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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (3/11/2023)

(Reviews of On The Adamant; Typist Artist Pirate King; Nobody Has to Know; The Bystanders; and The Undertaker)


ON THE ADAMANT.


For his 11th feature, 71 year-old French documentarist Nicolas Philibert spent time aboard a timber-clad daycare centre for Parisians with mental health issues that is moored below the Charles De Gaulle Bridge over the River Seine. To a degree, On The Adamant revisits themes explored in In the Land of the Deaf (1992) and Every Little Thing (1997), which centred on La Borde, a psychiatric clinic in the Loire Valley. The surprise winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, it reinforces Philibert's reputation as the great humanist of observational cinema.


Opening with François giving a wholehearted rendition of Téléphone's `La bombe humaine', we join a planning meeting that touches on England's penalty shootout loss to Italy in the final of the 2021 Euros and a film season to celebrate the 10th anniversary of L'Adamant. Muriel, who led the meeting, chats to Philibert and sound recordist Erik Ménard about their equipment, transport, and pets before revealing that she misses being able to have friends.


A man with a liking for strong café recalls his favourite film stars and confides that most people at L'Adamant are actors, but don't realise it. Alexis is persuaded to make a drawing of a Byzantine emperor he heard about in a documentary, while Olivier explains a sketch of his twin daughters. He enjoys being asked questions and is amused when the carers interpret things the wrong way.


Amidst shots of passing vessels and a duck bobbing on the swell, we see the blinds being opened for another day and a meeting of regulars discussing the activities and workshops they would enjoy. The softly spoken Frédéric chips in with his experience at a recent arts event and, when Philibert, finds him later, he confides that Wim Wenders based Paris, Texas (1984) on him and his brother, whom he believes are the reincarnations of Theo and Vincent Van Gogh.


In snippets, Saïd transfers a Superman logo to a new t-shirt, Nadya gets tearful while singing the Bulgarian national anthem, and an artist who dislikes the nose on his drawing gives it the title, `The Conk That Should Never Have Been Drawn'. Chatting to a carer, Alexis tries to explain his concept of `chin-strap' beards, while François considers why so many people with mental health issues get on so badly with their families. He refutes the idea that being in hospital is similar to being in prison and admits that sometime his medication is the only thing that prevents him from throwing himself in the Seine.


A woman talks about having her son taken into care and how difficult it has been to deal with her own health while missing him. He's being fostered by a Moroccan family and she is looking forward to having a meal with her son and his caseworker. Following an art session, two of the women discuss their pictures. One of the carers sees yonic effects in the wavy coloured lines drawn by the first, while Muriel sees the outline of an ear. Her own sketch shows a preying mantis and she jokes about it getting ready to eat its mate.


Marc accompanies himself on the piano on `Personne n'est parfait', while a photography workshop results in a collection of portraits of people with and without their Covid masks. A man with a grey beard talks about the voices in his head and the police threat to jail him for 30 years if he kills someone. A guitarist muses about having a magic wand, while another man admits to finding it odd that news reports refer to terrorists as `mad'. As he avers, `Mad people are not violent. Most of us are, in fact, just extremely fragile people.'


A younger man with an acute sensitivity to sound explains why he wears magnets and crystals around his neck to protect him from the frequencies that disturb him. Frédéric sings `Just Open the Door' at an electric keyboard before claiming to have suffered from the same curse as James Dean, Gérard Philipe, and Jim Morrison. He recalls the latter being in Paris with Pamela Courson and insists he has discovered the reason why bad things happened to himself and others.


Some of the regulars go gleaning in the dumpsters outside cafés and return with lots of fruit that they peel and cook to make jam. A new psychiatrist introduces herself to the group and Muriel makes sure she spells her name correctly in her notebook. Seizing upon a lull, an elderly widow opines that she has lost her freedom, as well as her husband. Olivier tries his hand at serving on the coffee bar and chats away to the customers. In the library, a man dictates a poem for the L'Adamant magazine, while Patrick improvises on an electric guitar.


Money is counted with great care at intervals throughout the film and there always seems to be a shortfall, even if nothing is said directly about how L'Adamant is funded. Over a shot of the autumnal plane trees on the Right Bank, Frédéric recalls how Van Gogh had painted on the Seine and had managed to capture the sun and the wind on canvas. He has been roped into introducing the first film in the festival, François Truffaut's Day For Night (1973), but the meeting is deflected when Catherine asks why patients and former patients are not allowed to run workshops when they have a specialism. She is confident that she could run a dance session, but feels she is being ignored by the carers, who admit that they like the concept but are anxious about the practicalities.


A shot from the bank shows L'Adamant through the mist. Someone walks along the gangway to open up and the wooden blinds rise up like pine cone scales. A caption reveals that the centre opened in 2010 and has done much to allow people from the first four arrondisements to evolve in their own time in a safe space. Philibert ends, however, by wondering how much longer this will be the case.


Only Frederick Wiseman, Raymond Depardon, and Claire Simon can be bracketed with Philibert when it comes to observational cinema. By interacting with the subjects, this is more cinéma vérité than Direct Cinema. But it has the commitment and compassion that has become familiar from classics like La ville Louvre (1990), Être et avoir (2002), Nénette (2010), and La Maison de la radio (2013). This is Philibert's first outing since that atmospheric study of Radio France and it confirms that his powers are undiminished, as he celebrates a socio-therapeutic experiment, the bonds it fosters, and the art it generates.


Becoming part of the sanctuary's fixtures and fittings, Philibert and his crew earn the trust of the regulars in order to share their ideas and experiences. The focus falls primarily on more outgoing characters like Muriel, Olivier, and Frédéric. But those who prefer to sit and watch or work in silence are afforded a destigmatising discretion that enables them to participate on their own terms - which is how L'Adamant operates. Avoiding any discussion of the conditions afflicting the attendees, this approach leaves questions. But Philibert always entices the audience into asking them and sends them away to seek the answers and, perhaps, learn more. At a time in which actuality has changed beyond all recognition from when Philibert started out, it's to be hoped that his brand of patient, perceptive, yet provocative cinema will endure.


TYPIST ARTIST PIRATE KING.


Having received a screenwriting fellowship from the Wellcome Collection, Carol Morley discovered the archive of Audrey Amiss, an artist who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while at the Royal Academy in the late 1950s. Drawing on 80 boxes of unearthed materials and 50,000 drawings, as well as the recollections of Amiss's family and friends, Morley has now produced an unconventional biopic which takes its title, Typist Artist Pirate King, from the occupation given in Amiss's passport.


Living alone since the death of her mother, artist Audrey Amiss (Monica Dolan) refuses to succumb to the mental health issues that have seen her incarcerated in the past. She keeps food wrappers in scrapbooks and bangs on the ceiling because she's convinced her upstairs neighbours are trying to sexually manipulate her by remote control. Once a leading light in the kitchen sink school of painting, she feels forgotten because she's gone avant-garde and tries to persuade care nurse Sandra Panza (Kelly Macdonald) to drive her to a gallery so that she can reclaim her reputation by winning an art competition.


Sandra thinks the gallery is in London, but it's in Audrey's native Sunderland and Sandra feels obliged to spend her last day with the NHS doing a good deed. Travelling by back roads because she's not used to driving on the motorway, Sandra is forced to pull over when Audrey (who is drawing furiously in the backseat) hears church bells and insists on stopping.


Drifting away from a choir rehearsing `Jerusalem', Audrey wanders into a yoga class and mistakes the teacher (Judith Chandler) for her old headmistress. Getting locked in the lavatory, Audrey has to be rescued by the vicar (Gary Bates), who offers a prayer and a hip flasks when she confides that she's dying. With the class looking on, Audrey thanks the teacher for having faith in her when she was a promising young artist. In mid-sentence, however, Audrey stops and gazes at a white-bearded man in the doorway, whom she seems to mistake for God.


Back in the car, Audrey takes the passenger seat and fills pages of her sketchpad with images. At a café, she accuses a young couple of being at the scene during a teenage holiday with her now estranged sister to Yorkshire that left her with a scar on her wrist. Despite Sandra's efforts to calm her down, Audrey causes a scene and squirts tomato sauce over the waitress who threatens to call the police.


Stopping for directions when they get lost, Audrey accuses a woman trying to help of being the piano teacher who had persecuted her. She also mistakes a cocky hitcher (Isaam Al Ghussain) for the art school rival who had blocked her from being included in a prestigious exhibition and had caused her to be confined for the first time. But it's only when Sandra gets lost again that Audrey turns on her and accuses her of getting kicks out of locking her away.


Crashing her yellow electric car (`Sunshine') into a tree, Audrey accepts a lift from a motor home driver who tries to fondle her. Squirting juice in his face, she grabs her backs and wanders through a wood and disturbs a battle re-enactment group in Dark Age garb. Seated on a throne and crowned, Audrey is reluctant to accept Sandra's apology when she arrives in a small tank. But she agrees to spend the night in a nearby hotel. All seems well until Audrey (sporting an eye patch) has a panic attack in the night and trashes the reception area. Fleeing a policeman, she cowers in the corner of her room until she recognises him as the father who had died when she was 19 and she hugs him and allows him to put her to bed.


Waking from a good sleep, Audrey thanks Sandra for keeping her out of the cells and gives her a drawing of her aura. They catch a bus, but Audrey demands to be let off at her first hospital. She blames her art school rival for goading her into putting a hand through a window and wishes she hadn't been drugged when her mother and sister came to visit. Cowering beside a sink during a panic attack, Audrey is rescued by Sandra who advises her to say what she couldn't in the 1950s - so they scream together at the top of their lungs and head for the bus stop.


They're offered a lift by a middle-aged woman whom Audrey takes for fellow patient, Knitting Nelly (Joanne Allen). She drops them in a village where Morris dancers are performing in the street. Audrey drags Sandra into their midst before hailing cabby Gabe (Kieran Bew) to take them to the gallery. It closed down years before, however, and Audrey sinks to the pavement and sobs. But Sandra tries to cheer her up with a trip to the beach and the revelation that she's been on edge because she had failed to prevent another patient from killing herself.


Buoyed by selling a couple of pictures to a woman with a beachside kiosk, Audrey concurs with Sandra's suggestion that she heals the rift with her sister, Dorothy (Gina McKee). Following an awkward chat that ends with Audrey trying to force her sibling into apologising for the holiday trauma, Dorothy agrees to accompany them to Heber's Ghyll, where Audrey had tripped while not wearing her glasses and cut her forearm on some jagged wood.


A man had carried her in a wheelbarrow, but Audrey continues to blame Dorothy and classmates Pouting Pamela and Jimmy Cragg and rushes to a protruding rock. Just as Sandra and Dorothy think she's going to fall, Audrey is held up by brightly coloured celestial wings. She apologises to her sister and sinks into a forgiving hug. Back home, she sticks a last item in her scrapbook and turns towards the bright light shining on her face.


Bold, celebratory, and reclamatory, this fictional road movie splendidly honours the spirit of Audrey Amiss and her art, while dotting the episodic action with biographical snippets that give the screenplay its poignancy and power. Morley uses every opportunity to slip in another of Amiss's pictures and demonstrate both the authenticity of her representational work and the audacity of her more experimental items.


Agnès Godard's camera captures the vibrant colours in both Amiss's work and the world she sees (and imagines) around her, as she heads north for a reunion that didn't actually happen. Dorothy didn't live to see the film, but felt the script had brought her closer to the sister who had died in 2013.


Echoes from earlier Morley works like The Alcohol Years (2000), Everyday Something (2001), Stalin My Neighbour (2004), and Dreams of a Life (2011) go some way to explaining why she felt drawn to Amiss. There's even an Alec Guinness connection, thanks to Morley's 1994 short, I'm Not There, and Rodney Bennett's adaptation of Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote (1985). But, in spite of the cantankerous manic exuberance of Monica Dolan and the sensitive underplaying of Kelly Macdonald, this can feel haphazard and occasionally wayward.


This is partly the point, of course. But taking Amiss out of her everyday orbit saddles Dolan with too many expository exclamations amidst an already endless babble of denunciations and self-justifications. The ploy also leaves lots of gaps in Amiss's struggle for recognition by an art establishment that wanted nothing to do with a working-class typist with issues. Moreover, dotting proceedings with so many dynamic images serves to emphasise how strained and sentimental the drama gradually becomes. Amiss deserves to be discovered and Morley is entitled to give her a cathartic send-off that even has time to consider the curvy perfection of a Quaver. However, Amiss proves a little too elusive.


NOBODY HAS TO KNOW.


Since making his directorial debut with Ultranova (2005), Belgian actor Bouli Lanners has demonstrated a sure touch for character, place, and mood in Eldorado (2008), The Giants (2011), and The First, the Last (2016). The absurdism of early works has given way to a reflective poignancy and this is particularly evident in Nobody Has to Know, a romantic drama that owes something to both Mervyn LeRoy's Random Harvest (1942) and Jon Turteltaub's While You Were Sleeping (1995).


Now in his mid-50s, Philippe Haubin (Bouli Lanners) has found himself on a remote Scottish island working for farmer Angus MacPherson (Julian Glover). Life is simple, with the church and the pub being the hubs of the small community. One Sunday, while everyone is at the service, Phil suffers a stroke in the dunes and Angus's estate agent daughter, Millie (Michelle Fairley), is distraught, as they are secret lovers in defiance of the `Ice Queen' nickname she has earned because of her outward coldness.


As Phil is suffering from amnesia, Millie has to reintroduce him to his co-workers, her brother, Peter (Cal MacAninch), and nephew, Brian (Andrew Still). She didn't know he had a Dalmatian named Nigel, but fills him in on people in photos dotted around his home and ferries him to and from the farm, as he's not allowed to drive. He gets the impression that Angus doesn't like him and doesn't get the joke when Brian compares him to Jason Bourne (who similarly has to piece his life back together, albeit in more perilous circumstances).


Taking things slowly, Phil is surprised when Millie reveals that they were lovers before his stroke. Urging him not to tell anyone, she tries to resume her routine with assistant Beverly (Ainsley Jordan). But she's distracted and feels bad when Phil comes to her office because he can't stop thinking about her. Despite her efforts to end the relationship, however, they wind up in bed together and he agrees to keep things secret because Millie is so anxious about the consequences if anyone found out.


Despite her fears, Millie accompanies Phil on a post-church walk on the beach, where he insists on going for a swim in the freezing sea. She is persuaded to hold hands and even goes along with his refusal to return to the mainland for a hospital check-up. They spend more time together, but problems arise when Brian asks if he can keep Nigel and he hides out in the family bothy when his owners ask for him back. As they are elderly, however, they agree to let Brian take him for regular walks and he's so delighted that he consents to keep Millie's secret when she admits that she has lied to Phil about them being an item before he lost his memory.


Shortly afterwards, Phil gets a text from his brother, Benoît (Clovis Cornillac), who turns up at the house and chides him for running away after his first stroke in Belgium. He offers him a room in his house, so that he will have someone with him if he has another emergency. Now knowing that Millie has lied to him, Phil nods, but he knows he's going to stay and he tells her that he's happy as they sit together at the funeral of one of the villagers. She feels ashamed at having deceived him, but he insists that he had had a crush on her and is grateful to her for making the first move because he had been too shy. As they talk, their fingers entwine.


Driving home from work a day or so later, Phil has a fatal stroke and Brian gives Millie (who has not attended the funeral) a letter that the Belgian had entrusted to him. Phil explains that he had been given a short time to live after his first attack and thanks her for making his unexpected bonus so happy. As she clears out his house, Millie is grateful for the time they had together and no longer feels the need to hide their love.


Considering how many clichés and contrivances there are in the screenplay written by Lanners and Stéphane Malandrin, this is a cautiously affecting saga that is impeccably played, paced, and photographed. The sky and sea are evocatively used in magic hour pillow shots that contrast with the ruggedness of the landscape that allows the lovers to protect their secret. Frank van den Eden's views of the islands of Harris and Lewis are anything but picture postcard-like. Apart from the lush pasture, the colour scheme favours muddy browns and slate greys that reinforce the sense of struggle that has made the MacPhersons so dourly taciturn. No wonder Millie is attracted to the garrulous outsider and is so convinced that he couldn't possibly be drawn to her, in her Puritanical black-and-white chapel attire.


Elise Ancion's costumes are as apposite as Paul Rouschop's production design, while Ewin Ryckaert's editing underlines the rhythms of daily life, as well as the hesitancy in Phil and Millie's romance. Pascal Humbert and Sébastien Willemyns's score isn't always so well judged, though, in its efforts to avoid Gaelic pastiche and overt sentimentality. Nevertheless, this is a tactfully poignant picture, with the assiduous close-ups of Fairley's chagrined face leaving a particularly abiding impression.


THE BYSTANDERS.


Although he has been best known for his work as an editor, Gabriel Foster Prior has been directing shorts since he was a student (one of which was nominated for a Scottish BAFTA). In addition to Wallpaper (2009), Binoculars (2011), and A Short Film About Hats (2016), he has also collaborated on The Seann Factor (2014), The Drunk: Getting Home, and The Drunk: Getting a Taxi (both 2016) with comedian Seann Walsh, who also stars in Prior's feature debut, The Bystanders.


So irrelevant that he's asked to sign his own birthday card at work, failed chess prodigy Pete Weir (Scott Haran) is swept out of his room and into an alternative dimension Barnet, where he falls into a swimming pool when Frank Baron (Seann Walsh) recruits him to be a Bystander. A training video explains the duties of protecting a Subject from harm and staying hidden. After a night pondering options he doesn't have, Pete accepts the challenge.


Having popped in on Frank's coach potato gamer, Luke Gillespie (Andi Jashy), Pete meets Sarah Chester (Georgia Mabel Clarke), a junior at Smut Records who touches her face when she's stressed. He's also taken to a Bystander briefing given by Richard Hunter (Christopher Wright) and Norman (Marek Larwood). As Richard wants to win the Bystander of the Year Award, he is unhappy with Jimmy Dime (Ray Calleja) for going viral while watching over a clown and introduces a new `two strike' disciplinary system.


As a former chess master, Richard knows all about Peter, whose own Bystander was the legendary Bill McDonald (Nick Helm). He warns him not to get into bad habits like Frank, who takes him to an after hours bar, where they drink detergent and petrol cocktails (because alcohol doesn't work in their dimension). Moreover, Frank persuades Pete into swapping Subjects, as he has had enough of Luke's indolence.


Having failed to land a job at a skateboard company, Luke settles for being a barista, as he fancies having a little money in his pocket. Fed up because Jimmy has been exiled to Australia for invisible cycling, Frank is already bored with Sarah, as she works hard and has no social life. During a trip to the cinema, he asks to swap back because Luke's getting out and about, but Pete refuses. So, Frank begins messing with Sarah's life to make things more interesting.


Forcing Sarah to make a bad impression with snooty pop star Cayte Darley (Emily Wyatt), Frank also sends a slagging email she was writing to amuse herself to boss Toby Huggs (Tom Clegg). Hoping workmate Michaela (Lauren Douglin) can offer some advice, Sarah goes to a club where Luke's new employers, Dom (Kurt Deed) and Tom (Michael James Parkinson), have duped him into doing an open mic slot. As Sarah loves comedy, she congratulates Luke on his act and they wind up going back to his place to get sloshed.


Pete is pleased to see the pair getting along, but suspects Frank is up to no good. He catches him messing with Luke's stuff and is cross when he meddles with the traffic lights during a taxi ride to the cinema that leaves Sarah feeling she's been stood up. As he's never dated before, Luke has no idea he's been dumped and Pete warns Frank that he'll be exiled if he's caught making his life a misery. But Frank has already sown his seed and, when he sees Sarah with another man, Luke gets arrested for punching out a man giving free hugs for charity.


Richard and Norman know that Frank is behind Luke's fall from grace and ask Pete to help punish him. He reveals that Frank hates snow and he's dispatched to the North Pole. However, Pete's bid to get Sarah and Luke back together fails dismally and he winds up drowning his sorrows in a bar, where he reconnects with Bill (although he doesn't recognise him). He suggests playing on Richard's weaknesses to get Frank back, as friends are rare.


Now known as Charity Mugger Beat Down Guy, Luke is running for mayor and rumours start circulating that Pete could win Bystander of the Year. He challenges Richard to a game of chess to get Frank back on the beat and wins. As they sit on a roof ledge watching fireworks over London, they accept that they're both outsiders in Richard's circle and decide to find a new pub as part of their plan to enjoy new experiences.


Ending abruptly with Sarah and Luke's stories unresolved (are Pete and Frank even their Bystanders any longer?), this is an enjoyable comic fantasy whose wisest move is to explain nothing and justify even less. Foster Prior and co-scenarist Jack Hughes seem to make up the rules as they go along, which keeps the action unpredictable. Yet, despite some shrewd asides on loneliness in the big city, they paint themselves into a corner by exiling Frank, as his mischief has deftly disguised the fact that the Luke/Sarah storyline isn't that interesting and that Pete has been too thinly sketched to allow Scott Haran much leeway to do anything other than a super-ingratiating Martin Freeman impression.


Luckily, he does this well, while Seann Walsh borrows from Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais in order to make Frank both insufferable and vulnerable. Andi Jashy pitches Luke as a low-wattage Nick Helm, but Georgia Mabel Clarke is left high and dry after being saddled with the thankless task of making Sarah even remotely interesting or empathetic. A surfeit of cameos rather clutters things, with Frank Harper popping up as a menacing Cockney Bystander in the police cells, David Schaal straining for laughs in the skateboard scene, Lucy Pinder striving for journalistic gravitas in big glasses, and Nick Helm himself reining in his irresistible ebullience to do his erstwhile Subject one last favour.


Working on a modest budget, Foster Prior and cinematographer Matthias Ashford make canny use of the dimensional switches from monochrome to colour, while the rotoscoped visual effects add a certain deadpan kitsch. Will Steer's editing is impish, while Foz Foster's score has a vibrancy that can help this playful variation on Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire (1987) and George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau (2011) become a cult favourite. Frustratingly, however, this bright idea starts to dim some way before the screen goes dark.


THE UNDERTAKER.


In over three decades in the moving picture business, Michael Wright has made shorts, corporate films, and commercials. He also created the miniature sets for the Aardman masterpiece, Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out (1989). Now, he turns to features with The Undertaker, a period crime drama was filmed at the Bottle Yard studio in Bristol.


In an unnamed northern town some time in the 1950s, Arthur Morel (Paul McGann) buries the business partner of club owner, Finlay Unsworth (Roger Barclay) after he dies in a so-called shooting accident. A sentimental hoodlum who still cries at the memory of his mother's send-off, Unsworth makes Morel an offer he can't refuse to slip a few `loose ends' into caskets due to be buried at the local cemetery by the Reverend Lomas (Nicholas Rowe). As his late brother owed Unsworth money, Morel goes along with the scam, even though dying employee Lenny (Murray Melvin) warns him to steer clear and Detective Kelly (Sean Gilder) has started sniffing round the funeral parlour.


Needing help, Morel hires Lenny's granddaughter, Kat (Lily Frazer), and tells her about how he lost wartime Italian nurse Fiorella (Carlotta Morelli) before their wedding. While the gravediggers ask no questions about a couple of 8ft burials, Kat is curious about the locked drawers in the morgue. But Morel is the model of integrity and goes about his affairs with his usual dignified solemnity.


Vic (Tara Fitzgerald) sings about sadness and heartbreak at the Chessboard Club and warns Morel about getting in too deep after Unsworth and his oppo, Pullman (Bob Cryer), request two more supplementary burials (which Morel does himself in the dead of night). Despite Kelly asking awkward questions, Unsworth insists on calling in the London hit squad to remove more obstacles in his path. But Kat refuses to get blood on her hands and even Morel flinches when Pullman and Vic are inside the next two bodybags, after the latter had tried to take a cruise ship gig to escape Unsworth.


Having been visited by the ghost of his murdered brother, Morel packs to flee to the island where he had hoped to settle with Fiorella. But he overhears a hit being put out on him on Pullman's walkie-talkie and dons his white wedding suit to turn avenger. Giving his ill-gotten gains to Kat, Morel shoots Unsworth, but can't finish him off. Instead, he's bundled into the back of a car by minions who start burying him at the cemetery. However, Kat has called Kelly and they pull Morel out of the plot, only for him to die dreaming of Fiorella. Kelly hopes that Unsworth gets life, in spite of his long reach.


Played with mannered precision by a well-supported Paul McGann, this is very like one of those crime quickies produced by postwar Britain's minor league studios. The plotline could almost have been lifted directly, as it plods towards its satisfyingly inevitable denouement. But what this lacks in narrative finesse, it more than makes up for in good old-fashioned craftsmanship.


Although no production designer is credited in the crawl, the interiors pay astute homage to the studiobound sets of yesteryear. Morel's dimly lit office, Unsworth's seedy upper room, and the Brief Encounter-like station buffet are splendidly atmospheric and feel as meticulously made as those of Swede Roy Andersson, albeit on a much more modest budget.


The yard full of sheets recalling Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is also cannily employed, as are the model layouts of the rundown town, which are particularly effective during the hit sequences, in which lights flare over the nocturnal rooftops. The echo of the retorts reinforces the noirish mood, along with Owen Shirley's sound effects of the ticking clocks and creaking doors at the funeral home.


The ending rather lets the side down, with Morel's entire personality changing unpersuasively after he dons his white suit following a hackneyed spectral visitation. The graveside rescue and the superimposed visions of Fiorella similarly feel strained, while Kelly's world-weary closing shrug at the corrupted nature of the system is cornily anti-climactic. But, then, the dialogue often rings hollow, even when it's pondering snooker's role in the cosmic scheme of things and is delivered with such knowing gravity through a haze of smoke by a gravel-voiced Tara Fitzgerald.


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