• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (30/9/2022)

(Reviews of In Front of Your Face; The Greatest Beer Run Ever; Girls Girls Girls; Midwives; and Love Around the World)


IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.


South Korea's Hong Sang-soo should be one of those directors that distributors clamour over. Since debuting with The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (1998), he has made 28 features. But far too few of them have reached UK screens outside the festival circuit and it's deeply frustrating that Introduction failed to find any takers after winning the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival. Thankfully, New Wave has landed Hong's second film of 2021, In Front of Your Face, which will touch anyone who has learned to admire his distinctive brand of existential dramedy.


After years of living in the United States, Sang-ok (Lee Hye-young) has returned to Seoul to see her sister, Jeon-ok (Jo Yoon-hee). From the way she touches her abdomen and whispers in her head what amount to small prayers, it's clear that Sang-ok is ailing. But she says nothing, even when Jeon-ok frets about how thin she has become.


They take breakfast in a café overlooking a lake and lament how little they know of each other's lives. Jeon-ok still resents the fact that Sang-ok left for America with a man she barely knew and is puzzled by her sudden return. Sang-ok explains that she has been running a liquor store in Seattle since abandoning her acting career and has spent most of her money on rent. She has no regrets, however, and is keen to see her nephew, Seung-won (Shin Seok-ho), again.


Walking through the park, they stop for a selfie by some flowers and ask a passer-by to take it. She recognises Sang-ok from the television and Jeon-ok hopes that her afternoon appointment with film director Jae-won (Kwon Hae-hyo) will lead to a part. Sang-ok enjoys the peace and quiet of the river babbling over some stepping stones. But she can't resist having a quick smoke under an ornamental bridge, as she intones another prayer to allow her to appreciate the world and stay in the present rather than dwelling in the past or stressing about the future.


They order some tteok-bokki from Seung-won's girlfriend (Kang Yi-seo) and Sang-ok spills some of the spicy red broth on her pink top. She can't remove it, but decides against going home to change before her meeting. As they leave, Seung-won catches up with them and gives his aunt a new leather wallet as a gift. He hopes they can meet again during her stay.


Taking a taxi to the restaurant, Sang-ok makes a detour to her old home. It has been converted into a boutique and the owner (Kim Sae-byuk) offers her plum tea and a seat in the garden to enjoy a cigarette. As she wanders through the rooms, Sang-ok chides herself for harking back and vows to only see what is in front of her face. She gives the owner's six year-old daughter a hug and leaves.


Sang-ok meets Jae-won and his assistant (Ha Seong-guk) at a bar called `Novel' and send out for Chinese food and liquor. Jae-won describes scenes from two of Sang-ok's films from the early 1990s and she is touched that he has remained a fan. He hopes to make a film with her, but has yet to start on the screenplay. However, Sang-ok only has five or six months to live and she laughs while trying to console the crestfallen Jae-won. Plucking at an old guitar, she leaves him to sob and slip outside to smoke.


She joins him and he pats her on the shoulder, as she lights up. Back inside, Sang-ok reveals that she had once contemplated suicide and had been dissuaded by the faces outside Seoul Station. Now, with death being so close, she has used the beauty of the world to give her strength and the belief that Heaven is just in front of her face to carry on. Jae-won asks Sang-ok to make a short film with him and suggests they spend a couple of days on the road and edit on his computer. Smilingly, she agrees and asks if he hopes to sleep with her on their travels and he nods (even though he's happily married).


His assistant returns to drive them home and Jae-won tidies up before they go. They shuffle down a narrow alley under a blue umbrella and Sang-ok pats her companion on the back. Next morning, with the rain still falling, she gets a voice message from Jae-won apologising for making a promise he can't keep and Sang-ok laughs heartily as she plays it a second time. She wanders over to the bed where her sister is sleeping and asks if she is dreaming.


While very much recognisable as a Hong Sang-soo film, there is much more to this exquisite short story than the usual earnest discussions over alcohol filmed in lengthy static takes. Sang-ok's situation makes her more direct and emotionally open than is customary in the often playfully enigmatic encounters that Hong typically favours. She has reconciled herself to her fate and doesn't want to waste time on caprices and secrets. Yet she can't hurry her sister into divulging the contents of her dream because she believes it is bad luck to reveal them before noon.


A singer who became a household name on Korean television from 1995 before all but quitting acting after launching a fashion label, Lee Hye-young is simply wonderful, as she dying woman who refuses to believe she has nothing left to live for. Her poised stillness makes her unrestrained laughter all the more poignant, as she banishes melancholy in recognising the ridiculousness of both Jae-won's pomposity and the overall human condition. Few achieve such profundity with such deftness (and in only 32 shots). But that's why Hong's films make for essential viewing.


THE GREATEST BEER RUN EVER.


Peter Farrelly's Green Book (2018) was one of the most divisive Best Picture winners of recent times and he's bound to be on another collision course with The Greatest Beer Run Ever. Sharing a 1960s setting with its predecessor, as well as some slick production values, this adaptation of a memoir by John `Chickie' Donahue meanders through its story with a sleepwalker's logic. But it has next to nothing to say about prevailing socio-political attitudes then and now.


Merchant seaman John `Chickie' Donahue (Zac Efron) lives with his parents (Paul Adelstein and Shirleyann Kaladjian) and grandmother (Anabel Graetz) in the Inwood district of Manhattan. It's 1967 and several of Chickie's friends are serving in Vietnam. Younger sister Christine (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis) opposes the war, but Chickie agrees with The Colonel (Bill Murray), who runs his favourite bar, that those in uniform are patriots protecting the country from a dastardly foe.


One night, Chickie boasts that he will take a ship to Saigon and distribute beers to his pals at the front. His buddies know he's just shooting the breeze, but the local mothers with sons in country ask him to carry messages and small gifts to reassure them that they are not alone. Reluctant to back out, Chickie lands an oiler's berth on a cargo ship carrying munitions and spins the skipper a yarn about needing to see a stepbrother in order to secure a 72-hour furlough.


With a bag packed with Pabst Blue Ribbon slung over his shoulder, Chickie seeks out the nearest MP station. As luck would have it, he finds Tommy Collins (Archie Renaux), who is chuffed to see him and introduces him to the fellers. Their fun is interrupted by a gruff sergeant, only for him to mistake Chickie for a CIA operative and withdraw his objection to the party. Collins breaks the news about a couple of Inwood casualties and suggests that Chickie heads home before he gets into serious trouble.


But he wangles a lift to a chopper base, where he pulls the CIA shtick on the mustard-keen Lieutenant Habershaw (Matt Cook) in order to get himself on a flight to LZ Jane. Needing to find somewhere to kill a few hours, Chickie gets directions to the Caravelle Hotel from Hieu (Kevin K. Tran), a traffic cop with a passion for Fred Zinnemann's 1955 film of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma!


While drinking in the bar, Chickie loses his temper with the journalists sniping about comments made on the TV news by President Lyndon B. Johnson and General William

Westmoreland. He asks why they don't cover the positive stories to boost morale back home and is reassured by Look magazine's war correspondent Arthur Coates (Russell Crowe) that they are trying to tell truths that the Establishment want suppressed.


The next morning, Chickie flies into the war zone to surprise Rick Duggan (Jake Picking). He takes exception to having to run the gamut after being summoned from a foxhole and demands to know what the hell his friend thinks he's doing. As there's nowhere else for him to go, Chickie has to spend the night in a trench with Duggan and his unit. They appreciate the beer, but think he's nuts for coming all this way and putting himself at risk for a gesture of friendship.


As they part with a manly hug the next morning, Chickie finds himself on a chopper with a real CIA agent, who tips the Viet Cong soldier he has been interrogating into the forest. Realising that he has seen something untoward, Chickie refuses a lift at the base and has to lay low in the jungle when a search party is dispatched to retrieve him. Wandering along a dirt road to the next nearest outpost, he sees a woman whisk her small child away from him as he tries to play with her.


Stumbling in the darkness, Chickie encounters a herd of elephants as a jeep approaches. By sheer coincidence, its passenger is old pal Kevin McLoone (Will Ropp), who agrees to ferry him to the base so he can return to Saigon in one piece. Unfortunately, his ship has sailed and Hieu has to guided Chickie to the US Embassy so he can arrange a catch-up flight to Manila. As it's Vietnamese New Year's Eve, he ventures back to the hotel, where Coates and the other reporters are surprised to see him. They are astonished when he shows them a photo taken with Duggan's unit and informs them that a three-day ceasefire has been nothing but a sham.


Suddenly, the hotel comes under fire and Chickie follows Coates into the street as he takes pictures. He finds Hieu's corpse outside the Embassy and watches in dismay as a US tank fires into a perimeter wall so that it can later accuse the Viet Cong of launching a deadly attack on diplomatic personnel. Appalled by the chaos and the carnage, Chickie commandeers a parked car to investigate an explosion at an arms depot, as his buddy Bobby Pappas (Kyle Allen) is based there. Coates takes the wheel and uses his press pass to get past the guards.


Chickie finds Pappas in the sickbay and gives him his beer. He can't believe that anyone would jeopardise themselves for such a fool's errand. But he recognises that Chickie has been crushed by the news his best friend, Tommy Minogue (Will Hochman) has been found after being listed as missing in action. Coates tells Chickie to say what he's seen when he returns Stateside and he puts The Colonel straight when he insists that the Viet Cong are on a par with the Second World War Axis.


He also returns the rosary beads that Mrs Minogue (Kristin Carey) had asked him to give Tommy. She hugs Chickie when he apologises for having talked her son into signing up and Christine proves just as sympathetic when her brother turns up at the memorial shrine and presents her with the last beer from his bag. She is proud of him for having taken his pals a little home cheer. But she is also relieved that he has seen the war for what it is and won't be fooled again.


Played with spirit by Zac Efron and photographed with a palpable sense of time and place by Sean Porter, this is a splendidly slick piece of Hollywood entertainment. Given its subject matter, however, and the connection between 1960s wartime patriotism and 2020s Trumpist populism, it should also have been much more. Farrelly and co-writers Brian Currie and Pete Jones know what the issues are, but they adopt the patronising tactic of skirting them at some points while hammering them home at others. The result is a film that keeps lurching from 80s frat house buffoonery to neo-Capracornian sermonising.


As lunkheads go, Chickie is genial enough and his enterprise is quixotically well meaning. However, it's also reckless and boorishly ignorant of the realities being faced by the American forces and the peoples of North and South Vietnam. Farrelly could point out that he is satirising the way in which the public is duped by a compliant media and the fact that millennial America continues to cling on to notions of superpower supremacy. But these are hardly revelatory insights, with the absurdity of the war having been explored more edgily in pictures like Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).


The logistics of Chickie's redemptive odyssey are depicted with a wry wit that echoes Joseph Heller's observations in Catch-22. But Farrelly lacks his forensic finesse, with the result that the `hero' comes across as an immature, entitled and self-absorbed jerk, while the picture lumbers between repetitive reunions that fail to concede that Chickie's pals aren't that pleased to see him because they've got more important things on their mind (like survival) than a beer with a buddy who has dodged their predicament by doing four years at a non-combat base somewhere in the Mid-West.


The real Chickie Donohue's friends might have felt very differently and the closing snapshots of the veteran crew affirms that the affection remains undiminished. But, in the film context, such reverencing of old school neighbourhood bonding smacks of the same superficial nostalgicisation that informs sentimental soundtrack choices like The Association's version of `Cherish'. Moreover, it suggests that America learned little from the moral catastrophe it came so close to repeating under George W. Bush, who infamously saw less of Vietnam than Chickie.


GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.


Finnish director Alli Haapasalo has been making shorts for two decades. But Girls Girls Girls (aka Girl Picture) is only her second feature after Love and Fury (2016). Scripted by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen and photographed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio familiar from silent movies and early TV shows, this has an intimacy to match its narrative ambition, as we follow the fates of a teenage trio over three consecutive Fridays.


At the same time that Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) is explaining to Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) why school sport is a waste of time, Emma (Linnea Leino) is desperately trying to perfect a figure skating routine in the hope she'll be selected for the upcoming European championships. Still feeling down, she takes out her frustrations on Mimmi at the mall smoothie bar where she and Rönkkö have part-time jobs. Despite the tension, Mimmi senses and attraction and persuades Rönkkö to go to the birthday party to which Emma has been invited.


Although reluctant to waste her time with suburban boys because she is having trouble feeling any sensations during sex, Rönkkö agrees to go. She finds a spangly silver dress that Mimmi's mother gave to her and she arrives at the party seeking to pull. However, she winds up slumped in the bath after an awkward punch bowl conversation about Moomin mugs and sperm donations.


While Rönkkö has an unsatisfactory manual encounter with a boy who had been blown off by the girlfriend who had refused to fellate him, Mimmi and Emma beat a hasty retreat after the latter fears the party is getting out of control. As they drive across the city, Mimmi asks why Emma is so passionate about skating and she pulls over to give her a demonstration under a streetlight. Overwhelmed, Mimmi whisks Emma off to a nightclub and they kiss passionately on the dance floor.


A week later, Mimmi and Emma are in bed, causing the latter to be late for training. She's sent home by the coach and has to promise to put in some extra training to work on her triple Lutz. Rönkkö is amused by the fact that Emma tries hard during a school basketball game and teases her about sex turning her into a different person. At the smoothie bar, Mimmi blushes as she describes being with Emma and she urges Rönkkö to tell boys what she wants when they are alone together.


That night, Rönkkö goes with some other friends to a party hosted by Sipi (Amos Brotherus), while Emma asks Mimmi if she can accompany her to a birthday party for her stepbrother, Lionel (Yassin El Sayed). She explains how she struggled to cope after her mother, Saana (Oona Airola), divorced and had a baby. But they get along much better since she started taking medication to regulate her moods.


Mimmi is upset by Saana forgetting she had invited her to the party and even more disappointed when Emma turns down the invitation to spend the night because she has to skate. Meanwhile, Rönkkö shoots Sipi during a capture the flag game at his parents' sprawling house and they tumble into bed in a nearby cabin. However, he is turned off by her constant suggestions and she finds herself ostracised for the rest of the evening.


The following Friday, Mimmi and Rönkkö are working at the smoothie stand and discussing Alain Resnais's Last Year At Marienbad (1961) and Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). Emma comes to ask why Mimmi has been ghosting her and they have a make-up hug. Feeling left out, Rönkkö asks regular customer Jarmo (Mikko Kauppila) if he wants to go for a date and he is only to happy to accept.


Emma takes Mimmi to the rink and storms off when her coach ticks her off for fooling around on the ice. They spend the afternoon in the hotel room provided by the championship sponsors and Mimmi gets spooked by Emma's readiness to throw away her dream. Indeed, when Emma tells Mimmi she loves her at a nightclub, she hooks up with a couple of blokes and flirts with them.


Meanwhile, Rönkkö's date goes well after a sticky start over a spicy kebab. She kisses Jarmo and suggests the go somewhere quiet. As she strips off, however, and starts describing all the online porn antics she thinks he'll want to do, she throws up over his chest and rushes to the bathroom. She dresses quickly, but is persuaded to spend the night and is touched when Jarmo passes her a glass of water.


Mimmi and Emma wind up eating junk food at a loft apartment. Their host tells Mimmi's fortune and Emma calls her a weathervane who changes her mind without considering other people's feelings. Nettled, Mimmi asks for a guided tour and throws herself at her startled host at the top of the stairs. The humiliated Emma screams and smashes a vase before storming out and telling a penitent Mimmi to keep away from her.


As Saturday dawns, Rönkkö ventures sheepishly into Jarmo's kitchen to apologise. He makes light of it and is disappointed when she doesn't let him kiss her goodbye. At the mall, Mimmi watches on her phone as Emma falls in her first programme. She pretends not to care and gets into an argument with Rönkkö and is arrested for smashing items on the counter. Appreciating her distress, the policewoman lets her off with a caution and understands when Mimmi refuses to leave until Saana comes to collect her. They hug, as Mimmi admits to missing the time when there was just the two of them.


After a pep talk from her coach about balancing her skating and her private life, Emma excels and is selected for the championships. She joins the celebrations, but her mind is elsewhere. Mimmi sees her through the window and tentatively sidles over. Emma reaches for her hand, as Mimmi whispers something. Elsewhere at the same party, Rönkkö plays table football against the guy with whom she'd discussed Moomin mugs and sperm. Having agreed to a rematch, she joins Mimmi and Emma, as they chatter happily on the couch.


Containing echoes of everything from Lukas Moodysson's Show Me Love (1998) to Elie Grappe's Olga (2021), this is a buoyant study of young womanhood that just a lacks a touch of Céline Sciamma's finesse. The omission of `coming out' angst in Mimmi and Emma's romance is most refreshing, as is the refusal to saddle Rönkkö with a conventional happy ever after, as she concludes that her sexuality is still a work in progress.


By only showing the events occurring on four days, Ahti and Hakulinen risk making things seem rather rushed. Indeed, Haapasalo and editor Samu Heikkilä's penchant for montages reinforces this impression, as does the reliance on dance floor sequences to convey Mimmi and Emma's burgeoning emotions. However, the love-making scenes have an unabashed energy and emotional frankness that can also be found in Mimmi and Rönkkö's insouciant heart-to-hearts.


Aamu Milonoff chime together well Eleonoora Kauhanen, while Linnea Leino's skating skills compensate for the sketchiness of her character. Indeed, only Mimmi is given anything approaching a home life and that is highly unusual, as she seems emancipated in a flat away from her remarried mother. But at least we're spared disapproving parents or sniping mean girls, while the boys are cannily left in such a Bechdel haze that only one is definitively named.


MIDWIVES.


Having trained at film schools in Myanmar and Germany, Snow Hnin Ei Hliang has freelanced as a director, producer, editor, and sound recordist. Despite the restrictions imposed by the ruling military, she has worked on documentaries tackling such contentious topics as poverty, human trafficking, female empowerment, LGBTQ+ rights, HIV/AIDS treatment, and monastic education. She has also directed such factual shorts as Burmese Butterfly (2011) and Period@Period (2016), which have played at festivals worldwide. Now, Snow makes her feature bow with Midwives, which took five years to make in her home state of Rakhine on the border with Bangladesh.


It's here that Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim community lives in the face of a government- driven ethnic cleansing campaign that has accounted for tens of thousands of deaths since 2016. Around a million people have been forced into exile, with the United Nations declaring the Rohingya among the most persecuted minorities on the planet. Even someone as committed to their profession as Buddhist midwife Hla lets slip racist digs at her Muslim trainee, Nyo Nyo, in a small western village.


Hla's first apprentice, Nyo Nyo is a wife and mother who dreams of moving closer to her sister in Yangon. Hla's husband suggests she moves there for three months to pick up some basic nursing techniques. But Nyo Nyo can't get a travel visa and Hla questions whether she is committed to helping people or getting rich. She certainly derives little pleasure from her home life or from the fact her sons are struggling to get an education.


There are also regular Buddhist street protests demanding the removal of the `Muslim terrorists' and we see footage of Rohingyas fleeing into the paddyfields from those burning their settlements. Hla is also concerned that those who support the Muslims are also being targeted, as she can't neglect the patients she feels duty bound to help. However, she is forced to close the clinic after rumours spread she had been raped in a Rohingya village and she has to sell fish and popsicles in order to survive.


Despite witnessing the plight facing Nyo Nyo and her people, Hla uses racist insults when chiding her that are just as pernicious as the pop songs her husband watches on television, whose lyrics denounce the corruption of ethnic purity and pine for a time when Rakhine will belong solely to decent Buddhists. Nyo Nyo hates the songs and the way Hla's spouse orders her around, even when she is giving Hla's mother a booster shot. She has trouble pronouncing Snow's name, but urges her to stay single because men are useless.


Ten months after plotting to leave for Yongon, Nyo Nyo has a daughter on Eid and Hla teases her for forgetting how to give birth. Realising she must stay in the village, Nyo Nyo sets up a credit union and prepares to open her own clinic. Hla is annoyed, however, as she will take patients away and lacks the experience to provide proper care. So, when Nyo Nyo brings her baby for medicine at five months, Hla initially treats her with the same disdain she shows to many Rohingya patients. But she can't stay cross for long and the pair seem to reconnect over the child's welfare.


Time passes and the conflict between the Rakhine and Myanmar forces intensifies. Travel in the region becomes perilous, so Nyo Nyo presses on with her clinic. Her husband makes the space so big, however, that she has room to open a grocery store. Meanwhile, Hla is mourning the loss of her mother, although she is glad to have Snow's footage of her. She is also proud of Nyo Nyo for making a success of her clinic, even though she chides her for the way she stocks her medical supplies. They pose for selfies and seem to be good friends again.


On 1 February 2021, the military stages a coup to oust Aung San Suu Kyi and protests are brutally suppressed. Closing captions reveal that 50 children are among the 1300 to have been killed, while 11,120 have been arrested and warrants issued for a further 1964. Around a million Rohingyas live in camps outside Myanmar, but Nyo Nyo and her daughter are thriving and she has hopes that she can one day study in the capital and also become a midwife.


Although childbirth plays its part, this intriguing documentary is primarily a study of cross-cultural compassion and how it can thrive even in the face of grassroots bigotry. Hla is no saint, as her constant use of the slur `klar' demonstrates. She also has a sharp tongue and short fuse. But she also has enviable courage. Moreover, her heart is in the right place and her work means the world to her. Consequently, she wants Nyo Nyo to take up her mantel and do something to ease the burdens placed upon women across the Buddhist-Muslim divide. For her part, Nyo Nyo matures over the period Snow Hnin Ei Hliang was filming, as she came to value her role in the community over any get-rich schemes she might have pursued in Yongon.


Clearly restricted in what she could film because of the street protests and the fighting in the hills, Snow makes adept use of a drone to capture some evocative shots of Buddhist temples rising out of the morning mist. She also conveys the contrasting living conditions of the two midwives. But the film's greatest strength is its equanimity, as it takes each woman at face value and resolutely avoids making any judgements. Some might complain about the episodic structure, but the imposition of a contrived narrative would have diminished the sense of immediacy that Snow manages to achieve, despite filming over such a protracted period.


A bit more information on the status of women within the two communities might not have gone amiss. But this offers valuable insights into the situation behind the headlines and reminds us that everyday intolerance is at the root of so many ongoing conflicts.


LOVE AROUND THE WORLD.


Most newlyweds find they have enough on their plates in setting up home and learning how to co-exist. But Croatian couple Andela and Davor Rostuhar decided to put domesticity on hold and spend a year making a cross-continental journey to ask other people how they came to be an item. The results can be found in Love Around the World, a bittersweet survey that contains plenty of poignant stories without revealing all that much about attraction, courtship or commitment.


We hear about meet cutes, arranged matches and the odd case of love at first sight. Some were underage and had to wait to come together, others had to let divorce courts do their work. Amusingly, one man had three days to state his case before a woman's fiancé returned (and she howls with laughter beside him, while still feeling sorry for the chap she jilted).


In most cases, it's the man who does most of the talking, although a woman in full niqab gets to explain that pressure is rarely placed on a girl to accept a match. Some couples share sweet stories of billets doux and the slow dawning of quickened heartbeats. One man reveals that he kidnapped his bride after she rejected his proposal, while an African woman relates how she ran away to a women's shelter after she was betrothed to an elderly man with AIDS.


We hear of elopements because of caste differences, ostracisation because of same-sex intolerance and difficulties over raising dowries. There are even a couple of polygamous unions, one with two wives and one with two husbands, who also happen to be brothers. Love doesn't always play a part, particularly in places where religious or cultural tradition is strong. But, regardless of the myriad ways in which couples come together, most share similar experiences when it comes to learning to live together (or as one Maori woman puts it, learn to be two testicles in a scrotum).


The pain is evident among those discussing infidelities and moments of fissure and physical violence. But the relationships have survived, even though the power dynamics have shifted, as the wronged person comes to dictate their terms of re-acceptance. Conspicuous by his absence, however, is the husband who has supposedly embraced non-exclusivity after his wife found fulfilment with another couple.


Some joke about their rows, others regret them. But most accept them as part of married life. The same with children (although the two stories of lost offspring are heart-rending). All tend to agree that give and take is crucial to success, as well as pausing to remember why they fell for their partner in the first place. Closing shots show each unit at ease, with the most touching image showing the Saudi spouses holding hands.


Dependent more upon accumulative potency than specific insights, this audiovisual patchwork offers engaging affirmation that humans are essentially the same no matter where they live and on what terms. The interview clips are front-on and static, but the Rostuhars compensate with handsome, if somewhat touristy scenes of local life and towering drone shots. Yet, while these make dramatic backdrops, they frustratingly provide no geographical specificity.


Similarly, the couples are identified by name and age, but not by nationality. We get hints about their lifestyle and ongoing domestic situations, but everything feels vox poppy rather than intimate and incisive. Of course, it doesn't help that the need to follow the subtitles leaves little opportunity to read the faces and body language of the speakers and, more importantly, their often silent partners. This is no work of seismic ethnographical significance, but it ably demonstrates how humanity stumbles along without really knowing where it's going or why.


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