to cheer up Elsbeth and the other frightened children sitting in a chateau dormitory in their new scout uniforms.
Over the next few months, as Adolf Hitler threatens in speeches to eradicate European Jewry, Alain criticises Marcel for devoting time to painting backdrops for his first play. He also suggests that the children are trained in survival techniques, in case the Germans invade. Marcel makes them laugh when he poses as Der Führer during a tree-hiding exercise. But he also shows them how squirrels hide in high branches before dropping into a convenient water tank and starts splashing around with the kids. Their play is interrupted by the sound of an air-raid siren, while a radio bulletin announces the imminent evacuation of all towns within 10 miles of the border with the Third Reich. Alain insists that the kids are told the truth and Georges makes a speech before an early Rosh Hashanah to promise them that everything will be done to keep them safe.
Newsreel footage and a clutch of captions explain the capitulation of France and its neighbours in the spring of 1940 and we lurch forward again to 29 January 1941, by which time the Mangel family has relocated to Limoges in the unoccupied free zone controlled from Vichy. Alain wants to join the Jewish resistance movement, Organisation Juive de Combat (OJC), and Emma's sister, Mila (Vica Kerekes), supports his determination to do something positive. But, in changing his passport name to Marcel Marceau, his brother discovers a talent for forging documents that will also prove invaluable.
Rather than examine how the children are kept hidden away from prying eyes in the stone cellar of an unidentified building, we hop to Berlin to see Gestapo firebrand Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer) beat a fey mess singer to death on 28 March 1941. He clearly means trouble, but we have to jaunt back to Limoges in time to see Marcel and Emma entrust Elsbeth to parish priest Father Montluc (Philip Lenkowsky). While returning home, they have to pretend to be lovers having a late-night kiss after being challenged by the Vichy police. The humiliation of being stopped prompts Marcel to follow Alain in joining the OJC and he is surprised to find his father singing in a small theatre when he seeks him out to break the news. Having abandoned his own dreams to continue the family business, Charles insists that he had only ever opposed Marcel's ambitions because he didn't want to see him starve.
Without offering any contextual details, a caption baldly states that Germany occupied the rest of France on 10 November 1942. Eight days later, a train arrives at Perrache Station in Lyon and Marcel, Emma, Mila and Alain disembark. The latter is detained by troops on the platform, but Marcel does a bit of fire-breathing to set light to the soldier guarding the paddy wagon and Emma and Mila sweep past in a car to rescue the brothers and whisk them away to the OJC safe house where they are to hide.
Meanwhile, Barbie has set up Gestapo headquarters in the Hôtel Terminus, where he bribes citizens into betraying the freedom fighters. He guns down suspects in an empty swimming pool, while Elsbeth sings `Ave Maria' with a church choir. Marcel's forgery skills earn him the trust of cell commander Dominique (Aurélie Bancilhon), who claims that Jews don't become artists because they can't portray their God. She also suggests that they are hated less for crucifying Christ than for escaping slavery in Egypt, as their self-emancipation strikes fear into the ruling élite.
While they are waiting with Frederique (Alex Fondja) for some British paratroopers to arrive, Emma teases Mila about having lost her virginity to Alain. However, they are captured in a Gestapo raid and Emma is forced to watch as Barbie skins Mila alive. She is so traumatised that she goes to throw herself under a train, but Marcel rescues her and conjures up a paper flower while persuading her that they would be better off getting Jewish children to safety in Switzerland than sacrificing themselves in futile acts of vengeance. Consequently, she agrees to join him and Alain in escorting a small group of kids, including Elsbeth, across the country to the Alps.
Of course, their train is stopped by Barbie and Emma has to hide in the washroom, while Marcel conducts an impromptu chorus of `Ave Maria'. Barbie is suspicious, but sees Marcel is wearing a collaborator's lapel pin (which was given to Emma when she left Hôtel Terminus after her sister's death) and takes him to one side to ask about the best way to get his own infant daughter interested in the arts (as Barbie is so cultured that he plays the piano and sips cognac before executing prisoners in the pool). He commends Elsbeth on her voice and accepts Marcel's word that the false moustache in his pocket is not an affront to Hitler, but a prop so he can entertain the children as Chaplin.
Crisis over, the party hikes through the snow to Montriand, some six miles from the Swiss border. Back in Lyon, Barbie is questioned by wife, Regine (Alicia von Rittberg), about the need to torture priests when the curé cracks and reveals that an escape bid is under way. Furious at being duped on the train, Barbie orders a squad to pursue the fugitives and he leads the torchlight search of the forest, as dusk falls.
Emma tells Marcel he's amazing before they hide up in the trees and peer down on Barbie below them. But, in making a run for it, they have to leap over a ledge and Emma dies from a gunshot wound. When they wake the next morning, however, an old man informs them that they are in neutral territory and the children jump for joy against a backdrop of white peaks, as they scene returns to Nuremberg, as Patton acts as compère for the first official performance of a white-faced Marcel Marceau.
Closing captions reveal that while Charles perished in Auschwitz in 1945, his son was awarded the Grand Office de la Légion d'Honneur and the National Order of Merit for his work in saving the lives of thousands of children. Yet Marceau was reluctant to discuss this aspect of his life and it's a shame that it has been commemorated by such a dispiriting and miscast film. Amidst further captions deploring the loss of young lives at the hands of the Nazis, it's noted that Barbie was found in Bolivia by Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld and convicted of crimes against humanity. He died in prison in 1991, three years after Marcel Ophüls had condemned him in the Oscar-winning documentary, Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988).
A more astute film might have namechecked such a significant work about `the Butcher of Lyon', but this is a cumbersome, cliché-strewn muddle that falls a long way behind such recent `now it can be told' outings as The 12th Man (2017), Harald Zwart's tribute to Norwegian resistance hero, Jan Baalsrud. Matthias Schweighöfer reins in the histrionics that Jonathan Rhys Meyers displayed as SS-Sturmbannführer Kurt Stage, but his threat is constantly undermined by Jakubowicz's Patch Adams-like efforts to show what a kind and amusing chap Marceau. He is thwarted in this aim, however, by the lacklustre performance of Jesse Eisenberg, who not only fails to get inside Marcel's mind (despite the random quotes from Sigmund Freud and Marcel Duchamp), but who also struggles to convey the physical grace and mesmerising magic of his miming.
The remainder of the cast are left to do what they can with the assorted ciphers that have been assembled to confound the occupiers. Bella Ramsey does better than most, but Elsbeth appears to suffer no psychological scars despite witnessing the pitiless slaying of her parents in the woefully misconstrued opening segment. Clémence Poésy is also ill-served by the nothing role of Emma, the love interest who has to endure the hideous (off-camera) torture of her sister simply to heighten the tension on the train when the WC door creaks open as Marcel is informing Barbie that the best way to coax his infant daughter into loving the arts is not to impose them upon her.
Such gaucheries are all the more disappointing given that the script was based on interviews with Georges Loinger, who passed away in December 2018. Moreover, big things were expected of Jakubowicz after his striking debut feature, Secuestro Express (2005). However, the Venezuelan had largely been working in television before he made the indifferent Roberto Durán boxing biopic, Hands of Stone (2016).
He is slated to reunite with that film's stars, Édgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro, on a forthcoming project. But he has some ground to claw back after a well-meaning, but underwhelming melodrama whose primary plus point seems to be that someone took a decision to remove the scene of Barbie venting his fury by executing some fully costumed clowns in the drained pool. We should also be grateful that Jakubowicz avoided some of the blunders committed by the Oscar-winning Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful (1997). But his misfire serves as a timely reminder that the deadline imposed by Jerry Lewis on the unfinished print of The Day the Clown Cried (1972) that is held by the Library of Congress expires in June 2024.
In cinematic terms, few things stick out worse than a mistimed release. Back in 2017, Marie Noëlle's Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge reached cinemas in time to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. This respectful, but conventional biopic departed from the cosy romanticism of the many previous film and television paeans to show how the Polish-born physicist survived and thrived after the death of her beloved husband and workmate to so excel in spheres previously dominated by men that she became the first person to become a dual Nobel laureate. It wasn't the definitive portrait, however, and, so Marjane Satrapi has stepped in to offer her take on the Curie saga with Radioactive.
As her life flashes before her eyes on a hospital gurney in 1934 Paris, Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike) harks back to the moment she literally bumped into Pierre Curie (Sam Riley) in 1893. Back then, Marie Sklodowska was struggling to gain the respect of colleagues like Professor Gabriel Lippmann (Simon Russell Beale) and the independent nature lamented by her sister, Bronia (Sian Brooke), almost costs her the chance to share a laboratory with the more enlightened Pierre. But they not only discover they are professionally compatible, but Marie and Pierre also marry, to the delight of his gifted student, Paul Langevin (Aneurin Barnard), and his devoted wife, Jeanne (Katherine Parkinson).
Shots of the Curies lying naked beside a sun-dappled lake and them sparked out on a laboratory floor illuminated by the blue glow of the specks of Radium that they have painstakingly extracted from tons of pitchblend bookend a bristling montage that shows them moving into new premises, toiling over their experiments and starting a family with the birth of their daughter, Irène. More swirling images of newspaper headlines and popping flashbulbs follow, as Pierre and Marie announce that their discovery of Radium, Polonium and Radioactivity means that they can inform Lippmann and his starched-collared cohorts that they have fundamentally misjudged the atom.
The Eiffel Tower lights up the nocturnal cityscape, as Pierre and Marie trade the news items that he is going to be a professor and that she is pregnant again. She is less enthusiastic about being dragged along to a séance performed by Eusapia Palladino (Federica Fracassi) and hosted by dancer Loie Fuller (Drew Jacoby) that exploits their science for cheap thrills. But, while entrepreneurs are keen to cash in on the radioactive craze, Pierre has high hopes that radium chloride can be used to combat cancer - and, bizarrely, we flashforward to Cleveland in 1957, as a young boy receives potentially life-saving treatment on a tumour.
Unfortunately, Pierre is also beginning to show the signs of ill health, as a lesion on his wrist is accompanied by a persistent cough. But he helps deliver baby Eve and travels to Stockholm in 1903 to accept the Nobel Prize in their joint names. As he speaks about the prospects of radium being dangerous in criminal hands, we cross cut to the crew of the Enola Gay setting their sights on Hiroshima in August 1945. Down on the ground, a small child throws a paper plane in the air and a man turns to see if fly, as Little Boy comes hurtling towards their city.
Furious with Pierre for stealing her brilliance and having the temerity to make her love him, Marie slaps his face on his return to Paris. When he protests that they are a partnership and have made each other better, she accuses him of prioritising accolades over science and leaving her behind as the doting wife and mother, while he gets to prove his detractors wrong. Nettled by the suggestion that she's arrogant, Marie storms out of the room. But he follows to assure her that he wishes they could have accepted the award together and pleads with her to spend some time in the country in the hope that he can rest and stop coughing up blood.
A reverie shows Pierre and Marie exploring Nature together as children (Arthur Bateman and Harriet Turnbull) before it's rudely interrupted by Pierre being killed by a horse-drawn carriage on Rue Dauphine beneath the electric sign for the Samaritaine department store. Marie screams in anguish beside his open casket and has a nightmare that features the shimmering gown worn by Loie Fuller during her celebrated Fire Dance. But she cleans out the lab, accepts Lippmann's cackhanded offer to become the first female professor at the Sorbonne and allows herself to accept Langevin's sympathy.
As she begins a lecture on radium's reluctance to behave as it should, we cut to Nevada in 1961, as a model housing estate is irradiated by a bomb test. The mannequins melt in the heat and a hole opens up in the ground, identical to the one into which Marie tosses a wine glass before embarking upon her affair with Langevin. His wife slaps her face in the street and calls her a dirty Polish thief. But she is more concerned about the growing health issues affecting those working in the field and refuses to allow herself to be hurt when Langevin is driven home by scandalous stories in the press and protests by small angry mobs outside the Curie home.
Distraught to discover that the medium she had once mocked has died, Marie pleads with Fuller to let her see Pierre again. As she weeps on the darkened street, a fire engine rushes to the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986 and a firefighter collapses on the floor on being exposed to the core. Bronia implores Marie to return to Poland, but she insists her work remains in Paris and she is rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. Defying the organisers, she travels to Sweden with Eve (Cara Bossom) and is gratified to see the women in the audience rise to their feet to applaud. They are followed by the menfolk and a tearful Marie pays tribute to Pierre, whose spirit had appeared to reassure her in the antechamber.
Her words about progress are counterpointed by images of French soldiers heading towards the trenches of the Western Front. Now a young woman, Irène (Anya Taylor-Joy) takes her to a hospital for the wounded and begs her to use her influence to get x-ray machines to the frontline to prevent unnecessary amputations. As Minister of Science, Lippmann rejects Marie's appeal. But the decision is reversed when she threatens to go to the press and offer her Nobel gold medals as collateral to fund a fleet of x-ray ambulances. In return for her support, however, she insists that Irène stops seeing Frédéric Joliot (Edward Davis) - even though she is excited by their joint work on artificial radiation (which would earn them a shared Nobel in 1935) - as her discoveries have only brought unhappiness and she wants better for her daughters.
Naturally, Irène ignores her mother's orders and they share rare words of affection while driving to field hospital where the unit will be based. Appalled by the carnage she sees on the battleground, a shocked Marie wanders through the wards of the hospital see envisages from the gurney, as she is wheeled towards her own demise on 4 July 1934. She sees her young self (Harriet Turnbull) clinging to her dying mother (Georgina Rich), enters a room with a dead Pierre in each bed and meets the victims of Hiroshima and Chernobyl. But she also sees the little boy having his life extended through `Curiethérapie' and fervently hopes that Pierre is right, when he comes to take her away, that their work has had more of a positive than a negative impact.
The decision to end on a photograph of the 1927 Solvay Conference (which will be utterly meaningless to those unfamiliar with an event that was chronicled in some detail by Marie Noëlle) rather sums up this ambitious, but frequently heavy-handed adaptation of Lauren Redniss's visual biography. So keen are Marjane Satrapi and screenwriter Jack Thorne to do something different that they wind up making a muddle that does a disservice to both Marie and Pierre Curie and the light and darkness that their work has cast over the world.
Several fine actresses have played Marie, including Greer Garson in Mervyn Le Roy's Madame Curie (1943); Jane Lapotaire in the BBC series Marie Curie (1977); Marie-Christine Barrault in the French mini-series Marie Curie, une femme honourable (1991); Isabelle Huppert in Claude Pinoteau's Les Palmes de M. Schutz (1997); Elisabeth Duda in Krzysztof Rogulski's Dans les pas de Marie Curie (2011); and Dominique Reymond in Alain Brunard's Marie Curie, une femme sur le front (2014). Ironically, despite her eerie resemblance to Garson, Rosamund Pike's confident interpretation is closest to that of Karolina Gruszka in Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge, as she fights the feminist cause in the face of institutionalised chauvinism and societal prudishness. But even Pike struggles to prevent Thorne's verbosity from sounding like something a living model might say in a Curie museum.
Evgueni and Sacha Galperine's bleep and boostering score also errs on the bombastic side, as Satrapi valiantly attempts to see a fellow emigrant's achievement in the round. Mercifully, we are spared scenes involving a wartime Eleanor Roosevelt and a legal negotiation in 1951 Chicago pertaining to the painting of luminous dials on wristwatches (although they can be seen among the DVD extras). We also miss out on a climactic conversation between Marie and the Soviet fireman, which ends with her leaving him the red ribbon that she had removed from a soldier wounded in the trenches. This moment epitomises the dilemma that Curie's acolytes face and it's a shame that a way couldn't have been found to accommodate it in the final cut.
Otherwise, Stéphane Roche's editing is busy, but nimble, while Anthony Dod Mantle's lighting of Michael Carlin's sets is as impeccable as Consolata Boyle's costumes. With the exception of Sam Riley (who often seems to be in Walter Pidgeon mode), the remainder of the supporting players are reduced to spouting platitudes and clichés. Poor Katherine Parkinson is particularly poorly served and must have wished that a writer of Thorne's quality and experience had given her something closer to the devastated fury that Marie Denarnaud had hurled at Karolina Gruszka. But, for all the dodginess of the dialogue, the problem with this over-reaching picture lies predominantly with a conceit that works much better on the page than it does on the screen, which is something Satrapi should perhaps have recognised, having debuted to such terrific effect alongside Vincent Paronnaud on Persepolis (2007), which she had adapted from her own graphic novel.
MS SLAVIC 7.
It's one of the huge frustrations of being a housebound film critic that you can't just pop along to festivals to keep tabs on the progress of rising talents. Of course, it doesn't help when said intriguing newcomers decide to hide their works away after they maybe manage a niche release after completing their tours of the festival circuit. A bit of searching online, however, reveals that it's possible to see some of the early works of Toronto film-maker Sofia Bohdanowicz at a reasonable price on the Documentary Alliance website. Consequently, one can gauge MS Slavic 7 - which has found its way on to the lockdown streaming schedule - against Never Eat Alone (2016) and Veslemøy's Song (2018), in which Deragh Campbell had previously played the pivotal character of Audrey Benac
In Never Eat Alone, Audrey tries to help Joan Benac track down Don Radovich, the handsome singer with whom she had appeared in a live TV show from Castle Loma in the early 1950s, only for Audrey to attempt to matchmake her widowed grandma with a lonely stranger with the same name (`hopefully he belongs to somebody'). In fact, Benac is actually Bohdanowicz's maternal grandmother, while George Radovics is the grandfather of Calvin Thomas, who is not only the film's producer, but also Bohdanowicz's partner.
This blurring of fact and fiction is neatly reinforced by the use of archive footage of the monochrome programme with its quirky medieval theme. And Bohdanowicz similarly passed part of her past on to Audrey in Veslemøy's Song, in which she heads to New York to hear the only extant recording made by Kathleen Parlow, the child prodigy known as `The Lady of the Golden Bow', who had gone on to teach students like Andrew Benac, who had played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s. As the disc is so fragile, however, Audrey is only allowed to her a fragment and is informed via keypad by an officious library employee that she is not entitled to another listen.
Audrey's mission in MS Slavic 7 is to travel to the Houghton Library at Harvard University in the role of literary executor to the estate of her paternal great-grandmother, poet Zofia Bohdanowiczowa. Her purpose is to peruse the 25 letters that Zofia had written between 1957-64 to her friend and fellow Pole, the Nobel Prize-nominated author, Józef Wittlin, who had shared her fate as a displaced person at the end of the Second World War. Initially, Zofia had written to the New York-based Józef from Penrhos in Wales before moving to Toronto in 1959.
Having checked into a hotel room, Audrey goes to the Houghton, where she is informed by the desk librarian (Aaron Danby) that she can only make notes in her exercise book with the pencils approved by the library. As extracts appear in frustratingly indistinct subtitles, we see Audrey savouring the feel of the letters and she later explains to an unseen companion in a bar that her emotions are rather raw after handling papers that had crossed the ocean so that two friends could share their intimate thoughts. `There's something heartbreakingly desperate about how there's intention in the very meaning of a letter,' she muses, `a letter is so completely tied to its objecthood, that reinforces the content'. She also reveals how moved she is by Zofia's faith in Józef's talent and her conviction that he will only produce his best work if he quits the soul-destroying city for the nurturing peace of the countryside.
While attending a family function, Audrey catches up with Aunt Anya (Elizabeth Rucker), who relates how her phone had been stolen by some tweenage thieves posing as deaf chuggers at Berlin's Holocaust Memorial. Audrey listens sympathetically, but gets short shrift when she asks Anya if she knows what might have happened to some of the Zofia-Józef letters. The elderly couple celebrating their anniversary sit silently together, as a woman sings nostalgic Polish songs to the accompaniment of a piano and a slide show of old photographs.
Back at Harvard, Audrey gets scolded for bringing a cup of coffee into the library. She hires an overhead projector to examine transparencies of Zofia's letters and fussily arranges the sheets on the light bed, as the beam illuminates her face and turns her fingers into shadows. On reuniting with her unseen acquaintance over another beer, Audrey discusses the bird symbolism in Zofia's verses and the background reading she has been doing to get a handle on her work and its meaning.
In her room, Audrey watches Birds in a Cage, a 2003 animated film by Maciej Majewski that was based on a poem by Ignacy Krasicki. She thinks back to the argument that Aunt Anya had picked with her at the party. She avers that it's distasteful for Audrey to try to make money out of the family history and scoffs at the idea that she has the intellectual capacity to undertake a project that requires the kind of researching skills that can only be acquired while accruing degrees, doctorates and diplomas. Something of an outsider within the clan, Audrey had looked on during the many speeches and had not joined in with the dancing. But she cares passionately about her great-grandmother's legacy and wants others to value it, too.
We see Audrey handling the letters with great reverence in a wooden-panelled corner of the library. In one snippet, we learn that Zofia endured a three-day delay to crossing the Atlantic that was caused by a dock strike in Liverpool. She also writes to wish Józef and his wife a long and happy marriage following the sudden death of her own husband. Taking pencil notes and using a magnifying glass to examine handwritten pages, Audrey feels privileged to be sharing the words exchanged by two gifted writers. But she is dismayed to discover that Anya had donated the letters to the Houghton when they were not in her gift and the condescending librarian (who breaks off from making a `Property of the Houghton Library' label) caustically reminds her that, even if the legitimacy of the bequest can be challenged, there is no way that she will be allowed to remove the letters today.
As Audrey returns to the bar, we realise that she has been speaking previously to the translator (Mariusz Sibiga) she has hired because she doesn't speak Polish. She asks about the use of the word `mint' as a term of affection and he has to explain to her that this is reference to one of Zofia's poems and that she chose this leaf because the strength of its aroma and taste enables it to stand out over other herbs. Defensively claiming to be a close reader who knows Zofia's writing better than anyone, Audrey tries to make intelligent remarks when the translator reads an extract from the poem that Zofia had written after meeting Józef for the first time.
Audrey winds up in bed with the translator and they sit up a good distance apart to read from their favourite letters. She chooses the one in which Zofia refers to Józef as `Mr Bird' because he has spent a prolonged period flying over Europe. While wishing him well, she admonishes him for wasting his talent by preoccupying himself with unworthy pursuits. No sooner has she finished reading that Audrey tells her lover that she has an early train in the morning and he shrugs and gets up to leave.
Another rail journey flashes into Audrey's mind, as she remembers Anya leaving the party early and stranding her niece without a ride home. She had been forced to take the train, during which she had remembered Anya using a story about her childhood habit of making castles out of sofa cushions to denounce her as a spoilt brat whose sense of entitlement has left her unsuited for facing the real world.
Over a shot of Audrey dozing in bed, with the duvet covered in pages, we read Zofia's words of disappointment after meeting Józef in Toronto. The fact that they had been alone in a sad Canadian city rather than being surrounded by their families in their homeland had pained her. But she had also been prevented from enjoying the moment by the fear that they might never meet again.
Once again mining family history, intimate memory and the treasures held in public archives to explore the relationship between the traumatic past and our own uncertain present, Bohdanowicz credits Campbell as the co-director and co-editor of this drolly deadpan, but disarmingly dolorous dissertation. Where this differs from its predecessors, however, is that Audrey is able to have a tactile relationship with her research material, even though both Anya and the librarian regard her as an amateur academic whose accidental association with Zofia gives her the undeserved privilege of being her executor.
They might have a point, as Audrey shows precious little interest in the backstories being celebrated at the party thrown for her elderly relatives. It's even hinted that her obsession with Zofia is rooted less in a genuine curiosity about her life than in a desire to get one over on Anya, who has always regarded her as a pampered daddy's girl. She certainly appears disinterested in Zofia's poetry and laughs in the bar at the romanticised phraseology when the translator reads aloud lines like `We met on the day of atonement when the sky swelled with the souls of Israel.' Moreover, Audrey fails to see the irony in the fact that she hops into bed with a stranger after Zofia had spent seven years writing letters of literary longing to a man who seems to have remained a platonic friend.
Tucked between the lines of a dramedy that Bohdanowicz shoots with a static digital camera from a (mostly) wry distance, these details afford us fresh insights into Audrey, who was regarded by Grandma Joan as a delightful child rather than a precocious terror, who would rather go hungry than replace the sofa cushions after a game. They also echo the gently self-deprecatory image that Bohdanowicz paints of herself in Maison du Bonheur (2017), an Akerman/Vardaesque 16mm profile of 77 year-old astrologer Juliane Lumbroso-Sellam, whose mundane daily routines in the Montmartre home where she has lived for half a century belie the liveliness of both her mind and her imagination.
THE WISHMAS TREE.
Since the release of Eric Porter's Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon (1972), Australia's track record has been pretty patchy when it comes to animated features. Polish-born Yoram Gross laid some solid foundations. After making Israel's first animated film, Joseph the Dreamer (1961), Gross settled Down Under and scored a hit with Dot and the Kangaroo (1977), which he adapted from a bestselling book by Ethel Pedley. Having broken new ground by superimposing the animated characters against live-action backdrops, Gross produced eight further Dot adventures before striking gold again with Blinky Bill: The Mischievous Koala (1992).
Among the other feature Gross produced were The Little Convict (1979), Sarah (1982), The Camel Boy (1984) and The Magic Riddle (1991), which coincided with the rise of Burbank Films, which specialised in animating literary classics. Following the Charles Dickens triptych of A Christmas Carol. Oliver Twist (both 1982) and The Old Curiosity Shop (1984), the company turned to Alexandre Dumas for The Man in the Iron Mask (1985) and The Three Musketeers (1986). The Gallic influence continued with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1985), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1986) and Around the World in 80 Days (1988), while classic British children's stories provided the impetus for Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland (all 1988),
Although competent précis, these were hardly visual delights and hopes of a new dawn were only raised when Adam Eliot followed the Oscar-winning short, Harvie Krumpet (2004), with the clayography feature, Mary and Max (2009). Further success came with George Miller's computer-generated duo of Happy Feet (2006) and Happy Feet Two (2011). while Karl Zwicky's The Magic Pudding (2000) had its moments in animating a 1918 story by Norman Lindsay. But, despite their technical assurance, Alexs Stadermann's Germano-Australian Maya the Bee (2014) felt more CGI generic and the same has to be said of Ricard Cussó's The Wishmas Tree.
During a terrifying period when Extinction threatened to wipe out every species, a group of animals found refuge in a volcano crater and agreed to stop eating each other in order to survive. Now, Sanctuary City is a beacon of harmony and, with the help of some cue cards, Yarra the lizard (Ross Noble is able to inform a gathering of young residents that they are fortunate to live in a paradise that is protected by the Wishmas Tree that helped drive away the bad times and continues to grant annual bequests at a special ceremony.
However, Kerry the Ringtailed Possum (Miranda Tapsell) dreams of venturing out into the wilds beyond, in spite of the warnings of her father (Ryan Renshaw) and her older sister, Petra (Kate Murphy). Indeed, after sneaking into a Terrors of the Wild sideshow and seeing a snow tableau, Kerry is more determined than ever to leave the confines of her haven and have an adventure. So, when Yarra invites the youngsters to make a wish, an over-excited Kerry snatches a flower from a young tortoise and blows its yellow seeds into the night sky in wishing to see the Wild for herself.
Furious when Dad lets her down by buying a TV set as a window on the world, Kerry returns to the tree and, ignoring warnings about leaving a single seed to ensure fresh growth for the years ahead, plucks the last blossom and makes her wish. No sooner has she done so that the monstrous threat of extinction rises again and unleashes a storm, as it peers menacingly into Sanctuary City.
Realising she has done something wrong, Kerry rushes home to bed. But she forgets all about her fears when she wakes to snow and watches with glee as the other animals make snowmen, ride sledges and throw snowballs. She makes a snow angel, but soon starts to feel cold and sees the ill effects that the drop in temperature is having on other creatures. Chided by Yarra and his magic stick, Kerry agrees to atone for her folly by finding the Sister Tree and making a selfless wish that will restore the status quo. He agrees to be her guide, but warns her that they will have to cross treacherous terrain and that things might deteriorate back home before they can fulfil their mission.
As he speaks, some ravenous wolves go on a red-eyed prowl for prey. But we cut away to Kerry and Yarra reaching the Forbidden Swamp, where they encounter Augustus the Cane Toad (Ricard Cussó) and a battalion of drop bears (cute-looking critters that descend from the trees on creepers, but zoom back up like yoyos if someone steps on their paws). Joined by Petra, who has come to take her sister home, Kerry discovers that Yarra has been in the Wild before and cost his father his life when he strayed into the Misty Muds, where the spirits of the dead dwell in the depths. But, even after she leaves Yarra and Stick to fend off the wolves, she remains undaunted by the dangers that lie ahead because she knows she has to undo her wrong.
Having picked up a baby drop bear and named him Bernard, Kerry and Petra mock Augustus's warnings about the Muds and follow some blue floating lights to the top of a rock. Here, Kerry has a Damascene moment, as she realises that the nightmare she had about the Founding Children of Sanctuary City was a clue to the nature of her wish. As she tames a spirit monster by stroking its nose, she deduces that she has to bring all animals together so that those left in the Wild feel like they belong.
On reaching the Sister Tree, however, Kerry is dismayed to find it has died. She sheds a tear and has to be given a pep talk by Petra that she has the power to make a difference. The spot a single seed on the tree and have to fight with a possessed Yarra before its petals open and Kerry is able to make the wish to protect all animals that sends Extinction packing in the nick of time. Following a group hug that includes Bernard, the friends head back to Sanctuary City with the Wild Animals shuffling behind them in anticipation at finding a new home.
With its messages about saving species, guarding the environment and forgetting our differences in order to pull together, this atmospheric animation couldn't be any more well meaning. Indeed, despite its formulaic quest structure, Peter Ivan's screenplay resists driving home the eco points, while raising enough issues for younger viewers to discuss with the grown-ups after the screening. It's also mercifully song free and largely avoids excessive anthropomorphic cutesiness.
But the film has a brashness that makes it difficult to empathise with our intrepid heroine. Miranda Tapsell gives it her all as Kerry, but starts off at such a fever pitch that there's nowhere left to go when things get scary in the Wild. Kate Murphy also struggles to turn Petra from a scolding sibling into a supportive sister, although Geordie comedian Ross Noble does a decent job of making Yarra seem both venerable and vulnerable. He also has the few wisps of verbal wit, although the urban legend of the drop bear is amusingly employed, even though Bernard's squeak sounds awfully Miniony.
The opening mythology segment is also commendably innovative in its design and Cussó makes adroit use of shadow puppetry when Yarra relates his backstory beside the campfire. Yet the Wishmas and Sister Trees are somewhat short of enchantment and there's not enough contrast between the forbidding bleakness of the Wild and the enveloping cosiness of Sanctuary City, which actually looks a bit tacky and commercialised in the downtown area around the arcade. Those looking for a distraction in the last few days of Mega-Lockdown could do worse than stream this for their tinies. But it's not one they're going to want to watch again and again.
One of the great joys of collecting is stumbling across an irresistible item in an unexpected place. Even now, when it comes to Subbuteo, there's still a thrill to be had from rolling the magnifier over the photos accompanying an Ebay auction of a long-coveted team and seeing up close the painted plastic players that your local sports shop never seemed to stock. Once upon a long ago, secondhand book and record shops were places where it was possible to wile away endless hours in the hope that a childhood favourite, a guilty pleasure or a genuine rarity would pop up out of nowhere. Nowadays, the market has migrated to the Internet and countless shops in cities like New York and London have had to close. But, as DW Young reveals in The Booksellers, being forced to move with the times has had an oddly beneficial impact upon the antiquarian book trade.
During an opening segment at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in the Park Avenue Armory, someone describes the world as being divided into those who collect old books and those who can't understand why anyone would want to collect old books. There are other quandaries to ponder, however, as Saúl Roll despairs that a first edition of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote is worth $20,000, while Ian Fleming's first James Bond book, Casino Royale, can fetch $150,000.
The unidentified contributors joke that, in popular consciousness, antiquarian bookselling has long been the preserve of ageing whiskered gentlemen in tweed. This is largely born out by the ensuing clips from such films as Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932), Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep (1946), Wolfgang Petersen's The NeverEnding Story (1984), David Jones's 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (1999) and Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful (2002). Yet, the trade in the early 20th century was dominated by ASW Rosenbach, the so-called `Napoleon of Books', who drank and smoked heavily and walked rather like a penguin. Similarly, daring to intrude into this man's world were Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern, who discovered that Little Women author, Louisa May Alcott, had a secret second career as racy pulp scribe, AM Bernard.
We meet Dave Bergman, a softball-playing specialist in outsize tomes who shows us the folded sketches in a volume on fish skeletons and the page in an Alaskan photo album from 1907 that contains real samples of mammoth fur. But we don't get to browse for long, as we are swept off to 4th Avenue to reminisce about the long-lost stores of Manhattan's Book Row. Fran Lebowitz smiles at the memory of the `dusty Jewish men' who went into the business to read and got testy if you interrupted them to make a purchase. She fondly recalls The Strand, while Judith, Naomi and Adina take great pride in the fact that the Argosy Book Store remains in the same building on East 59th Street in which their father, Louis Cohen, had opened his doors in 1925.
In the 1950s heyday, there were 358 bookshops in New York. By 2019, the number had dwindled to 79, although a handful of bijou stores have started to appear in certain gentrified neighbourhoods. Unable to afford store rents, Adam Weinberger stacks his stock in a studio flat and trades by phone and online. However, he enjoys visiting old shops and assessing collections, as there's something deeply affecting about getting to know someone through the books that defined their energies and interests.
Following a poignant tribute to musician-cum-bookseller Martin Stone (who had started out as a scout or runner who brokered deals between sellers and buyers), we learn that the Internet has made it harder to find rarities and curios because everything is listed and can be accessed by the click of a mouse. Contemporary sellers complain that computers have coerced them into reducing prices in order to shift mid-priced stock. But it also enables them to reach potential customers on the other side of the world.
Over an Edith Wharton search on a web page (AbeBooks isn't mentioned by name, nor is Amazon), Bergman laments that being able to buy a complete set of first editions has become so easy that the thrill of the hunt has been replaced by instant gratification. Others protest that the rise of electronic readers means that there won't be as many physical copies to sell further down the line. On collecting his Oscar for Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), Larry McMurtry had urged everyone to remember that Annie Proulx's story had existed in book form before it became a movie and he had thanked booksellers of all kinds for sustaining an invaluable culture. But, in the intervening 15 years, hundreds of business had been shuttered.
There have been growth areas, however, and bestselling author Susan Orlean enthuses about Glenn Horowitz, who has refined the art of archiving through his work on the papers of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, as well as James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov. Kevin Young discusses the value of being able to build exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture around the archives of Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin.
Bibi Mohamed recalls the rush of finding a set of fine-bound Balzacs for $200 at an estate sale and reminds collectors that they have to take good care of such rare editions. However, today's private collectors often can't compete with large institutions, although Justin Schiller tells how his love of the works of L. Frank Baum enabled him, at the age of 12, to become the youngest donor to Columbia University when it was curating a centenary exhibition. He later befriended Maurice Sendak and we visit the gallery in which he exhibits images by `Mo' alongside images of Mao Zedong.
Anecdotes follow about a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane that had been used as a coaster and a Dance of Death volume that had been bound in human skin by George Sutcliffe. Tantalisingly brief mention is also made of the art of jewelled binding. We are also informed that dust jackets were once considered disposable, but they now greatly enhance a book's value. The same goes for dedications to and by famous people. But books have increasingly been seen as `evidence' rather than `ephemera' and collectors like Michael Zinman have done much to preserve books that tell stories twice over and allow historians to learn from the materiality of the tome.
A rare bird is the bookseller who is in competition with his customers because he also collects. As he shows us around one of his warehouse stores, Jim Cummins admits that he can't help himself and his son is amused by some of the stuff he has acquired over the years. But we don't linger long, as we have a rushed snippet on auction etiquette and the addictive nature of ownership to squeeze in before we can be introduced to Stephen Massey, whose grandfather's shop on Aston's Quay was mentioned in The Dubliners. His father set up the rare books department at Christie's and he joined in 1964 and, three decades later, he handled the 1994 auction when Bill Gates broke the world record for a book by paying $30,802,500 for the Leonardo Da Vinci Codex. He rather regrets that books aren't prized as highly as paintings, but they are seen less as a status symbol and they are in more plentiful supply, as there is usually only one copy of a well-known painting.
A former managing editor of AB Bookman's Weekly, Henry Wessells is currently working on a title of his own and he uses a walk in the woods to explain his approach to science fiction in A Conversatioon Larger Than the Universe. We also get to spend time with Jay Walker in the Escher-inspired Wunderkammer he has created with the Walker Library of the History of the Imagination, as well as Caroline Schimmel, who discovered that being a pioneer collector of books by women in a male-dominated business meant that she got a lot of bargains, as well as collectables like Annie Oakley's gloves.
Following in Schimmel's footsteps, Heather O'Donnell and Rebecca Romney aim to reduce the 85:15% gender discrepancy and launched an annual prize for the best book collection by a young woman. Romney helped publicise their work by becoming an expert on the TV series, Pawn Stars, and she is pleased by the letters from parents claiming that their bookworm daughters want to become booksellers, too. They pay tribute to forgotten heroines like Mary Benjamin, Helen Kane, Kit Currie and Mabel Zahn (who ran Sessler's Bookshop for 70 years) and shame the Grolier Club for blocking female membership for much of its existence. Lizzy Young echoes Kevin Young in saying that the book trade needs to stop pandering to a rich white male clientele and be more inclusive towards other sections of society.
Among the new generation, Arthur Fournier is fascinated by the way in which culture shifts and he collects items relating to conflict, hot-button socio-economic issues and the rise of hip-hop. He and Syreeta Gates note that there is a lot of stuff dating from the pre-digital age that resonates with young people and they want kids to connect with it in order to gain a better understanding of their rapidly changing world. But what role will books play in that future, as fewer people are reading and what was once a receptacle of knowledge is in danger of becoming an elitist artefact.
Many of the interviewees dismiss the notion that the death of the book is imminent and Susan Orlean avers that we invest too much emotion in them to preserve the past and pass on our stories that books will always survive, in spite of the efforts of the Nazis and Mao (who was himself once a librarian) to eradicate ideas by burning them. As one woman comments that books are great survivors, the discussion turns to the ageing make-up of the profession and we hear various views about passing businesses on to offspring, donating collections to deserving institutions and putting items back on to the market so they can find their next welcoming home. For now, though, the love affair between readers and books will continue and thank Gutenberg for that.
Bookended by executive producer Parker Posey reciting from Susan Sontag's `Letter to Borges' and Henry Wessells reading from his own The Private Life of Books, this could and should have slotted neatly on to the shelf alongside Frederick Wiseman's magisterial Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017) and Rachel Mason's quirkily racy Circus of Books (2019), But, in returning to long-form documentary for the first time since A Hole in a Fence (2008), experienced editor-turned-director DW Young adopts a fussily bitty and digressive approach that runs contrary to the measured rhythms of reading and leaves what was doubtlessly intended to be a cornucopia feeling more like a rattlebag.
Even more infuriating is the decision to pack a film with talking heads and then do the vast majority the discourtesy of leaving them unindentified until the closing credits, when they are merely listed in order of appearance, as though the audience had been unknowingly participating in some sort of elaborate memory game. Among those who were not deemed important enough to receive an on-screen forenamecheck are the late William Reese, Nicholas Lowry, Justin Croft, Sunday Steinkirchner, Gay Talese, John Wronoski, Anna Burckhardt, Ed Maggs, Nancy Bass Wyden, Susan Benne, William Noel, Terry Halladay, Dan Wechsler, Erik DuRon and Jess Kuronen.
Such sloppiness is all the more frustrating because this is a fascinating subject and the contributors are such erudite sources of wit and wisdom. Moreover, Peter Bolte's camera captures the ambiance of the different shops and library spaces with such attentive reverence. David Ullmann's jazzy score also hits the right notes. But the editorial skittishness denies the viewer the time to consider one thread before another, often disconnected, topic tumbles in on them. This is a crying shame, as there is so much more for bibliophiles to celebrate and contemplate here than a lame post-crawl Fran Lebowitz anecdote about David Bowie failing to return a borrowed book.
Six years is a long time in a footballer's career and much has happened to the Barcelona and Argentina No.10 for Álex de la Iglesia's 2014 documentary, Messi, to look rather dated. There's no mention, for example, of the clip around the ear that was dished out by left-back Andy Robertson during Liverpool's remarkable 4-0 comeback at Anfield in last year's Champions League semi-final. But, even if De la Iglesia ever got round up updating this friends and family profile, it's doubtful he would include this cheeky reminder that Lionel Messi - who had been so instrumental in putting the Catalans 3-0 up from the first leg at the Nou Camp - is mortal after all.
Only a film-maker as impish as De la Iglesia could claim that this sporting celebration had been inspired by Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) and Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose (1984). But much unintentional amusement is caused by the recreations of Leo's childhood in the central city of Rosario, which is discussed around the tables of a swanky restaurant by those who remember him as a boy. It's nice to hear some of these recollections, but most viewers would prefer the focus to remain on such mentors as Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, Cesar Luis Menotti, Alejandro Sabella and Jorge Valdano, as well as teammates like Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and compatriot Javier Mascherano.
What is remarkable, however, is the home-movie footage of a tiny Messi in action for the invincible Newell's Old Boys side that earned the nickname `The Machine of 87'. Spurred on by his adoring grandmother, Celia (to whom he still points in the heavens whenever he scores a goal), Messi overcame a growth hormone deficiency to be scouted by Barcelona. Emerging from the famous youth academy, La Masia, alongside Piqué, Messi was fast-tracked into the first team at the age of 16 by Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard, who soon had him playing in an attacking trio with Brazilian Ronaldinho and Cameroonian Samuel Eto'o.
Clips from pivotal games against the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea show Messi settling into his new circumstances. We also see `La Pulga' (or `The Flea', as he came to be known) replicate within the space of a few weeks in 2007 Diego Maradona's slaloming dribble against Getafe and his Hand of God goal in the derby against Espanyol. It was around this time that his rivalry with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo began, as new Barça boss Pep Guardiola built a new team around him, as a false No.9 alongside Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. La Liga titles duly followed, as Messi scored a header in the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United.
Yet, while he scooped domestic honours and won the inaugural FIFA Ballon d'or in 2010, Messi struggled to inspired the Argentine national side to great heights and the debate continues to rumble as to whether he can ever surpass Pelé or Maradona as the Greatest of All Time without winning a World Cup (he lost the 2014 final to Germany) or at least a Copa América to go with his Olympic gold medal. With coronavirus preventing the 2020 edition of the latter, it's to be doubted whether Messi will ever fulfil his international potential, even though his new Barcelona contract extension will keep him around until Qatar 2022.
Of course, the cut-off point means we hear nothing about Messi's tax fraud problems or about his partnership with Uruguayan Luis Suárez and Brazilian Neymar in the treble-winning side of 2015. But De la Iglesia and his guests do more than enough to make their case that he is one of the game's most gifted talents. As the chatter is somewhat nebulous, it's not always easy to follow Messi's season by season achievements. The pace of Domingo González's editing also means that the highlights are rather scattershot and it's never clear whether we are watching individual goals because they're aesthetically pleasing or because they proved significant in a particular match or during a title run-in.
It might have been nice to hear from Rijkaard and Guardiola, as well as the inscrutable Messi himself, who is almost a living Banquo at his own feast. More about his private life with future wife Antonella Roccuzzo might also have rounded him out a little more without lapsing into the narcissism that made Anthony Wonke's Ronaldo (2015) so thoroughly resistible. Most crucially, unlike Asif Kapadia in Diego Maradona (2019), De la Iglesia omits to provide any psychological insight into what drives Messi and how he feels about a few non-sporting issues. But for those who haven't seen the film before or who are finding crowdless live football overly freaky, this Amazon Prime revival might just evoke some memories of the Messiah in his pomp.