Parky At the Pictures (3/7/2020)
(Reviews of Fanny Lye Deliver'd; The Spy; Shepherd: The Hero Dog; Anne At 13,000 Feet; and Carmine Street Guitars)
Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
FANNY LYE DELIVER'D.
Films about the Interregnum have been few and far between. Consequently, Thomas Clay's Fanny Lye Deliver'd is a welcome addition to an exclusive cabal that includes Michael Reeves's Witchfinder General (1968), Ken Hughes's Cromwell (1970), Kevin Brownlow's Winstanley (1975) and Ben Wheatley's A Field in England (2013). Made over four years ago, this is very much a labour of love, as Clay wrote, edited and directed the picture, which he also scored using only instruments that were played in the Cromwellian period. It's a shame, therefore, that the fanfare that greeted its arrival on streaming platforms was the chorus of disapproval aimed at Maxine Peake for the careless remarks in a promotional interview that cost Rebecca Long-Bailey her job as Shadow Education Secretary.
After an opening crawl informing us that modern notions of personal. political and sexual freedom were forged during the violent decade following the execution of Charles I, we head to Shropshire in 1657 to meet Fanny Lye (Maxine Peake) and her husband, Captain John (Charles Dance), a limping, puritanical war veteran, who exerts a strict control over their young son, Arthur (Zak Adams). On returning from Sunday worship, they discover Thomas Ashbury (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca Henshaw (Tanya Reynolds) hiding in the barn (after we see them fleeing naked through the misty countryside). Hearing that they were robbed while planning to emigrate to the New World, John feels duty-bound to offer sanctuary to a fellow soldier, even though he is reluctant to report to the crime to the local constable.
Having been cut about the body during their flight, Rebecca is anxious that they do nothing to upset their hosts. But a bit of rough and tumble with Arthur causes John to thrash the boy and Thomas has to apologise for breaking the rules of the household before they are accepted back at table. When they sit for supper, however, Fanny has to assume the servant's place, as John had bought her before making her his wife. She has never questioned this arrangement and is shocked when Rebecca informs her that she is not married to Thomas and is treated as his free equal. However, she agrees to keep her confidence and is amused when Rebecca suggests that Captain John is a handsome man for his age.
Any plans to flee are kyboshed when the High Sheriff for the Council of State (Peter McDonald) approaches the farm with his deputy (Perry Fitzpatrick) and Henry the constable (Kenneth Collard). With Thomas holding Arthur at swordpoint, John denies having seen the Ranter fugitives who had performed licentious acts at the local tavern. Moreover, he demands to be taken at his word when the High Sheriff asks to search the premises because he had followed telltale footprints across the fields. No sooner have the intruders left, however, than Thomas is forced to strike John with the poker for attempting to resist having his hands tied. He commends the older man's spirit, but warns him that such displays of resistance will not be tolerated, as he espouses his views on post-religious liberty and the rights of all people to live according to their conscience without the fear of being judged as sinful.
Having humiliated John by sending him across the courtyard without his stick to fetch water from the well. Thomas mocks the Communion service by making everyone kneel and receive a piece of bacon as a host and mead as the Blood of Christ. John refuses to partake and is forced to watch, as Fanny joins in a threesome with Rebecca and Thomas, who delights in taking power away from the Puritan and establishing a New Jerusalem in which every pleasure is to be indulged. However, having begged Thomas to enter her, Fanny has second thoughts after he seeks to claim her after encouraging her to whip John across his back with a birch twig. She accuses Thomas of being the most self-serving man she has ever met and rushes to console her husband after Thomas pulls away claiming to have never forced himself upon a woman in his life.
While Fanny was feeling ashamed of her behaviour, Arthur wriggles free from the ropes binding him and John takes Rebecca hostage. Thomas throws down his sword and allows his hands to be tied so that John can frogmarch him to the constable. On the road, however, they see a wretch enduring untold agonies in a gibbet and John realises that he can't deliver Thomas into such suffering. As they near home, however, the black smoke of a bonfire curls into the sky and John is appalled to see the deputy dragging Arthur's lifeless corpse out of the house.
The High Sheriff shoots Thomas in the face when he urges John to release him and he also wings the veteran in the shoulder. But he makes his escape into the nearby wood, as the High Sheriff taunts him by describing how Fanny will be sold into prostitution to atone for harbouring heretics. As she watches him gorge himself on pork, Fanny reassures him that after seven years of Civil War, she has already endured all the miseries that can be inflicted upon a woman.
Before dawn the next morning, John creeps out of the thicket with a branch to bludgeon the High Sheriff. But he is overpowered and the popinjay places his foot on his neck, while he orders the deputy to find an axe. Fanny lunges at him with a knife, however, and embarks upon a stabbing frenzy that barely leaves her energy to wound the deputy when he tries to subdue her. She slits his throat and leaves him to die like an animal. John pleads with Fanny not to abandon him. But, as we see her loading up the dead men's horses,
Rebecca informs us in voiceover how they joined the Quakers and Fanny became a fearless campaigner for women's rights. However, she concludes by revealing that Fanny was deported after the Restoration and she followed to Rhode Island, where she heard stories about the woman who had tried to make a difference in an England that was now a dream.
It's been a long wait for admirers of The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (2005) and Soi Cowboy (2008), so it's difficult not to be disappointed by this Salop Western that reimagines the home invasion scenario found in the likes of Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997 & 2007) in period garb. In the Hammer heyday, the leads might have been played by Ingrid Pitt, Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. But even they might have stumbled over some of the clumsily anachronistic dialogue that seeks to alert the less perceptive to the fact that this might be set 360 years ago, but it's really about today.
The image of the High Sheriff's boot on John's neck has acquired additional resonance in recent weeks and should reinforce Clay's laudable message that any form of prejudice is wholly unacceptable. Inspired by Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution, Clay clearly has ideas to impart. But the allusions to Brexit Britain are scarcely subtle and it hardly helps that the omnipresent score drives them home like the ramrod that the iniquitous lawman uses to reload his musket. This is a shame, given the effort that Clay (who studied music at university) put into compositions that exacerbated the delay caused by cashflow problems during post-production. Yet the bombastically emphatic nature of the soundtrack underlines the shortcomings of the characterisation and the more melodramatic aspects of the denouement.
Freddie Fox is the most ill-served by the screenplay, as Thomas is such a resistible personality that it's evident from first acquaintance that he's not to be trusted. However, Charles Dance's Puritan tyrant is no more nuanced, while Peter McDonald's villain comes across as a landlubbing Captain Hook. Despite her assertions, Tanya Reynolds seems too besotted with Fox to feel entirely emancipated, while her narration is too full of instructive cues for the audience to follow. Which leaves only Maxine Peake with the luxury of a reasonably rounded character, although it takes the defiant recollection of the abuse she had suffered during the war for Fanny to edge away from Cromwellian caricature.
The Western element works well enough, however, with the Nenad Pecur-designed homestead that took three months to build in rural Shropshire looking splendidly authentic in the smoke-machined mist. Michael O'Connor's costumes are equally adept, although some of Giorgos Arvanitis's camera moves feel intrusively modern (in spite of them being in widescreen 35mm), particularly the arc shot around Peake as she summons the courage to slaughter the High Sheriff. Such embellishments add to the sense that this is an unnecessarily busy and fussy film whose rhythms feel out of synch with 17th-century life. Perhaps Clay should have spent more time watching Brownlow and Hughes than Reeves and Wheatley before the 10-week shoot began.
It's long been known that film stars like Olga Chekhova and Marika Rökk spied against the Nazis during the Second World War. A personal favourite of Adolf Hitler, Swedish singer Zarah Leander was codenamed `Rose-Marie' by Joseph Stalin's NKVD. Now, in Jens Jonsson's The Spy, we get to learn about the exploits of Sonja Wigert, a Norwegian actress who was lured to Sweden in the late 1930s, only for her fame to imperil her Oslo-based family during the Nazi occupation. For many years, she was held in contempt by her compatriots, along with politician Vidkun Quisling. In seeking to salvage her reputation, the screenwriters of this glossy saga, Harald Rosenlow-Eeg and Jan Trygve Royneland, suggest that the situation was far more complicated.
While Sonja Wigert (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) watches herself on screen at a 1943 gala premiere of Kjærlighet og vennskap in Oslo, Reichskommissar Josef Terboven (Alexander Scheer) cuts a deal with director Leif Sindling (Anders T. Andersen) to greenlight his new film - an adaptation of Alexander Kielland's Else - if Wigert accompanies him to a dinner with Joseph Goebbels (Stefan Sattler). Vipsen (Gitte Witt) is unhappy about Wigert consorting with the Nazis, as are parents Sigvald Hansen (Erik Hivju) and Carmen Kirsebom (Ingrid Vollan), who worry that Sindling's membership of the Nasjonal Samling will have a negative impact on their daughter's reputation.
However, the Swedish intelligence agency, C-byrån (which operates under the cover of being an insurance company), has also recognised Wigert's potential and one of his agents, Hanna (Karin Lithman), reports to Thorsten Akrell (Rolf Lassgård) about Wigart's playwright husband, Torsten Flodén (Albin Grenholm), having an affair with her theatre dresser, Laura Johnsson (Rebecca Caneld). Consequently, he visits her dressing-room when she plays a satirical show in Stockholm and urges her to attend the dinner so that C-byrån can exploit her celebrity and fluency in several languages. But she refuses to go after being insulted by a German soldier on a train and passes shutterbug Patrik Olsson (Edvin Endre) on the way into entertaining such dignitaries as Baron Bernd von Gossler (Johan Widerberg) and tourism minister, August Finke (Fredrik Lycke).
Furious at being shown up in front of Goebbels, Terboven has Wigart's father arrested and leaves her no option but to co-operate with Akrell and find out how Nazi plans for invading Sweden are progressing and to discover the identity of `Maria', who has been passing secrets to the Reichskommissar. Arkrell asks her attend a function at the Hungarian Embassy and charm Terboven's old school friend Hartmann (Thomas Arnold) into making an introduction so she can apologise for standing him up. He wants something in return and Wigert is grateful when she is rescued from his unwanted attentions by Andor Gellért (Damien Chapelle). He is so impressed by her singing that he takes her to a clandestine jazz club, where his piano playing sweeps her into his bed.
Ordererd by Akrell to get close to Terboven, Wigert returns to Oslo under the codename `Bill'. When he attends her screen test for Else, he is enchanted by her and invites her to dinner. Sindling introduces her to Nazi cultural attaché Wilhelm Müller-Scheld (Julius Feldmeier) at a popular restaurant, where actor Henry Gleditsch (Jesper Malm) informs her that he will give her the benefit of the doubt for the moment about cosying up to the enemy. But Vipsen is dismayed to see her friend with the enemy, even though she knows her father is in poor health in prison.
Having charmed her way into Terboven's bed, Wigert reports back to Akrell, who orders her to pass on the false information that Sweden is preparing to mobilise in order to defend itself. She makes the mistake of slipping the information into a drunken argument between her lover and his subordinates and he sends her home before she has managed to find out anything useful to the C-byrån. He is in love with her, however, and apologises before she can leave and she feels a pang of pity for him when he hurts his arm in a motorcycle crash and they kiss with passion.
A montage shows Wigert creeping around the residency at night to read documents on Terboven's desk and she is soon taking photographs with a miniature camera. But she is appalled by the images of the people executed in reprisal for an act of sabotage at the heavy water plant in Trondheim and wishes she could escape to spend time with Gellert, who wants to take her to New York after the war so she can become a star on Broadway. However, Wigert finds herself more entangled than ever when Terboven asks her to spy for him in Stockholm and she has no choice but to agree, especially after security chief Heinrich Fehlis (Jakob Diehl) takes her to the railway station to see her father taking the train home.
Following the imposition of martial law in Trondeim, Wigert travels to Stockholm and awaits a summons by a man with a little dog. She spends her time with Gellert and is shocked to discover that not only is Von Gossler her contact, but that he knows all about her Hungarian lover. He promises to keep quiet, as he is fond of her. But he also urges her to use her wits to find out who is leaking secrets from the Reichskommissar's office. Adding to the strain is the fact that Akrell wants intelligence on Gellert and Wigert is dismayed to realise that he has taken her on a romantic getaway to a remote island so that he can pass coded messages and photographs of gun emplacements to a mystery midnight caller.
Having recognised Olsson's name on the prints, Wigert goes to see him to ask who has been paying him for such dangerous pictures. He claims to be doing it solely for the money and leaves the photos in a rubbish bin in the park. But, when Wigert tips off Akrell, no one shows and Olsson is murdered in his flat. She hopes that her mission is over and that her parents can be smuggled to safety in Sweden. However, Akrell's handlers want Maria exposed and Wigert is sent to rendezvous with Gellert at a bugged table in a busy bar. He is horrified when she produces some of Olsson's photos and flees before the C-byrån agents can apprehend him and Wigert is terrified that she is now at the mercy of Terboven.
She plans a meeting with Von Gossler, but he catches her off guard and reveals that Finke is Maria and orders her to accompany them to the island hideaway to find Gellert. Realising that he is on her side, Wigert distracts Von Gossler and Finke when she sees a pot boiling on his stove. He also holds back from torching the chalet after he sees his lover inside and she gives him time to hide under the floorboard in an outhouse and then leads Finke and Von Gossler on a search for Gellert's boat so that he can make his getaway in their motor launch.
Akrell reveals in voiceover that they were arrested and that he succeeded in bringing Wigert to Sweden with her parents. She was presented with an engraved lighter from the king, but had to endure accusations of treachery for until she died in 1980. Closing captions note that she worked for the CIA until the end of the war and continued to make films after it. In 1961, she met Gellert in New York, but their moment had passed. Full details of Sonja Wigert's wartime activities were finally released in 2005.
The Nazi occupation of Norway has been examined in numerous films since the Second World War. Keen to show support for their besieged ally, British and American film-makers commended Norwegian resistance in Dorothy Arzner's First Comes Courage (1940), John Farrow's Commandos Strike At Dawn, Harold French's The Day Will Dawn, Spencer Gordon Bennett's They Raid By Night (all 1942), Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness, and Irving Picher's The Moon Is Down (both 1943). In the immediate postwar period, the heroism of the partisans was celebrated in Jean Dréville and Titus Vibe-Müller's Operation Swallow (1948) and Arne Skouen's Oscar-nominated Ni Liv (1957), an account of the agonising ordeal of national icon, Jan Baalsruud, which also inspired Harald Zwart's serviceable 12th Man (2017).
There was something of a lull following Walter Graumann's 633 Squadron (1964) and Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark (1965). But the `now it can be told' format has been frequently dusted down since Hans Petter Moland directed The Last Lieutenant (1993), with Jan Troell's Hamsun (1996), Ole Christian Madsen's Flame and Citron, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg's Max Manus: Man of War (both 2008), Adrian Vitoria's Age of Heroes (2011), Petter Næss's Into the White (2012) and Erik Poppe's The King's Choice (2016) being most recently joined by Ross Clarke's fact-based memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, The Birdcatcher (2019).
While this account of Wigert's selfless heroics is suffused with sincerity, it also bears the brassier influence of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book (2006), as it revels in the glamour of Wigert's showbiz milieu and ratchets up the suspense whenever she undertakes a risky mission. Bearing a noticeable resemblance to Wigert, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal plays her with a restraint that means it isn't always possible to gauge her motives. But fear for her family perhaps drove her more than patriotism, as both the C-byrån and the Nazis essentially held her hostage in order to exploit her for their own ends.
Stylishly dressed by Ulrika Sjölin, Berdal dominates proceedings, with Anton Mertens's camera treating her like a movie star as it frames her against Mikael Varhelyi's evocative interiors. But the supporting cast is admirable, with Johan Widerberg being invidiously ingratiating as Von Gossler and Rolf Lassgård putting some jagged steel into the supposedly neutral spymaster. The dictates of the plot give Damien Chapelle little option but to play Gellert as a suspicious charmer, but the sense of menace dissipates once Alexander Scheer's shortfused Terboven departs the scene, Indeed, Wigert seems to be able to move around Oslo and Stockholm without too much difficulty, although Raf Keunen's score is quick to alert us whenever danger approaches.
Despite losing all interest in Sindling's production of Else (which was never made), Jens Jonsson directs efficiently enough, while the screenplay prevents the complex skein of alliances from becoming too tangled. For all its competence, however, this always feels rather generic and there will be many who would hope that the next film about this aspect of the Second World War is a documentary about the realities of neutrality in Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. That or an in-depth factual study of the conflict's celebrity spies.
SHEPHERD: THE HERO DOG.
There are coincidences and there are contrivances and anyone familiar with Amma Asante's Where Hands Touch (2018) will know exactly what's going to happen in Shepherd: The Hero Dog, Lynn Roth's adaptation of Israeli author Asher Kravitz's novel, The Jewish Dog. There are also echoes here of Richard Lanni's animation, Sgt Stubby: An American Hero (2018), which, itself, shaped its true-life events to resemble those depicted in Steven Spielberg's 2011 take on Michael Morpurgo's Great War tome, War Horse. Yet, for all its convolution and creature cutesiness, this well-meaning melodrama gets its message about the iniquity of the Holocaust across without descending into mawkishness.
In an unnamed German town some time in the 1930s, a German Shepherd named Anya has a litter of puppies. Parents Samuel (Adam Porógi) and Shoshonna Schoenmann (Ayelet Zurer) allow Joshua (August Maturo) and his older sister Rachel (Viktoria Stefanovszky) to keep one because the apartment will otherwise be overrun. Joshua is particularly attached to the youngest pup, Kaleb, so his siblings are given away to bypassers in the park. A number of dogs out for a walk resemble their owners, with a bulldog being accompanied by a Winston Churchill lookalike. But a sneering man with a rottweiler (Bálint Antal) demands to know if the puppies are pure German Shepherd and warns Samuel that cross-breeding should not be tolerated.
By the time Kaleb is fully grown, the local shops have started refusing to serve Jewish customers and Shoshonna gets cross with Samuel for burying his head in the sand. He is certain that things will calm down, but the children are sent home from school after Joshua passes a note to an Aryan girl and Rachel is furious with him for shaming her in front of her friends. Soon afterwards, Mathilde the maid (Piroska Mészáros) is forced to resign by soldiers who accuse hr of abasing herself by having racially inferior employers. However, she takes Anya when a law is passed forbidding Jews from owning pets.
A friend of Samuel's, Frank Heinz (Miklós Kapácsy), agrees to take Kaleb and Joshua is heartbroken. But Greta (Lois Robbins) is appalled at having a Jewish dog in her home and she lets him run away after he shreds her favourite armchair while she's at church. Kaleb makes his way home, but the Schoenmanns have been evicted from their apartment and he eventually gets too hungry to keep up a vigil beneath their window. He joins some street dogs living near a railway siding and they help him find food. When they are attacked by another pack, Kaleb does his bit to fend them off. But the dogs can only look and watch as a group of Hitler Youth burn books and beat up a small Jewish boy.
Moreover, Kaleb is powerless when the dogcatcher nabs him and, as he lies in his cage, he has monochrome flashbacks to happier times with Joshua and the scruffy mutt who had stayed with him after he had fallen ill after drinking from a dirty puddle. He is selected for guard dog training and his handler, Ralph Kessler (Ken Duken), teaches him how to salute when he says `Heil Hitler!'. Under his new name Blitz, Kaleb excels at sniffing out Jews during practice sorties and SS chief Jürgen Klein (Peter Linka) promises Kessler an important assignment when he graduates.
Kessler is sent to a concentration camp and Kaleb catches Joshua's scent even before he disembarks from the cattle truck. The boy tells one of the men in his dormitory that he used to have a German Shepherd and Kaleb lashes out at an SS officer menacing the boy and Kessler has to plead with his superior to stop him from shooting the dog in the head. He realises that the animal has recognised the boy and finds him a job feeding the pigs to keep him away from more dangerous work. Left alone with Kaleb, Joshua climbs into his kennel and hugs him. But he is disturbed by the fear among the older men in his barrack, who would try to escape if it wasn't for the electrified fence.
Urged to steal breadcrumbs from the geese, Joshua risks his life to feed the three men protecting him in the hut, However, Kessler catches him with full pockets after the boy had watched with horror as Kaleb had mauled an escaping Jew. As he is about to execute him, however, Joshua taunts the Nazi with the news he has shown affection for a Jewish dog and the delay saves his life, as a mass breakout takes place and Kessler is knocked cold. Kaleb nuzzles him before showing Joshua a non-electrified piece of fence (which he had noticed when an SS officer had flicked a cigarette on to it and it hadn't sparked). Several others crawl through the barbed wire and hide out in the nearby woods, but one of Joshua's friends, Lerman (Miklós Béres), dies from a gunshot wound before dawn.
Guided by Salzberg (Kristóf Widder), Joshua and Kaleb reach a farmhouse. They steal some clothes off the washing line and think they have stumbled across a kindly couple when they offer food and shelter for the night. But they call the SS and Salzberg is left to face their wrath alone after helping Joshua and his dog to escape through a loose plank in the stable wall. Knowing to head south, Joshua keeps moving and enjoys getting clean in a downpour. He also celebrates a Passover Seder using rocks and leave and wishes that Kaleb could share his emotions with him. But, as they sleep rough, the dog's thoughts hark back to Kessler, who has shown him kindness and brought him to the place where he could reunite with Joshua.
All seems to be going well until Joshua treads on a mine and he becomes separated from Kaleb when the dog goes for help and the boy is found by Sacha Moltovski (Gábor Nagypál) and his unit of Yugoslav partisans. They nurse him back to health, but he risks giving away their position after firing a rifle while being taught how to aim at bottles. However, he proves useful as a decoy during a food raid on a farmhouse and Moltovski uses some of the money he steals to buy Joshua a passage to Palestine.
The smuggler refuses to let Kaleb on the boat, but he jumps into the river and
Joshua plunges into the water to help him. They are both dragged aboard and Joshua wonders what sort of life awaits him and thanks Kaleb for keeping him warm, as the small craft drifts into a pool of moonlight.
Hailing from series television, Lynn Roth made her feature bow with the convent comedy, Changing Habits (1997). However, 12 years elapsed between her adaptation of Amos Oz's Panther in the Basement as The Little Traitor (2007) and this version of Asher Kravitz's bestseller. Film-making has changed a good deal in the interim, however, and this worthy bid to introduce younger viewers to the horrors of the Shoah struggles to bridge the gap between its old-fashioned storytelling values and the demands of a demographic that expects plots to rattle along between spectacular set-pieces.
Roth makes things difficult for herself with a script that often lurches between implausibilities, as it focuses on thinly sketched characters who are never around long enough for the viewers to get to know them. The only constant is Kaleb, who is a beautiful animal that radiates alert intelligence. But even he is saddled with misty monochrome flashbacks to his time with Joshua, Kessler and the scraggy stray who places a paw on top of his own as he recovers from drinking brackish water. Such non-realistic touches are as ill-judged as the jokey shots of owners resembling their pooches in the park, which jar against the efforts to establish the escalating anti-Semitism facing the Schoenmanns and their friends.
These are mostly played by Eastern European performers, who give the action some aural authenticity, However, the line readings are somewhat inconsistent, with Lois Robbins regrettably hitting a pantomimic tone as Frau Heinz that extends into the playing of the Nazis, with the honourable exception of Ken Duken. But there's no getting round the fact that young August Maturo's limited television experience and a feature bow in Corin Hardy's The Nun (2018) leave him ill-prepared for the pivotal role as Joshua. Consequently, it's hard to discern the intrepidity and resourcefulness required to survive in the occupied wilds and the picture's credibility suffers as a result.
Rita Dévényi's production design, Mária Fatér's costumes and Gábor Szabó's photography are all admirable, while Wlad Marhulets's score is eminently suitable for a film that forever seeks to shape the audience's response to Kaleb and Joshua's plight. Maybe the plausibility issues would have been less apparent in an animated adaptation. As it is, they undermine the best of intentions at every turn.
ANNE AT 13,000 FEET.
It says much for the tenacity of the movie community that it has striven valiantly to give the impression of business going on as usual throughout lockdown. Who knows, initiatives like the Stay Home Film Festival might catch on? The good folks behind Canada Now would probably have preferred to see their 2020 selection showing on big screens. But Curzon Home has stepped in to ensure that UK audiences can catch up with such highlights as Kazik Radwanski's third feature, Anne At 13,000 Feet. In the circumstances, it's a pity they couldn't have forked out for the rights to its predecessors, Tower (2012) and How Heavy This Hammer (2015), too.
Twentysomething Anne (Deragh Campbell) works as an assistant at a daycare centre in an unnamed Canadian town and seems to have an instinctive rapport with her charges, as she shows them how to hold butterflies. However, she is prone to moments of recklessness, with one father being furious when Anne soaks his son, Oliver (Oliver Gibson), in a paddling pool. Senior teacher Christina (Suzanne Pratley) also has issues with Anne's slapdash approach to safety and ticks her off after she had been telling her group about skydiving at a hen party thrown for Sarah (Dorothea Paas), who also works at the centre.
Judging by the concern shown by Barb (Lawrene Denkers), when she comes to visit her daughter at her new apartment in a building with graffiti scrawled on the corridor walls, Anne has recently recovered from some sort of emotional trauma. But she insists she's fine and doesn't need cossetting. Having made a girl cry during a drawing session, however, Anne is reminded of the need to think before she speaks by her boss, Sally (Theresa Radwanski), who listens patiently, as Anne complains that Christine is forever hovering over her and preventing her from making lessons fun for the kids.
After shouting down to Sarah in the playground from the centre roof, Anne confides that she felt such exhilaration during her jump that she has signed up for a skydiving course. She also goes a date and jokes that the affable insurance salesman she's meeting looks nothing like his photo on the website. But her quirky sense of humour gets her into trouble at the daycare when Christine ticks her off for having hot tea in the play area and Anne throws the empty cardboard cup at her to prove it's all gone. Sally takes a dim view of the fact that Anne tried to stuff the cup down the front of Christine's top and suggests that they introduce a weekly review to monitor her performance and behaviour.
Barb finds Anne asleep on her sofa with her dog and reminds her that she can come home at any time. But Anne insists that she can stand on her own feet and leaves in a huff. At Sarah's wedding, she makes a speech as maid of honour and thanks her for looking out for her at work and for not judging her. Sidling over, Matt (Matt Johnson) congratulates her and they drink and, much to Sarah's surprise, dance together. Whateve his ulterior motives might have been, he brings her water when she throws up in the bathroom and is gallant enough to nod when she claims it must have been something she ate. Matt also helps Anne back to her hotel room and leaves her to sleep it off.
Following a session in which Oliver discusses his obsession with sharks, Anne receives an apology from his father for losing his temper over the pool incident and she agrees to babysit Oliver later in the week. While on the metro, a stranger tells Anne that she has a price tag sticking out from her dress and we are left to wonder whether she goes shoplifting when we later see her being followed around a store by an attentive assistant.
Much to his surprise, Anne takes Matt to meet her family, who weren't expecting a visit. They chat awkwardly and Anne seems highly amused by their discomfort. When they next hook up, he admonishes her for putting him in such a difficult position by telling her mother and sister that they were going to get married when they have only just started casual dating. Anne dismisses his concerns, but her inability to read between the lines causes further annoyance at work, when Sarah upbraids her for discussing personal stuff around the kids.
Anne minds Oliver and he manages to stay up past his bedtime by setting her quiz questions she can't answer. When his father gets home, he offers Anne a glass of wine. But she gets the jitters and Matt is taken aback when she shows up on his doorstep. They spend the night together, but Anne gets an early call asking her to do an replacement shift and Matt has to give her a lift. She criticises him for driving too fast, only to be reprimanded for being late.
During a Show and Tell session, Anne tells her group about her cat dying after lapping up the mercury from a broken garden thermometer and she gets so upset when Oliver and the others laugh that she retreats to the roof and resists even Sarah's efforts to console her. When Sarah drives her round to Barb's, Anne twice opens the car door in her determination to jump out and her friend becomes exasperated.
Anne wakes at home and is pleased to find her young nephew, Nathan (Nathan Granger) clambering over her with some toy cars, as he accepts her for who she is. Some time later, having had a few puffs on a joint to calm her down, Anne does a solo sky dive. But, as was the case when she showed Matt phone footage of her first jump, we don't get to see her land.
As she demonstrated in playing Audrey Benac in Sofia Bohdanowicz's MS Slavic 7 (2019), Deragh Campbell is a fine actress and her performance in this tightly wound naturalist drama is all the more remarkable because of the fragmented nature of the action. In addition to keeping Nikolay Michaylov's relentlessly restless handheld camera so close to her that it feels as though it's strapped to her like a co-jumper in her spiralling descent, Kazik Radwanski also has editor Ajla Odobasic compose scenes like moving mosaics in order to convey the skittish sense of dislocation that makes it so difficult for Anne and those she encounters to cope with brittle behaviour that veers alarmingly between prickly playfulness and gauche vulnerability.
Given the entirety of the focus on Anne, the nonprofessional supporting players register as best they can in seemingly improvised situations whose eggshell unpredictability test the patience of even such sympathetic characters as Barb, Sarah and Matt. Freed from having to accommodate Anne's erratic lurches and eschewal of boundaries, Suzanne Pratley is splendidly stern as the senior colleague who doesn't see why she should have to babysit a socially unaware woman-child when she has dozens of other kids to worry about. But this is very much Campbell's showcase, as her volatile shifts from impishness to peevishness are as uncompromising as Radwanski's audacious aesthetic.
CARMINE STREET GUITARS.
Since debuting with a study of free jazz in Imagine the Sound (1981), Canadian documentarist has been chronicling the popular culture of his time. He focused on literature in Poetry in Motion (1982), Comic Book Confidential (1988) and In the Wake of the Flood (2010), which accompanied Margaret Atwood on a book tour. In Go Further (2003), he joined Woody Harrelson on the Simple Organic Living Tour and became a day tripper in Grass (1999) and Know Your Mushrooms (2008). However, Mann has also had a penchant for profiling craftsmen who do things a bit differently, including artist-cum-car designer Ed Roth in Tales of the Rat Fink (2006) and film-maker Robert Altman in Altman (2014). Now, he adds Rick Kelly to the roster in Carmine Street Guitars (2018).
Guitar maker Rick Kelly has been doing customised business at 42 Carmine Street in New York's Greenwich Village since 1991. He is currently assisted by his 93 year-old mother, Dorothy (who does the dusting and answers the landline), and 25 year-old Cindy Hulej, the punk apprentice who specialises in wood burning. One Monday, he tells Travis and Dallas Good of The Sadies that he only uses wood reclaimed from 19th-century buildings, which he calls `the bones of New York'. They are suitably awed when Travis tries out a wormy chestnut guitar to play `The Only Good One', while Cindy posts some `guitar porn' on Instagram to give this very traditional analogue shop an online presence.
Lenny Kaye from The Patti Smith Band drops in to learn that the guitar he has brought in for repair had been built from white pine from the old Lincoln Hotel in the Bowery. Kelly recalls coming to the East Village from Long Island and saw Jimi Hendrix play when he was still Jimmy James. He jokes that he doesn't do computers and Cindy is amused by the fact that he doesn't own a mobile phone or have an Internet connection at home. But he is in no hurry to venture into the 21st century and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell is grateful that he has stuck with the design pioneered by Leo Fender with his Telecaster in the 1950s. They reminisce about their first guitars and Frisell recalls The Astronauts playing surf music in Denver and Kelly looks on as he plays a sublime light vibrato version of the Beach Boy classic, `Surfer Girl'.
Tuesday dawns with a shot of a guitar with a Traveling Wilbury burn design that doesn't quite get Bob Dylan right and doesn't come close to capturing George Harrison. Cindy tells actress Eszter Balint (who is best known for Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, 1984) how she was inspired by her carpenter father and was amazed when she walked into the shop to ask for a job and Kelly took her on and trusted her. She tells Balint that she built the guitar on which she's playing `Long Gone' and she is suitably impressed.
Kelly takes Dave Hill from Valley Lodge to see his wood store and explains how the resins have the resins have crystalised to create tiny air spaces that gives each piece of wood a distinctive sonic vibrance. He points out a plank from the Chumley's speakeasy on 86 Bedford Street and reveals it as the origin of the term `86'd' for being drunk. After recalling the grim fate of the eight prostitutes who killed themselves at McGurk's Suicide Hall in the Bowery, Kelly admits to having acquired a scarred beam from the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral by telling the cop on duty after the blaze that the monsignor had told him he could scavenge.
His ambition is to get some wood from McSorley's Old Ale House, which is the oldest bar in New York. As luck would have it, Kelly has an appointment there that afternoon and he returns in triumph with a plank to tell Cindy that people have been spilling beer on that wood for over 160 years. Over a burst of electric guitar from The Sadies, we see Kelly working the wood before he tells Kirk Douglas from The Roots that he inherited his grandfather's tools, as well as his insistence on keeping a messy workbench because he needs to know where everything is. Douglas describes a guitar with a black jag of lightning on the body and Kelly remembers making it. It has Jeff Beck's signature on the back. `I love the simplicity of the guitar,' Douglas coos before ripping into a splendidly dexterous riff. `One pickup. Wood. Electricity. Boom.'
As Cindy looks through Kelly's sketchbooks from the 1970s and purrs over some of the esoteric designs, Jim Jarmusch comes in (billed as a member of Sqürl rather than as a film-maker) and asks Kelly to repair a guitar made from catalpa wood. They discuss trees and the fact that species are losing their ability to resist bugs and Kelly reminisces about lying on a bed redwood needles and gazing up at the canopy. There's a tree right outside the shop and someone has tethered a bicycle to it. But Kelly keeps his in the backroom, where he's busy varnishing the McSorley's guitar when Niels Cline from Wilco pays a call to find a 50th birthday present for bandmate, Jeff Tweedy.
Cindy is concerned that the adjoining building (where Jackson Pollock once lived) has sold for $6 million, but Kelly is confident that the landlord likes having him around. Christine Bougie from Bahamas tries out a lap steel on `I Can Never Remember His Face', Kelly likes the sound and they muse on the relationship that a musician develops with their instrument. He claims that one of Andrés Segovia's guitars only sounds good when someone plays the master's music rather than something of their own.
Stewart Hurwood recalls the guitars that Kelly built for Lou Reed and how he used to tune his strings to his own specific register. When he died, Hurwood suggested using his guitars rather than putting them in a museum and the result was Drones, which Hurwood staged to much acclaim at the Brighton Festival. Eleanor Friedberger pops by to perform a fitting rendition of `I Am the Past' on the Wilbury guitar and tell Ciindy about starting out when her brother, Matthew (the other half of The Fiery Furnaces), bought her a guitar when she was 18. She asks Cindy whether she has to put up with much chauvinism as a girl guitar maker, but she laughs it off because she knows she's good at what she does.
Jamie Hince of The Kills tells Kelly how he had to re-learn how to play after losing the use of a finger after trapping his hand in a car door. He suggests trying a guitar with a wider neck and Hince takes to it immediately, as he plays the complex riffs of `Echo Home' with enviable ease and jokes that he wishes he had bought this rather than wasting his time doing painful and time-consuming physiotherapy. His Home Counties Mockney contrasts with the brash Noo Yawk of realtor David Shalom when he comes in to introduce himself, as he is selling the building next door. Marc Ribot hopes that Kelly can stay in situ for a long time to come, as so many good shops are disappearing. They lament the passing of people and places, either side of some improvised licks, and they celebrate being part of the musical community.
Cindy celebrates her fifth year with the store and gets emotional because Kelly has changed her life. He's glad he has been able to pass on his skills to someone who cares and they tuck into a guitar-shaped chocolate cake with her friend, Jimmy Webb (but not the one who wrote `MacArthur Park', which also features a cake, of course). The McSorley's guitar is finished and Kelly sweeps up to play a little sad solo in his workshop.
It's Friday and Dorothy is still having problems making the photograph of Robert Quine hang straight on the wall. Charlie Sexton of Bob Dylan's band comes in to try the McSorley and he's enchanted with it. He jokes that he was once told he was doomed to poverty the moment he picked up his first guitar and Kelly admits he has to keep working because he needs to pay bills and because he can't imagine doing anything else. Sexton plays bluesy pieces entitled `Cindy' and `Rick', as Kelly reflects that making guitars is more than a passion, it's his life. And long may it continue.
Ending with Mann's trademark credit, `No hippies were harmed in the making of this movie,' this gem of a documentary draws to a close. What a crying shame there isn't a soundtrack album. The Monday-Friday structure imposed by writer Len Blum feels a bit trite, while the guileless awkwardness of several exchanges suggests that little of the action was caught on the hoof. Indeed, some of the guests are more wooden than the joists Kelly repurposes. But who cares? This is a delightful insight into a master craftsman at work with his devoted and talented apprentice. Luthiery hasn't been this captivating on screen since François Girard's The Red Violin (1998).
While chatting with Cindy, Friedberger reveals that one of the first songs she learned to play was Nirvana's `Smells Like Teen Spirit'. Maybe Mann should look into putting out an Aroma-Rama version of this lovely film, as the combination of sawdust, varnish and singed wood would be intoxicating.
Little needs to be said about the technical aspect, as cinematographers Becky Parsons and John M. Tran capably capture the intimate clutter of the workshop, as well as the welcoming atmosphere of the unfussily furnished shop space. The softly spoken Kelly comes across as a white-haired genial, who enjoys seeing his guitars in capable hands. Each musician clearly recognises the quality of the work and the reverence with which they play often leaves this artisanal testimonial feeling like a religious experience.