Parky At the Pictures (3/1/20200
(Reviews of Amanda; In the Line of Duty; Here For Life; Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections)
Having found his feet with the featurettes Charell (2006), Primrose Hill (2007) and Montparnasse (2008), Parisian Mikhaël Hers made a steady start to his feature career with Memory Lane (2010) and This Summer Feeling (2015). However, he takes a significant step forward with Amanda, a heartfelt tale whose engaging performances go some way to atoning for the strained political tactfulness and psychological shallowness of a narrative whose convolutions occasionally feel curiously detached from 21st-century reality.
Twentysomething David Sorel (Vincent Lacoste) works as a building supervisor in a quiet part of Paris. When not showing tourists to their rooms or tending a nearby garden, he collects his seven year-old niece, Amanda (Isaure Multrier), from school when her English teacher mother, Sandrine (Ophélia Kolb), is working late. They are estranged from their own mother, Alison (Greta Scacchi), who lives in London and Sandrine hopes that they can meet up for the first time in 20 years when they go to watch the tennis at Wimbledon. David isn't convinced, however, as he wants nothing to do with the woman who walked out on him when he was a kid. But he is grateful to his sister for getting the tickets.
He has just started dating one of his new tenants, Léna (Stacy Martin), an aspiring musician from Périgneux, who agrees to give Amanda piano lessons. But she is wounded in the same terrorist attack on a quiet park that results in Amanda being orphaned and she only realises the full gravity of her loss when she and her uncle are prevented from entering the park the next morning by armed soldiers. They spend the night with Aunt Maud (Marianne Basler), but it's decided that Amanda should move in with David and that he should become her principal guardian.
Time passes and David checks up on his friend, Axel (Jonathan Cohen), who received a leg injury in the attack. While his partner, Raja (Nabiha Akkari), watches Amanda, the pair walk in the park and Axel advises David to take advantage of the Victim Support Group rather than trying to cope with his emotions on his own. He admits to being stressed and explores the option of putting Amanda in a home until he gets himself sorted. But he is shaken when Léna asks if they can take a break and can barely bring himself to tell Sandrine's friend Lydia (Claire Tan) that she has been killed.
Already struggling to deal with Amanda crying in the night, David feels guilty when she complains about not being allowed to stay in Maud's comfortable apartment. She also chides him when he throws away her mother's toothbrush and he doesn't know what to do for the best, as he can't drop everything to play with her and admits to Axel that he's simply not ready for the responsibility. However, Amanda would prefer to be with him than Maud and she clings to him one night when he leaves her to dine with friends.
With Léna having returned home, David feels alone. But he doesn't have time to dwell on things, as Amanda always needs attention. They play crazy golf in a park ringer by troops and he explains why religion makes people do bad things when they see a woman in a hijab being berated by a stranger. Amanda has become fond of Maud's rabbit, Caramel, and spends the odd night with her so that David can have time to himself. Maud shows him some letters that Alison had written after she had moved back to London and she confesses that she had remained in touch in secret before her brother had forced her to choose sides in their divorce.
Having been struggling to keep a lid on his own emotions, David decides to travels south to pay a surprise visit on Léna. She is pleased to see him and they spend the night together. But she refuses his invitation to return to Paris and live together, as she thinks he needs to get himself and Amanda settled before he complicates matters. On returning, David finds a letter from Sandrine's online boyfriend, Ivan, but he doesn't get round to responding before heading to London for the tennis.
Excited to be exploring somewhere new, Amanda tells David that she is pleased that he is going to be her guardian and he promises to be with her every day until she is 18. They cycle by the Thames and meet up with Alison on Hampstead Heath. Initially, the conversation is awkward, but Alison offers unconditional support and David is touched by her grandmotherly affection towards Amanda.
Buoyed by a message from Léna, David takes Amanda to Wimbledon, where they have tickets for Centre Court. Overcome by the occasion, she starts to cry when the player she is supporting seems set to lose. But, without quite understanding what his niece is feeling, David reminds her that things can change if you stay in the game and the film ends with them beaming and applauding as their man fights back.
There's more than a hint of Eric Rohmer about this thoughtful drama, which has the misfortune to arrive in the UK on the very day that several people have been killed in a knife attack in a park in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif. Mercifully, Mikhaël Hers leaves the carnage that devastates the Sorel family off screen in showing only a brief shot of the aftermath before concentrating on the shock on David's face, after he cycles past the perpetrators zooming away on their motorbikes.
Indeed, Hers and co-scenarist Maud Ameline approach the resulting trauma with similar finesse. Yet, while they largely avoid overt melodrama, the narrative is strewn with contrivances that chip away at its veracity. While, for example, it's possible that an ageing widowed aunt might leave her nephew to cope with her grand-niece in a cramped flat while she has a spacious apartment, it's far less likely that even the most detached of estranged mothers would remain at the other end of the Eurostar line after her daughter has been murdered by terrorists.
Similarly, it's hard to accept that Lydia would not have heard that Sandrine had perished through news bulletins or social media, while it's unfeasible that nobody would discuss the motives for the atrocity outside of Amanda's confusion at seeing a Muslim woman being victimised in the park by the kind of nimby parent she had come to mistrust through the attitudes of her classmates.
This depoliticising of the action feels like a mistake. But Hers is much more surefooted in his depiction of David and Amanda's shifting relationship. He is ably served in this regard by Vincent Lacoste and the impressive Isaure Multrier, who only stumbles when required to sob during the weak Wimbledon denouement. Hers and Ameline also rather fudge the romance between David and Léna, who is far too sketchily presented for the audience to appreciate his passionate dependence. Nevertheless, both Stacy Martin and Marianne Basler provide solid support, while Greta Scacchi's cameo leaves one wondering why such a nice person would have left it so long to reconnect with children she has clearly come to dote upon.
Such loose threads pull the picture in the direction of highbrow soap opera, as does Anton Sanko's cloying score. Some might even question the sunniness of Sébastien Buchmann's views of some lesser-known Parisian landmarks, even though they reinforce the massacre's sense of monstrous intrusion into the peaceful everyday. But Hers directs with a tactful discretion that affirms the decency of ordinary people seeking to make the best of even the worst circumstances.
IN THE LINE OF DUTY.
Despite making something of a splash with his $15,000 debut, Automaton Transfusion (2006), Steven C. Miller has come to specialise in that brand of tough guy action thriller that now tends to dwell on disc and download rather than the big screen. While Extraction (2015), Marauders (2016) and First Kill (2017) could boast the presence of Bruce Willis and Arsenal (2017) reunited Nicolas Cage and John Cusack after Scott Walker's The Frozen Ground (2013), Miller's latest offering, In the Line of Duty, has to make do with the always interesting, but unquestionably less stellar Aaron Eckhart for its frankly implausible insight into the pitfalls of modern policing.
While on his beat in Birmingham, Alabama, Frank Penny (Aaron Eckhart) is shooting the breeze with street kid D'Brickshaw `D' Martin (Elijah Cooper) when he engages Max Keller (James Hutchinson) without realising that he is part of the gang that has kidnapped Claudia (Nichelle Williams), the 11 year-old daughter of Chief Tom Volk (Giancarlo Esposito). Following a breakneck foot chase, Penny ignores radio orders to stand down and is forced to kill Keller when he pulls a gun in an alley behind a farmers' market. Rather than being commended, however, Penny is busted from the force because Claudia is being held by Max's brother, Dean (Ben McKenzie), in an undisclosed drowning chamber and hopes of finding her alive are fading fast.
Maya Prinz (Betsy Landin) covers the breaking story for Channel 13 News, where boss Ruth Carter (Dina Meyer) provides the kind of sanitised corporate coverage that so infuriates citizen journalists Ava Brooks (Courtney Eaton) and her tekkie pal Clover (Jessica Lu), who run Media4thepeople.com from a sizeable downtown loft. Ava just happens to overhear Volk berating his onetime partner and taunts him for messing up when he leaves a debriefing. However, he urges her not to judge until she has walked a mile in his shoes and he allows her to tag along while he tries to find Claudia.
As he doesn't understand social media. Penny has no idea that he has been seen flipping Ava's car on both her site and Channel 13, where Carter has recognised him from a notorious case in his past. He is also shown being pulped by Bunny (Gary Peebles), a make-up wearing bodybuilder who proves willing to help locate the helpless Claudia, despite having forged some ID for the Kellers to make their getaway with the ransom. But Keller is bent on avenging his brother and he traps Penny in a gun battle in the middle of a traffic roadblock caused by cops intent on preventing the maverick Penny from making things worse.
The showdown continues in an abandoned building, where Ava records Penny and Keller going at it hammer and tongues with bullets, fists and an iron bar. When she gets caught in the crossfire, Ava is rescued from on-camera slaughter by the reckless cop and she has to plunge into a shaft pool in order to make her escape. Keller and Penny also splashdown, only for the latter to leave the former unconscious after he discovers that he has sent Volk to a bogus address to save Claudia.
With time fast running out, Penny and Ava speed across town with Clover feeding them information from the Internet to take them to the Keller family home. As they snoop in the darkness, they find trip wires connected to homemade bombs that will blow the place to smithereens. Unfortunately, just as Ava learns that Volk failed to prevent Max and Dean's sister Naomi from drowning in the basement, she steps on a wire on the stairs. Her plight is made worse by the resuscitated Keller smashing a stolen ambulance into the property and taking more potshots at Penny before he orders Ava to step off the wire and cause an explosion.
As the cop and the reporter reach the roof, they are rescued by the Channel 13 helicopter. However, Keller isn't quite finished yet and he rants about the lot of poor white folks in millennial America before dangling from the landing skids of the chopper in a mid-air tussle with Penny that culminates in the kidnapper plummeting to his death. An exhausted Penny tells Ava that he now has a second child on his conscience, as he accidentally shot a junkie's son during a stand-off two years ago. But, as Ava tries to convince him that he has nothing to reproach himself for, Penny realises that the Kellers had placed Claudia in Naomi's plot at the nearby cemetery and they arrive in the nick of time to rescue her, with the help of concerned citizens who had been following the story as it unfolded.
Regardless of the remorseless implausibility of Jeremy Drysdale's scenario, it's the simmeringly reactionary undercurrent that makes this so resistible. In justifying his actions, Dean Keller trots out the litany of self-pitying excuses that deposited Donald Trump in the White House, while Ruth Carter's cynical exploitation of suffering to ramp up the Post-Truth ratings chimes in with the president's infamous mistrust of the media. It could also be argued that Miller and Drysdale are also striving to bolster the reputation of a beleaguered police force by depicting Frank Penny (a surname not that dissimilar from Pence) as an old-fashioned lawman risking his life for a black child in the emotive city that was at the centre of Spike Lee's Oscar-nominated Civil Rights documentary, 4 Little Girls (1997). But let's not attribute too much subtextual subtlety to this slick, but thuddingly routine policier. After all, it expects us to believe that a cop who goes back a long way with his boss has no idea that his daughter has been kidnapped and turns out to be so dumb that he kills his cornered suspect rather than merely shooting the gun out of his hand.
Given these shortcomings, Aaron Eckhart and Courtney Eaton do well to flesh out their cookie-cutter characters and even build up a convincing rapport that overcomes the sheer improbability of their situation. Eckhart even manages to invest his technophobic curmudgeon (`this isn't the time for selfers') with a bit of crusty charisma. But Drysdale's dialogue creaks consistently, with the Australian Eaton's banter with Jessica Lu being as toe-curlingly gauche (`that's deep, sis') as her pronouncements on the role of citizen journalists in an age of media mistrust. Ben McKenzie's villainous wisecracks also leave a lot to be desired, although he revels in his hissability as much as James Hutchinson in the opening chase sequence that best showcases Brandon Cox's nimble photography, Stan Salfas's propulsive editing and the stirring Newton Brothers score. By contrast, the denouement drips with unearned sentiment, as people of all races, creeds and colours gather the graveside to help Eckhart and Eaton dig with their bare hands.
HERE FOR LIFE.
Hitting screens around the same time as Zed Nelson's The Street, Here For Life offers another insight into the ramifications of gentrification in East London. Filmed in the Nomadic Community Gardens in Shoreditch, this collaboration between experimental film-maker Andrea Luka Zimmerman and theatre director Adrian Jackson seeks to blur the lines between fact and fiction in drawing on the experiences of its cast, several of whom are members of Jackson's homeless drama project, Cardboard Citizens.
Shoreditch underwent a radical transformation during the preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games. However, the infrastructural improvements had detrimental effects upon those considered surplus to the new community's requirements and the Nomadic Community Garden became a focal point for the dispossessed. Built on a former junkyard between two railway tracks, this reclaimed space became home to the Cardboard Citizens and we see Errol McGlashan and Jono Whitty fishing in the canal and exchanging ideas about shame for their next production. While they don't appear to catch anything, a three-man expedition to Billingsgate Market proves more profitable, as they use diversionary tactics to make off with a large salmon.
Errol gives a demonstration to a watching crowd on how to remove a bike lock and he explains to camera that he now puts his thieving experience into advising owners on cycle security. He gets arrested for removing the lock from his own bike and someone films him being bundled into the back of a police van. Kamby Kamara offers a poetic interlude, in which she reminds the viewer that `you have been uniquely designed to play you' before Patrick Onione begins an anecdote involving a fearsome bank robber, £25,000 and a gun.
He doesn't finish his tale, however. Instead, he joins Richard Honeyghan on a walk around the neighbourhood, during which they ask some builders whether they are constructing or demolishing and whether the resulting building will be affordable to ordinary folks. They visit the old courthouse, where Onione had frequently found himself. But he no longer feels at home in his own manor.
Nearby, Sasha Winslow tells Kamby about her preference for younger men because blokes become boring once they pass a certain age. Kamby also helps Mwiinga Twyman pick out an outfit, even though she doesn't fancy going out and doesn't have anywhere to go. Jo similarly frets about being alone, while Errol and Kamby do a two-hander to camera about the first time they stole a bicycle. Jono, Mwiinga and Jake Goode enact the first's recollection of visiting a Tarot reader, who predicted that he would have to endure a period of privation at the very moment he seemed to be making progress in life.
Jono and Mwiinga reflect on their troubles with drink and drugs and how it drove a wedge between them and their children. While he cleans his teeth beside the bath, Jono's dog jumps in the water and enjoys splashing around. Kamby tells us about her faith in God and how He gave her strength during her son's illness. Errol performs a fine poem about the differences between his old and new self, while Patrick rides his horse between the stalls of Brixton Market before recalling the night that his father was murdered near their local pub.
Sasha tells Kamby about hot flushes and the growing realisation after passing the age of 50 that one is not going to live forever. The troupe play at being horses on a patch of graffiti-walled wasteland before they gather for a fish supper cooked on an open gridle by Jono and Ben Smithies. Jo sings a song about a Lancashire weaver that plays over footage of the group on a protest march in Central London. Jake explains his theories on a person's entitlement to work and dignity, while Richard tells Patrick (who has landed a job on a recycling bin round) about eschewing jealousy and working to change your situation rather than envying someone else's.
Patrick remembers how vulnerable he felt after his father's death, as he had always protected him against the gangsters he had taunted in the knowledge that they would never dare touch him. Errol describes a dream in which he hurts the daughter we see him playing with in pale sunshine with Jono and his son. They have made mistakes in the past, but they are now in a better place to take advantages of the simple, but good things in life.
A small audience gathers to see a play - based on Cesare Zavattini's screenplay for Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948) - in which Richard plays a man who stands to lose a much-needed job because he has pawned his horse. Kamby plays his wife, while the others take multiple parts, as Richard goes in search of his animal and has a final showdown with some Irish Travellers. They are warmly applauded and several members of the audience stay to debate the issues raised with the cast. Errol reveals that he has reached a point where he no longer feels the need to cheat at self-service checkouts and even pays the 5p for the bags and he hopes that society will eventually come to reconcile need and greed so that nobody is exploited or ostracised.
A quick Google search confirms the suspicion that Kamby Kamara and Errol McGlashan are the most natural and polished performers among the Cardboard Citizens. But everyone makes a telling contribution to this inspirational venture, which can only leave viewers wondering how five years of Tory rule is going to improve things for those already looking up at the lowest rung on the social ladder.
You don't need to know anything about neo-realist cinema to empathise with the cast or be familiar with the theories and practices of radical Brazilian dramatist Augusto Boal, whose Theatre of the Oppressed has had such an effect on Adrian Jackson. Just allow yourself to connect with performers reaching out to communicate and keep a careful eye on the rooms and spaces that they inhabit - as well as the largely oblivious lives being lived in the margins of the frame and beyond.
As captured by Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Taina Galis's cameras, it may seem a different world at first, but we all have things in common with these ordinarily remarkable people, whether it's an insecurity or a regret, a belief or a flaw. But no one here is judging you or them. Listen to what they have to say and to what you are reluctant to tell yourself and this rattlebag of fact, fiction, poetry, prose, reality and reconstruction will reveal its simple home truths. Quite deliberately, this is not designed to be an easy watch. But it needs seeing.
YVES SAINT LAURENT: THE LAST COLLECTIONS
The French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent, has already been profiled in a couple of documentaries, Pierre Thoretton's L'Amour fou (2001) and David Teboul's Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times (2002). He was also respectively played by Pierre Niney and Gaspard Ulliel in a pair of 2014 biopics, Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent and Betrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, which featured Guillaume Gallienne and Jérémie Renier as the couturier's partner in business and life, Pierre Bergé.
The latter was so ill-disposed towards Olivier Meyrou's 1998 record of Saint Laurent's preparations for the final collection before selling his label to Gucci that he battled to prevent its release. His reasons become abundantly clear now that the unflinchingly candid, Yves Saint Laurent: The Last Collections, has finally been cleared after its first incarnation (aka Celebration) was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2007 and suppressed. Neither man emerges with much credit, with Saint Laurent often seeming frail and detached, while Bergé fusses boorishly in the margins when not barging into the limelight to ensure that the YSL legacy (and his role in it) remains intact.
Despite being granted unique access over a three-year period, Meyrou only shot 18 hours of Super 16 footage and he archly switches between monochrome and colour to contrast Saint Laurent the icon and the man. At times, the sixtysomething appears to be wandering around his premises at 5 Avenue Marceau in a Warholian daze, as he fiddles with creations under Bergé's watchful eye. But he is no more alert during interviews or personal appearances, with Bergé snatching one award away from him and declaring haughtily that he is entitled to more than a part of it. He also pulls focus when placing a golden pyramidion on the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde.
In the colour sequences, Meyrou examines the daily business of running the last French couture house operating under its founder. It's apparent that the staff are in awe of their boss, although it's not always clear whether that is Saint Laurent or Bergé. But the pride that the petites mains feel on revisiting the empty atelier is undeniably touching, as they reflect on the fact that they did the bulk of the work in turning sketches into the garments that set global trends.
Their attitudes contrast tellingly with those of models Laetitia Casta, Loulou de la Falaise and Katoucha Niane, who rouse Saint Laurent from the befuddled lethargy that Bergé sometimes seems to mock and which is reinforced by François-Eudes Chanfrault's unsettling score. Yet, while Bergé's eminence grise act is highly resistible, there are still hint of awed affection and wistful regret in both the admonition for YSL not to lean over like a doddering old man' and the assertion that he is `a sleepwalker who shouldn't be woken'.
Shortly after his retirement, Saint Laurent would die at the age of 71 in 2008, with Bergé withholding the severity of his terminal brain cancer while persuading him to enter into a civil union. Almost a decade later, he passed away at 86, after having seemingly withdrawn his opposition to Meyrou's film, whose influence on Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017) is readily evident. Given the fawning nature of so many recent fashion profiles, Meyrou's unvarnished honesty feels almost intrusively shocking, as he presents Saint Laurent as a fading monarch whose crown is kept from slipping by a devoted, but despised power behind the throne.