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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (3/5/2024)

Updated: May 4

(Reviews of There's Still Tomorrow; Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry; Stephen; Fantastic Machine; and Lassie: A New Adventure)


Starting out as a singer, Paola Cortellesi has been performing since she was 13. As an actress, she won the David di Donatello Award for Massimiliano Bruno's Escort in Love (2011) and accrued further nominations for husband Riccardo Milani's Piano, solo (2007), Do You See Me? (2014), and Like a Cat on a Highway (2017), Bruno's The Last Will Be Last (2015), and Giuseppe Bonito's Figli (2020).

Now, with her directorial debut, There's Still Tomorrow, she has added six more Donatello nods and beaten Greta Gerwig's Barbie at the Italian box-office. Moreover, with this monochrome homage to the neo-realist dramas of the postwar period, Cortellesi has also sparked a debate about domestic abuse in a still stubbornly patriarchal society.

Rome, 1946, and Delia Santucci (Paolo Cortellesi) wakes to a slap across the face from her feckless husband, Ivano (Valerio Mastandrea). She dresses and (to the joyous sound of Fiorella Bini's `Aprite le finestre') prepares breakfasts and packed lunches for her spouse, teenage daughter Marcella (Romana Maggiora Vergano), and foul-mouthed squabbling sons, Sergio (Mattia Baldo) and Franchino (Gianmarco Filippini). As they leave for the day, Delia tends to her bedridden father-in-law, Ottorino (Giorgio Colangeli), who gripes because Ivano has left without saying goodbye. As the old man prattles on about the things he has done for the ingrate, Delia reminds him that teaching him to rob graves and drive his mother to suicidal distraction wasn't much of an example.

Emerging from her basement apartment, Delia greets neighbour Alvaro (Lele Vannoli) and trades him a sandwich for keeping an eye on the old man while she attends to her many jobs around her Trastevere neighbourhood. She gives an injection to the grandfather of a well-to-do family (where the wife is excluded from a father-son conversation about politics); delivers the bras and garters she has stitched for a lingerie shop; teaches a novice (who's on better money) how to repair umbrellas; and hangs washing on the roof of a building in which she is not allowed to use the elevator.

Stashing some cash so Ivano doesn't fritter it all, Delia returns a lost snapshot to an African American GI, who introduces himself as William (Yonv Joseph) and gives her some chocolate for finding his family photo. He misunderstands her eagerness to leave for her name (`Gottago'), but she recognises that he is as much a second-class citizen with his fellow troops, as women are in Italy. She tells market trader Marisa (Emanuela Fanelli) about him and promises to help her make some apricot jam.

Passing a garage, she bumps into Nino (Vinicio Marchioni), who has never forgiven himself for letting Ivano steal Delia away. They chat awkwardly and she gives him one of the chocolate bars and they share brown-toothed smiles, as the camera circles around before a customer calls Nino away. She bustles off and returns home to see Marcella sitting with Giulio Moretti (Francesco Centorame), the scion of a lower middle-class family. Gossiping neighbour Ada (Barbara Chiesa) claims the match will save Marcella from the drudgery Delia endures and she agrees to host a Sunday lunch so that Ivano can meet Giulio's parents.

Marcella is mortified that the Morettis will see how she lives, but Delia promises that she will keep everyone in line. She is feeling so positive because she has just received a letter about her entitlement to vote in the forthcoming election and she hides it in her jewellery box. The mood dips when Ivano comes home from work and immediately starts criticising and belittling his wife. However, he is overjoyed about the prospect of his daughter marrying into money and even gives Delia a proud squeeze. But, when she brings out the chocolate to celebrate, he accuses her of whoring with the Yanks and beats her (in a choreographed ritual that is danced out to `Nessuno').

Saddened by Marcella lecturing her for staying with a brute who cheats on her all the time, Delia screws up her voting paper and tosses it in the bin. Next day, after lying motionless during sex and waving away Ivano's apology (he's on edge because he's been through two world wars), she gets cross with William when he tries to stop her to chat and sees the bruises on her shoulder. She tells Marisa about the engagement and they share a smoke before she returns to a courtyard slanging match with Ada, who claims that Giulio's bar-owning parents are country bumpkins.

Despite laying on a good spread, with her best crockery, Delia is dismayed that Mario (Federico Tocci) and Orietta Moretti (Alessia Barela) realise that she has served them inferior meat and pasta. She manages to keep the boys quiet, but grandpa wanders into the feast in his pyjamas and accuses the guests of being wartime collaborators. Giulio tries to ignore the incidents, but younger sister Luisa (Chiara Bono) rolls her

eyes and regards Ivano as a relict when he questions why she is still in school when she could be bringing home money.

Delia wells up when Giulio proposes to her daughter. But her hopes of celebrating come crashing down with Ivano's mother's best plate, when she trips on the step with the dessert and the house clears so Ivano can punish her. As they go for ices, the Morettis roll their eyes about the ghastly in-laws they seem set to inherit. However, after being told by Ottorino to spare the rod to prevent Delia from becoming accustomed to beatings, Ivano dances with her to Achille Togliani's `Perdoniamoci', as they flashback in their minds to their first meeting, courtship, and wedding before the abuse started and the kids came along.

A montage shows Delia going about her chores and being embarrassed when William stops her and tells her that she can always come to him if there's anything she needs. Passing the garage, she discovers that Nino is closing up and moving north to work with a cousin. He asks her to run away with him, but she knows she can't leave. However, she's hurt when Marcella disowns her for taking the blame when she burns the potatoes and protecting her from a beating. The savagery of the attack prompts her to buy material for a new dress so she can flee with Nino. But she overhears Giulio dictating terms to her daughter over make-up and working after they're married and she realises that, for all his outward charm, he's going to be just as tyrannical as Ivano.

Having overheard Ivano bragging to Ottorino about how they'll all be made because of the Moretti's café money, Delia asks William to blow up the premises. Marcella is heartbroken when Giulio asks for the ring back and leaves Rome for the family village because they've been ruined. Delia keeps her counsel, as Ivano tells his bawling daughter that she's escaped poverty in a country hovel, while the gossiping neighbours decide the explosion was an act of Zionist revenge.

With everyone out on Saturday night, Delia packs to leave with Nino. She has made an excuse to visit Marisa's building to tend to some patients and plans to slip away after mass. As she leaves, she realises that Ottorino has died in the night, but says nothing. However, Alvaro pops in to check on the old man and rushes to the church to break the bad news. Mourners come to pay their respects and drink free coffee, while Ivano puts on a show of grieving. An old lady nobody knows prays at Ottorino's bedside, as Marisa arrives to confide that the loss could be a blessing in disguise, as Delia would never have survived being away from her children.

After a two-day vigil, Delia leaves the money she has saved beside Marcella's pillow so that she can complete her studies. She takes her voting paper and tries to sneak out before Ivano is awake. When he catches her, she claims to be doing extra inoculations to pay for the funeral. But she drops the document and doesn't realise until she's in the queue at the polling station (after having stridden through the empty streets to Outkast's `B.O.B. Bombs Over Bagdad').

Ivano finds the form and comes storming after her. But Marcella picks it up from the floor and presents it to her mother, who is wearing her new top and lipstick to mark the special occasion. Not recognising her, Ivano walks right past and Delia gets to have her say in whether Italy should remain a monarchy or become a republic (although she has to remove her lipstick to lick the envelope). Spotting Marcella from the staircase, Delia mouths the `mmm-mmm' refrain from Daniele Silvestri's `A bocca chiusa' and everyone purses their lips in a silent gesture of defiance when Ivano tries to confront her. Marcella beams with pride at her mother and the 13 million other women who got to cast their vote for the first time in both the constitutional plebiscite and the Constituent Assembly election of 2-3 June 1946.

Despite edging towards `neorealismo rosa' and feeling more like a vehicle for Sophia Loren than Anna Magnani, this is nevertheless a splendid pastiche of the austere audiovisual style devised by screenwriter Cesare Zavattini to reflect the realities of Italian life after the Fascist fantasies peddled by Benito Mussolini. Cortellesi and co-scenarists Furio Andreotti and Giulia Calenda even borrow a Black GI from Roberto Rossellini's Paisà (1946) to reinforce the period connection, which is sufficiently strong to accommodate the odd anachronistic song choice.

These are often inspired, however, with by `Calvin' by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion propelling Delia along pavements bustling with people going about their business in the wonderful tracking shot that accompanies the opening credits. But it's the preceding slap in the marital bed that sets the tone for what follows, as Delia's daily ordeal in an occupied country still suffering from food shortages is compounded by the violence of her demanding, idle, and irredeemably chauvinist husband.

The narrative has its melodramatic moments, particularly where Giulio and Nino are concerned. But Cortellesi deftly deflates Delia's first swooning tryst with the latter by coating their teeth in chocolate, while the luncheon party is a set-piece of excruciating precision. She also slips humour into the wake, as Alvaro embellishes his tale with each telling until he claims that Ottorino's last words were to claim him as a lost son.

The ensemble is exemplary, as is Valerio Mastandrea, whose white vest and short fuse brings to mind Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (which would premiere on Broadway in 1947). Romana Maggiora Vergano also impresses as the naively judgemental daughter who comes to see the light. But Cortellesi wisely keeps the focus on Delia, whose quiet strength is rooted as much in the iniquities of the imbalanced society in which she was raised as in her own forbearance and love.

Her direction is as commendable as her performance, with her choices in depicting how Delia is battered being particularly intriguing. She is admirably abetted by production designer Paola Comencini and costumier Alberto Moretti, as well as cinematographer Davide Leone and editor Valentina Mariani, whose sense of rhythm is complemented by Lele Marchitelli's delightful score. Zavattini would carp at the occasional contrivance and resort to sentimentality. But even he would have to concede that it should not have taken eight decades for an Italian woman to direct a meaningful neo-realist film.


Having studied painting at the State Academy of Art in Tbilisi, Elene Naveriani received a Masters in Critical Curatorial Cybermedia before taking a degree in film at the Geneva University of Art and Design. Still based in Switzerland, they made their directorial bow with After I Am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth (2017), which was followed by Wet Sand (2021). Naveriani reunites with the star of the latter, Ekaterine Chavleishvili, on Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry, which premiered in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.

Having clambered back after almost falling into a ravine when she is distracted by a blackbird while picking blackberries, Etero Gelbakhiana (Eka Chavleishvili) has a vision of her neighbours viewing her washed-up body with disdain. Returning to the shop selling beauty and cleaning products that she runs in a remote Georgian village, she feels an urgent attraction towards delivery man Murman (Temiko Chichinadze). He's the married father of twins, but has long admired Etero and puts up no resistance when she seduces him into sex on the storeroom floor.

She runs her hand through some spilt soapflakes, as they enjoy the post-coital stillness. But a crack of thunder returns Etero to her senses and she sends Murman packing with a reminder to say nothing of their tryst. Locking the shop door, she reaches down with her fingers and shrugs at the loss of her virginity at the age of 48.

Feeling peculiar, she asks friend Nino (Piqria Niqabadze) to take her blood pressure and she identifies arrhythmia. She urges Etero to keep away from the ravine, as she's no longer young and looks at her quizzically when she describes how swept away she had been by the beauty of the blackbird.

Murman calls that night, while Etero is watching a programme about origami. He asks if they can talk on his next visit and she promises to be home. However, she's distracted by a shout and scuttles off to feed her long-dead father (Gocha Nemsitsveridze) and brother (Rezi Karosanidze) and is taken aback when the latter sees the bruise on her arm and accuses her of becoming a whore.

After two days away from the shop, Etero finds Londa (Tamar Mdinaradze) waiting for her. She wants a tonic for her thinning hair and asks why Etero has left the fan running on the counter. Jumping to the conclusions that she's having menopausal hot flushes, Londa gossips about Etero when Nino invites some friends over that night. They discuss her brutal brother and how he almost treated Etero like a servant. Back home, she calls Murman during a rainstorm and reminisces about the time her father had taken her to visit her mother's snow-covered grave. She had enjoyed feeling close to him for once, but still knew that he blamed her for her mother's untimely death.

Woken by Natala (Lia Abuladze), who tries prying into her business, Etero takes the bus to town to run errands. She stops for a millefeuille and coffee and brushes off the unwanted attentions of an old man who claims she should be married. Chatting to shopkeeping couple, Marina (Sopo Grigolashvili) and Ia (Iako Tchilaia), she confides that she would like to retire to a house overlooking the river and devote her time to learning English and photographing the beauty all around her.

The blue-haired Elene (Ani Mogeladze) helps Etero translate word she doesn't understand on the packaging of her products. She listens to her loud rock music and learns it's a song about freedom. Etero has made her own small step in this direction by removing the pictures of her father and brother from the wall. But it's Murman who makes her feel free and she masturbates when he sends a text about missing her smell of sunshine.

Her growing understanding of herself prompts Etero to snap back when Londa, Natela, and Tsisana (Anka Khurtsidze) taunt her about her weight when they meet at Nino's for cake. She insists she's glad she has never been suckered into so-called love by a man looking for a skivvy and would much rather have her body fill out than to it bear the ravages of child-rearing. Stalking out with her head held high, she strides home past a gaggle of men drinking in the street. Natela drops by to check on her next day, but doesn't apologise. Instead, she criticises the sweet jelly that Etero serves her and laments that her mother had ignored the warning signs of the cancer that had killed her so young.

Etero listens with disinterest, even when Natela tells her that they are planning to build a shopping mall next to her shop. She is still in a good mood because Murman had called. He had feigned leaving his glasses in the shop in order to give assistant Tengo (Shota Sharvashidze) the slip and had suggested a Saturday night rendezvous - before forgetting his specs for real.

She brings cake in a box to the woodland road where Murman is waiting. As they drive, they listen to Charles Aznavour's `Emmenez-moi' and Etero almost manages a smile. After passionate love-making in the van, they lie on the grass to admire the view. He had grown up in the area and this had been his special spot to be alone. Etero explains that blackberries had been her only childhood friends and he asks if he can be her blackberry. On the bus home, she is touched by a text claiming to miss her already, although the warm feeling is spoilt by the disapproving stare of an elderly female passenger.

Nettled when Nino comes to buy goods without exchanging a word, Etero crashes one of her card games. She tells the group about being pestered by an old classmate after her father had died and she had been forced to drive him away with her brother's rifle. The women chuckle, as Etero impersonates her admirer, but the joke turns on her when Natela reveals that he had been in her pharmacy to purchase Viagra and they mock her when she has to ask what it's for and whether all men over 50 have to use it.

Feeling good about herself, Etero starts listening to the radio again. She accompanies Murman to a hotel and she discovers that he writes poetry about her in his notebook. Able to explore each other at leisure for the first time, she feels able to trust him with the revelation that she had been in love with the prettiest girl in her class. Resting her head on his chest, she asks how he has survived as the only gentle dog amongst wolves. But, when he makes his next delivery, Murman breaks the news that he has got a job driving lorries in Turkey and has to leave because the money is so much better. Etero insists she understands and squeezes his hand when he promises he will come back to hold her.

But she's crushed by her loss and feels worse when she suspects she's suffering from ovarian cancer. She invites her friends over and tells them to take what they want from her brother and father's belongings. Moreover, when Murman calls to ask her to come to Turkey with him, she informs him that they had better part because she doesn't want to leave and would rather be alone and free to make her own decisions.

Travelling to Tibilisi, she sees a doctor recommended by Marina and Ia. Nino sees her off at the bus stop (she's fibbed she's visiting a bereaved friend) and vows to be there for her. Etero pictures herself in a coffin, as she checks into a swanky hotel. But her life isn't in danger. Indeed, she's pregnant and the doctor claims it's a miracle for someone her age. Unable to eat her millefeuille in a café, Etero looks at the scan photos and starts to cry.

Echoing the theme of late-life love explored in Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves (2023), this is a poignant, but affirmational picture that is made all the more affecting by the meticulous care with which Naveriani and Chavleishvili present Etero's bittersweet existence. The deadpan tone is reinforced by the stillness of Agnesh Pakozdi's subtly lit imagery and the blocks of autumnal colour that production designer Teo Baramidze uses on the walls of homes, shops, and hotel rooms alike. Aurora Vögeli's editing is also measured, as Naveriani allows scenes to play out in their own time.

Chavleishvili's Joan Crawford-like eyebrows also convey a sense of immovability, as Etero tries to make sense of the exhilarating and frightening changes that start coming over her after she is given a second chance at life, with the ravine and the river rushing in its depths almost serving as a rebirth canal. Yet her eyes capture the wonderment that Etero feels at spotting a blackbird, realising the depth of Murman's feelings after reading his verses, or coming to appreciate the beauty of her post-coital body in the bedside mirror. Her sudden submission to her own passion is presented with equal delicacy, although Temiko Chichinadze deserves credit for ensuring that Murman is seen primarily as an emancipator rather than an adulterer.

Etero's shift in perception don't necessarily emanate from his desire, however. In adapting a novel by a Tamta Melashvili, Naveriani and co-scenarist Nikoloz Mdivani ensure she is content with her lot before he came along and already has the self-possession that her sometimes cruel village friends rarely recognise. Etero does things on her own terms, after having survived the tyranny of her menfolk. After all, she's the one who makes the first move, even though Murman has long been silently smitten.

Such an approach enables Naveriani to pass adroit comment on Georgian society and the gender conventions it underpins. Attitudes towards outsiders are explored through the treatment of a couple selling watermelons opposite Etero's shop, while the limited nature of her stock and her old-fashioned reflects on the state of the economy after three decades of independence. Etero's first love was a female classmate and seems more envious of the lesbians who have complete, mutual control over their relationship than she is of the local friends who root their self-worth in marriage and motherhood.

It's ironic that both Georgia and a blackbird feature in Paul McCartney songs on The White Album. Working in Turkey by the end of the film, Murman clearly has Georgia on his mind, while Etero has long been waiting for her moment to arise and be free. But the birdsong that follows the final fade to black leaves the suggestion that (for all the ambiguity of Etero's tears) their story may well be only just beginning.


German visual artist Melanie Manchot revisits the first film to have been shot in Liverpool and the first-ever crime reconstruction in her debut feature, Stephen. Commissioned by the Liverpool Biennial, the action blurs the lines between fact and fiction by using a mix of established actors and non-professional performers drawn from an addiction recovery group. It also employs archive footage and scenes from a film-within-the-film to challenge the audience into viewing without preconceptions.

Having originally been presented as a multi-channel installation, this demanding and not always entirely successful project premiered as a single-channel narrative at Sheffield DocFest. This is the version currently in cinemas, although the gallery show has just embarked upon a tour of five key locations across the UK.

Stephen Giddings is a recovering gambling addict from the Quarry Green Estate in Kirkby. He attends an audition to play the lead in a remake of Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon's Arrest of Goudie (1901), which recreated the detention of Thomas Goudie, a clerk at the Bank of Liverpool who had embezzled £170,000 to pay his gambling debts. Having played a scene with actor Kent Riley, Giddings is interviewed by a three-strong casting panel and made to state his name to the camera and improvise a speech to a banknote. As he's about to leave, he declares that he understands the role because he knows everything about Goudie because he has endured the same hell.

Sitting before a dressing-room mirror, Giddings sketches in his background. Such were his mother's anxiety levels that she couldn't bear to leave the house and self-medicated with drink. His drug-using brother, Karl, also had mental health issues and Giddings recalls running errands for him as a small boy that lured him into the orbit he has spent the rest of his life trying to escape. He sought help from the same recovery group as some of the others auditioning for minor roles in the film.

They're seen in a scene set in the Bleak House pub, where Tom is playing the fruit machines while Paul (Kent Riley) is sitting with his new girlfriend, Sarah (Paislie Reed). A Roy Evans era Liverpool match is on the pub telly, but Tom is alone in not celebrating as Michael Owen scores an injury time winner. Frank (Michael Starke) chastises Tom for betting against his own team.

Starke joins the rest of the cast for a reconstruction AA meeting (with Michelle Collins also sitting in), as they describe how easy it is to fall off the wagon. This wisdom seeps into the film-within-the-film, as Tom leaves the pregnant Sarah after a house-hunting expedition to play three-card brag in a 7/11 basement. Terry (Jerome Massett) plays for high stakes and Tom calls loan shark Max (Collins) when he lays down £20k. Following an interminable delay (which is partially filled by some nocturnal interpretive dance), she arrives with £25k in a brown paper bag. Tom loses and Max tells him that she needs five grand by Friday or he's in big trouble. Walking home, Tom argues with himself about staying in the game by robbing the bank where he's in line for promotion.

In a cutaway, Giddings recalls the time he had laid out pills to kill himself and a mate had told him to do it because he'd given up on him. He jokes that guilt tripping him was a risky tactic, but it had worked and he had gone to AA in order to get his act together. A muted colour insert follows, in which an acting coach (Fay Beck) tells Giddings that he has to draw on his own truth in order to bring authenticity to his scenes. He starts shouting to express his anger, but she's not buying it and accuses him of just shouting in her face and showing off. Giddings calms down and admits being humiliated because he knows he can do the part (and wants to because the project means something to him), but he feels blocked and he doesn't know why.

A mannered sequence follows, in which Giddings strips off Tom's clothes while striding through the estate and replacement garments are tossed to him from off camera. Eventually, he's in the clichéd Scouse uniform of a tracksuit, as he struts into the distance. Equally unconvincing is a scene between Sarah and her mother, Trish (Joolz Nylander), in which the latter worries that her daughter is repeating her mistakes by moving too quickly with a man she barely knows. What makes this more problematic is that (even though it forms part of the film-within-the-film) it doesn't feature Tom, who has been the focus of every single preceding scene. Consequently, it feels shoehorned and bogus without contributing anything to the overall conceit.

When Tom gives Max his payment, he tries to back out of the game. But she says he owes her and has to go back and start winning. Cutting away, Giddings recalls how he got into an argument with his estranged father and hit him so hard that he had to call an ambulance. But this thread is soon dropped so we can listen to the man playing the casting director (Ian Brown) playing a harmonica before members of the recovery group discuss being stigmatised because of their addiction when they have so much else to offer.

Dialogue from an exchange in this sequence between Giddings and Riley resurfaces in a pub row, in which Paul pleads with Tom to accept he's a compulsive gambler and seeks help before he ruins everyone's lives. Halfway through, Giddings loses focus and he tells the director that the conversation reminds him of ones he's had with his own brother and he wishes that Karl and Tom would listen to sense, grow up and stop being so selfish because their actions impact on loved ones.

A confrontation follows between Giddings and Karl (Leroy Ruglass). Although this is supposed to be a `real life' heart-to-heart, it feels more like something out of Brookside than anything that has come before (and much of it has!). Given the gravity of Karl's situation (with doctors almost writing him off unless he quits drinking), the discussion lacks grit, despair, and urgency - primarily because Karl is being played by an actor and we are left to wonder if Giddings really does have an alcoholic brother and how much we can trust what he has said while supposedly speaking as himself. The scripted and rehearsed nature of the sequence not only undermines much of what has gone before, but it also calls into question the efficacy of Manchot's methodology, as an increasing number of scenes from all parts of the film's spectrum are starting to lapse into hackneyed melodrama.

Back in the film world, Tom learns that an auditor is coming to the bank on Monday. He argues with Paul over the phone when he refuses to let him speak with their mother to ask her to lend him some money. In the pub, he gets into a fight with someone who uses his fruit machine (a situation that Giddings recognises in a cutaway, as he would try to get himself beaten to earn him a few days off the booze). Desperate, he asks Sarah for a loan from her savings because he needs £7500 in a hurry. She gives him five and he goes straight to the brag game (as we hear a Massett poem about the threats posed by loan sharks).

As Tom walks home along the waterfront in the cold light of morning, intertitles in the silent cinema style recap the Goudie case and how the 1901 film blurred the lines between fact and fiction. A closing montage shows what Giddings has put himself through to play the role in the hope it might lead to further acting gigs. He certainly does enough here to suggest he's earned a chance, as he manages to make some of the more self-consciously actorly passages in Leigh Campbell's screenplay sound like something a real person might say.

The acting across the piece is patchy, but that's fine given that the first-timers have been drawn from a Liverpool recovery group. Yet Michelle Collins struggles to convince in a thinly scripted role and it might have been nice to see more of Starke, who is such an underrated actor, as he consistently used to display on Brookside as Sinbad Sweeney. But it's the content of the scenes that jars rather than their enactment, which is never anything less than fully committed.

While her use of the Toxteth and Dingle locations is solid, Manchot's modulation of tone is a major problem, particularly in the exchanges between Giddings and Beck, which lack the necessary spontaneity. His confessional speeches to camera are more credible, although they're often clumsily inserted into the shape-shifting structure, as are the dance segments featuring Fallen Angels. This is less the fault of editors Graeme Hanks and Liz Ryan-Carter than Campbell and Manchot, who never feel entirely in control of their well-meaning, but ultimately rather worthy and wearying concept. Maybe the gallery installation works better, as it's the bid to meld the constituent parts into a cinematic whole that proves this commendably ambitious project's undoing.


It would take a multi-part mini-series to do justice to the history and shifting significance of the photographic representation of reality. In order to mark the centenary of the first projected moving pictures to a paying audience, Terry Gilliam gave the task a good go in The Last Machine (1995). But he only scratched the surface of cinema's early years in five half-hour episodes. So, Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck have little hope of doing full justice to their vast topic in the 88-minute essay, Fantastic Machine. Nevertheless, their decade of research has thrown up so much fascinating material that one is left to regret that they opted to make a primer when they could have produced something more definitive.

Opening with a sequence in which members of the public are awed by the workings of a pinhole camera, the film heads back to 1828, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce used a bitumen resin to capture a camera obscura view of his garden in Le Gras. This is the oldest preserved photographic image and drawing with light has never gone out of fashion since.

A decade later, Louis Daguerre's shot from his window on Boulevard du Temple in Paris caught a man having a shoeshine and these two figures became the first humans to be captured on film. Two decades later, Edweard Muybridge wins a bet about the hooves of a galloping horse leaving the ground at once by setting up a bank of cameras in Palo Alto, California. The narrator (Van Aertryck) doesn't tell us this or that his sequential chronophotographic stills of a trotting horse were taken in June 1878 and were only later discovered to give the impression of recreated movement when fitted into a spinning zoetrope.

Following a series of Muybridge's studies of human locomotion, we are bombarded with images from our own time of webcams, selfie sticks, rolling news, fake news, souvenir snaps, and social media influencing. Lost in the mix is Apollo 8's dramatic colour image of our beautiful, but fragile blue planet suspended in space. And we also get the title, which is actually And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine, which is what Edward VII is reported to have said when he saw Georges Méliès's 1902 film impression of his Coronation (which has been shot in a studio in Montreuil weeks before the event in Westminster Abbey).

Harking back to the 1890s, we see a clip from the Boulting biopic, The Magic Box (1951), in which William Friese-Greene (Robert Donat) handcranks projected footage of a scene in Hyde Park to a baffled policeman (Laurence Olivier). The narrator tells us that Louis and Auguste Lumière regarded the Cinématographe with which they filmed L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895) as a scientific instrument.

However, a British pair (the unnamed Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon) found a way to monetise moving images by filming crowds and charging people to see themselves on the screen. When they focussed on football matches, Manchester United became the first club to enforce their claims to image rights after a game with Burnley was recorded at Turf Moor in December 1902.

Returning to Méliès using the camera to pull off incredible magic tricks, the narrator recalls how the British press responded to the Coronation film by warning people not to be suckered by the illusion. A cut takes us into Leni Riefenstahl's The Triumph of the Will (1935) to show how cinema was used to reinforce the reputation and projected image of Adolf Hitler. Shots of current world leaders show how this method of propagandist manipulation remains in use. But the narrator cautions us about taking such representations at face value and uses the case of Fabienne Cherisma in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake to prove the point. Paul Hansen's prize-winning image of her dead body on the road is juxtaposed with Nathan Weber's shot of press photographers lined up to grab their own take on the snap. What goes unmentioned, however, is that the 15 year-old was shot by police while looting three framed pictures. But who needs to know the full story when there's a point to be made about the photo originally being printed alongside a Mads Mikkelsen ad for Carlsberg?

After an amusing digression showing how green screens are used in the results section of the Eurovision Song Contest, we go to Yemen in 2017 to witness an Isis member get the giggles while muffing his lines in a carefully scripted video. A recruiting film follows, as the narrator informs us that directors call the shots to ensure the desired vision of reality reaches the target audience. An editing suite scene from Ray Müller's The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) is used to show how she devised innovative techniques to film the 1934 Nuremberg Rally. The camera lingers on the glow in her eyes, as she delights to the rhythm of the marching music (itself an editorial choice made by Müller and Danielson and Van Aertryck - but nothing is said about their methodology).

Parts of 1984 interviews with Sidney Bernstein and Peter Tanner appear next to reveal the instructions given to camera operators filming the Nazi death camps to ensure that nobody could say that the images had been faked by deft editing (the power of montage is never referred to throughout the film). An excerpt from Éamon de Valera's speech launching RTÉ Television in 1961 follows, in which he compares the new medium's potential power for good and evil to that of nuclear power.

Vox poppers following the first live transatlantic transmission in 1963 speak of their hopes that television will bring about a betterment of global society. But the ensuing montage showing momentous events like the Ethiopian famine, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11 is interspersed with clips of sporting events, variety showcases, and increasingly banal game shows and commercials. Amidst it all is a lament by a Birmingham woman who believes her relationship with her husband would improve if he switched off the set every now and then.

CEOs Carlo Freccero and Ted Turner state in interviews that ratings and escapism are all that matters where their channels are concerned. Television as a panacea for the grim realities of life. Who needs political crises, disasters, and war when you've got The Beverly Hillbillies? But shows were also designed to create `available brain time' to help sponsors sell their products and, as a consequence, networks bought data from audience response monitors like Nielsen to help shape their output.

Nowadays, even serious news programmes have to employ audience-grabbing graphics and gadgets. Anchors adopt a given persona, but they are playing roles as much as the tough guy, the buffoon, or the provocateur. But even experts are not as they seem, as Guy Goma demonstrated when he was mistakenly whisked from a job interview in the BBC accounts department to discuss the Apple Corps v Apple Computers showdown in 2006. He coped admirably in a stressful situation and the narrator hives off to discuss learned behaviour over clips of kids doing the darnedest thing. One boy can handle nunchucks like Bruce Lee, while blokes fire guns Rambo style. Psychiastrist Park Dietz is shown in 2009 warning news outlets against sensationalising news coverage of shootings, as they only provoke copycat incidents. But his words continue to go unheeded, as TV news becomes increasingly tabloidised.

An extract from the famous study of children's faces in a Riga theatre is followed by a 1969 clip of anthropologist Edward Carpenter showing members of the remote Biami people of Papua New Guinea what they look and sound like for the first time. One man becomes self-conscious about the hat he's wearing and the narrator explains over scenes from a photographic studio why we feel uncomfortable in front of a camera, as it has the power to reveal us as we really are. In the digital age, 300 million images are published daily and the narrator claims that the pixel revolution has changed the way we perceive the world and how we consume the new media.

YouTubers like Rebecca Roth have also put the camera to fresh uses, as they promote themselves online. She has the nous to realise she is speaking to a webcam and not communicating directly with other human beings. But those like TED's Chris Anderson consider the Internet to be a key tool in the greatest educational opportunity that has been presented to human kind since Johannes Gutenberg perfected the printing press.

Following clips on climbing out of a frozen pond, making an Isis bomb, and defrosting a freezer, we learn how Paige Reynolds's `Scarlet Takes a Tumble' became one of the first videos to go viral. We meet Turbo the two-legged Chihuahua and see viewers of differing ages crying to the death of Simba's father in The Lion King (1994). A medic discusses the effects of stimuli on the brain over a scanned image and he reveals that access to the material that causes these responses is more widely available than ever before.

Terrifying footage of a female model being dangled out of a skyscraper for a photo shoot is followed by a Go-pro pov shot of a wingsuit jump that may just end badly - but we cut away to grown men squealing like toddlers at a public launch of a Star Wars trailer (despair ye of humankind). As we watch a chimpanzee scrolling through photos on its phone, we are told about shifting business models that require content providers to hold attention long enough to slip in the big sell. Reed Hastings of Netflix describes it as offering candy and broccoli (in the form of Steve Brill's The Do-Over, 2016 and Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List, 1993). He also notes how users show off their aspirational side by giving arthouse films better ratings than popcorn fare (but this is just for outside consumption, as the platforms know exactly what is actually being watched).

Next we're on to Instagram and TikTok clips, as Belle Delphine explains the popularity of her Ahegao Face clip in which she poses with a squeaky hamburger toy. This South African-born British social media star (who is actually Mary-Belle Kirschner) changed her brand when she uploaded hardcore pornographic clips to Only Fans on Christmas Day in 2020. She makes millions, but Jesse Doherty proved you can even monetise a nap, as he got more viewers when he dozed off than he usually gets while live-streaming his video game activity.

Things can get a little too real for live-streamers when viewers decide to get involved, as we see when Paul Denino (aka Ice Poseidon) manages to fall foul of an angry gangster and get stopped by a SWAT squad. As a video wall builds on the screen, we learn there will soon be 45 billion cameras in the world (presumably the owners being like the insect suckered into the Venus Fly Trap in the David Attenborough clip), which will lead to an increase in the current rate of 500 hours of material being published every minute. The narrator claims our choices reflect our attitudes and providers will seek to provide us with content to coax us into sharing their way of thinking.

We see Luke Mogelson's footage of the attack on the Capitol in Washington, DC on 6 January 2021, with the implication being that there's no longer any need for a Leni Riefenstahl, as cackhanded DIY imagery works just as well as (if not better than) glossy stage-managed propaganda. This official confirmation that the planet is going to hell in a handcart is followed by a mention of the Voyager 1 probe, which blasted off from the Earth in 1977 and has since (very wisely) been putting as much distance as possible between it and us. Before it entered interstellar space, NASA turned the camera around for one last photo of our planet. But what are we doing with it and how much has changed since the first orbital image in 1968. God speed, little ship. You're best off without us. Just ask the pig in the last shot, who snuffles the lens of the camera that has crash-landed after being tossed out of a plane.

While Danielson and Van Aertryck deserve credit for unearthing such an esoteric range of recent online material, this cine-essay pales beside the groundbreaking writings of such theorists as Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Derrida, and Noam Chomsky. There's no joined up thesis here. Instead, the co-directors present an assemblage of random thoughts, in which a greater emphasis is placed upon modern usage in an age of supposed image democratisation than on the evolution of the medium and the motives and methods of those who shaped what can only be seen as a sinister misappropriation of a scientific and technological marvel.

Editor Mikel Cee Karlsson does a remarkable job in stitching the snippets together. But the debuting duo might have expected a little more intellectual input from an executive producer of Ruben Östlund's calibre. In truth, the moving image has been heading towards people photographing their lunches ever since the 1895 Lumière short, Repas de bébé. Apart from us diehard photophobes, everyone has a Biami-like fascination with their own image and the Internet merely facilitates their readiness to share even the most banal snapshot in the hope of receiving a little validation. But innovation nowadays tends to be followed hard on by exploitation (although erotic images are as old as photography itself), while the spread of fake news and the increasing ease with which it can be disseminated and digested is deeply disturbing for us all - particularly in the age of AI (which doesn't even merit a mention). But Danielson and Van Aertryck leave viewers with too much reading between the political lines to make this effective, even as a GSCE crash course. Maybe it'll find a home online.


A collie named Pal took the title role in the six MGM features spun off from Fred M. Wilcox's Lassie Come Home (1943). When German director Hanno Olderdissen dusted the title down in 2020, he hired a hound named Lukas. But the role has passed to Bandit for Lassie: A New Adventure, although child actor Nico Marischka doesn't let on if he has noticed the difference.

Opting out of a Gran Canaria holiday with his folks, Florian (Nico Marischka) takes Lassie to stay in a mountain village with his teacher aunt, Cosima (Katharina Schüttler). She has just adopted orphans Kleo (Anna Lucia Gualano) and Henry (Pelle Staacken), but the former resents being taken away from her foster home and is snitty with Flo and Lassie, who is delighted to see his old Jack Russell pal, Pippa (Rezi).

She dotes on Kleo, who sits in her attic room listening to a mixtape made by her parents. Flo has her headphones on (after ducking out of a day trip to snoop) and fails to hear dognappers taking Pippa because she's a fine pedigree. Kleo and Henry are surprised to learn that Stefano (Beniamino Brogi), the cop called in to investigate, is Cosima's ex-husband. However, none of the kids realise that they met the couple behind the crime at the café, even though the husband has a dog allergy that makes him sneeze.

Lassie knows, of course, and uses a trick with a hat to jog Flo and Kleo's memories. They recall that the man was wearing a pink shirt from the Grand Hotel Sternberg, which just happens to be where Flo's friend, Gerhardt (Justus Dohnányi), is staying for a relaxing vacation. He is unimpressed by assistants Danielle Dombrowski (Maike Jüttendonk) and Dustin Schmidt (Dennis Mojen) or by the fact the premises have a bug infestation that is driving owner Bianca Sternberg (Annette Frier) to distraction.

Naturally, Dustin and Danielle (who also uses the French alias, Deplphine Sauvage) are the dognappers, but the deny all knowledge. Lassie has a plan, however, and jumps into their van and leaves a trail for Flo and Kleo to follow on their bikes. Unfortunately, in trying to shake off Rambo the guard bulldog, the pair get locked in an outhouse at the remote property where the crooks are keeping the dogs in the barn.

Digging her way out of the cage, Lassie escapes through a cellar and rushes to fetch Henry (as Cosima is out searching). He scoots in pursuit, as Lassie leads him to the hideaway. However, Pippa is in the first consignment of dogs going up for auction and Danielle locks Bianca in the pantry so she can use the hotel to welcome the bidders she has contacted through her devious DeLuxe Pedigrees network.

Rambo swaps sides to find a crowbar to help the kids escape, while Gerhardt wangles his way into the auction. He bids for Pippa against Herr van den Heuvel (Ingo van Gulijk) and stalls in time for the kids to set off a fire alarm and unleash chaos.

Dumping Dustin, Danielle makes a getaway with Pippa. But Lassie jumps a chasm to chase her van and cause it to crash. Stefano makes the arrest, the dogs are restored to their owners, and Flo decides to fly to Spain to spend time with his parents and little sister. As they say goodbye, Flo and Kleo accidentally kiss and Cosima gives them a knowing look.

Closer in tone to the periodic remakes that have cropped up since the 1970s, this should keep family audiences interested, as well as fans of the Children's Film Foundation brand of crime caper. Andreas Cordes's screenplay establishes the situation capably enough, although surely a cop in a small country town would know that his ex-wife had adopted a couple of orphans? More might have been made of Kleo's fear of rejection and Flo's guilt at subjecting Lassie to danger, while the closing chaste kiss is unnecessarily corny. But Olderdissen keeps the story moving and makes solid use of the locale.

Bandit and Rezi are the stars of the show, although Rambo the bulldog who gets tired of being told off is good, too. The dogs are allowed to bark in their own language, but the humans are poorly dubbed by an American voice cast whose blushes will be spared. Disney has made Cruella de Vil cinema's leading canine crook, but Maike Jüttendonk and Dennis Mojen are laudably game, with the former being particularly amusing when she dons a bobbed wig and affects a French accent when only knowing a handful of words.

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