top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (5/4/2024)

Updated: Apr 6

(Reviews of Evil Does Not Exist; The Origin of Evil; Io Capitano; The Trouble With Jessica; and Goya, Carrière and the Ghost of Buñuel)


EVIL DOES NOT EXIST.


Having been forced to abandon the Paris shoot for Our Apprenticeship because of Covid-19, Ryusuke Hamaguchi agreed to a request from Drive My Car (2021) composer Eiko Ishibashi to provide some bucolic images for a live orchestral performance. During the course of the shoot for Gift, however, Hamaguchi realised that there was a feature in the silent scenario and the result is Evil Does Not Exist.


As the camera tracks slowly gazing upwards into branches fingering into the sky, we see eight year-old Hana Yasumura (Ryo Nishikawa) making her way home from school through a snowy forest. Father Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) cuts firewood for his neighbours in the small community of Mizubiki, which lies in the mountains some two hours away from Tokyo. The buildings are functional and far from picturesque. But the scenery is stunning and Takumi points out some wild wasabi as he and Kazuo (Hiroyuki Miura) are carrying spring water for the village's udon restaurant.


Realising he has forgotten to collect Hana from school, Takumi drives off. He finds her in the woods and she identifies trees as he carries her on his shoulders. Earlier, he had heard a hunter's gun firing and he follows tracks in the snow to find the carcass of a faun that had been shot in the stomach. On their way home, they also pick up a feather that they give to the village chief, Suruga (Taijiro Tamura), who makes quills for his son to pluck his harpsichord.


A meeting is held in the village hall with Mayuzumi (Ayaka Shibutani) and Takahashi (Ryuji Kosaka), reps from the Playmode talent agency that has plans to open a glamping site near the village using funds made available for enterprise during the pandemic. They present a video before taking questions. Several people voice concern about the positioning and the capacity of a septic tank, with Takumi being concerned that it will pollute nearby wells, while Kazuo's partner in the noodle shop (Hazuki Kikuchi) mentions the importance of pure water for her dishes.


Takahashi admits he isn't qualified to address these issues in detail and promises to inform his superiors, while trying to reassure his audience. But an elderly woman picks holes in his glib pronouncements about on-site caretakers to show how easily wildfires could start from unsupervised barbecues. A hot-headed local sneers that they are rushing their plans to meet the cut-off date for subsidies and has to be held back by Takumi when he demands that their boss and the glamping expert advising him attend the next meeting.


Takumi rises again to explain that the region was only given over to farming after the war and that his grandparents were outsiders. He suggests, therefore, that they will do what they can to co-operate if the plan is a sound one and will benefit the village economy. Suruga reminds them that water flows downhill and that they have a responsibility to those downstream. He suggests Mayuzumi and Takahashi take Takumi's number, as he knows everything about the eco system of the area and could help them refine their plans.


Back at the office, Takahashi and Mayuzumi have a Zoom chat with boss Honguchi (Yoshinori Miyata). He's in his car and is in no mood to listen to their misgivings. His assistant explains that redrafting the plans will cause them to miss the subsidy, which they now need having purchased the land. Honguchi sends the pair back to Mizubiki to offer Takumi the caretaker job, so they will feel like one of their own is involved. Mayuzumi doesn't think he can be swayed, but the bosses urge her to get him drunk and use her charms on him.


In the car, Mayuzumi and Takahashi wonder how they got themselves into such a pickle. He suggests she should quit, as she doesn't seem cut out for show business. But she was bored as a care worker and needs to have an interesting job as she has no intention of getting married. Takahashi started acting 17 years ago and became an agent after his show boss became embroiled in a scandal. She giggles when a dating app message pops up on his phone and he admits he wants to get married as he's lonely. As they drive on, he wonders if he shouldn't take the caretaker's job himself and retire to the country with his bride and a dog.


Finding Takumi chopping logs, Takahashi asks if he can have a go. He fails a couple of times, but feels a thrill when Takumi gives him a stance tip and he cuts through. They lunch at the noodle shop, where Takumi turns down the caretaker role and seems sceptical when Takahashi says he fancies doing it if he acts as his mentor. They accompany Takumi to fetch water and are surprised when they hear gunshots. He informs them that they are after the deer who roam on their glamping ground and they seem dismayed.


They call at the school, but Hana has already left. Ignoring warnings about going out alone, she went to a farm to feed some cows and seemed to have left hurriedly. But there's no sign of her at her usual haunts and the out-of-towners help Takumi look for her. Mayuzumi gashes her hand on a ginseng thorn and she feels uneasy because of what Takumi had told her about the balance of nature and gut-shot deer attacking humans. While she stays at home nursing her bandaged palm, Takahashi joins Takumi in searching for Hana. A tannoy announcement rings out, as the locals scour the woods.


In a field, the two men pause, as they see Hana approaching an antlered deer. It's been shot and, as Hana removes her bobble hat, Takumi suddenly leaps on Takahashi and applied a stranglehold. He's powerless and loses consciousness, as Takumi walks across to Hana. Picking up her lifeless body, he strides across the field into the murky distance. He stumbles and falls again in trying to stagger on. The moon appears through the branches of a tree, as we hear the sound of a man gulping for breath.


While making this remarkable film, Hamaguchi took time out to attend a lecture at his alma mater by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the former tutor with whom he had co-scripted Wife of a Spy (2020). Kurosawa closed by telling the students to go out and `shoot something that will surprise even yourself'. Clearly, Hamaguchi took this advice for the ending that is bound to spark debate wherever the film is shown.


Interestingly, Hamaguchi told A Rabbit's Foot: `I can't clearly verbalise the ending either. At the same time, it's not that I feel a certain discomfort about what happens. I feel like the end feels necessary, although I can't quite put into words as to why.' He continued, `Myself and Hitoshi didn't talk about the motives behind his actions, but when I asked him to act it out, something about his acting felt very truthful. What is interesting to me is that towards the end of the film we have more information about the characters who are coming in from the city, and by the end they're wondering why this happened to them. The film, nor Takumi, the main character, gives an answer to this question. But that's partly the aim of this film, to continue to probe ourselves. Why is this happening to us?'


That's all that really needs to be said about the denouement, which is actually the least interesting aspect of the film, as was the case with the 15-minute eye-closing sequence in Lois Patiño's wildly overrated, Samsara. Much more intriguing is the way in which Hamaguchi sets the scene and deploys Hitoshi Omika, who had been his assistant director on Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021). Equally fascinating is the way in which he humanises the interlopers, through the meeting with their graspingly arrogant bosses and during the car journey back to the village. Ayaka Shibutani remains rather reticent throughout, although she opens up when teasing her colleague about his chat-up techniques. But Ryuji Kosaka drops the suave pretence to reveal a vulnerability and a need to be useful that bring about his downfall.


Contributing a clarity that reinforces the purity and simplicity of the locale, Yoshio Kitagawa's measured camerawork is deftly edited by Hamaguchi and Azusa Yamazaki to unobtrusively complement the shifts between lyricism and intensity in Eiko Ishibashi's beguiling score, which slips between orchestral and guitar-led passages and frequently cuts out abruptly to alert the audience that all is not always what it seems in a world in which talent agencies turn to glamping to make a few extra yen.


In focussing on a wild deer who attacks when wounded in a place where the water supply is endangered, Hamaguchi seems to invoke the spirit of Henrik Ibsen. There are also hints of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) and those grim fairytales about woodcutters living with their motherless daughters in the depths of the forest. But this is very much a parable about the ongoing battles between tradition and modernity and the pastoral and the corporate that lie at the heart of Japan's current crisis of identity. It also has thought-provoking things to say about migration and settlement, vocations, and the creeping post-millennial sense of entitlement that has changed human expectations and behaviour patterns. In dodging the issue about the existence of evil, the ending echoes Joe E. Brown's line in Some Like It Hot (1959) about nobody being perfect and it will be interesting to see if Gift is ever made available outside the concert hall, as it might contain the odd elusive clue.


THE ORIGIN OF EVIL.


Sébastien Marnier didn't make much impression outside France with his first two features, Faultless (2016) and School's Out (2018). However, he is more than set to make amends with The Origin of Evil, a simmering melodrama that looks a little like Knives Out (2019) might have turned out had Claude Chabrol directed rather than Rian Johnson.


Thirtysomething Stéphane Marson (Laure Calamy) works in an anchovy factory. Her girlfriend (Suzanne Clément) is serving a five-year prison sentence and often refuses to see her on visiting day. So, when her landlady tells Nathalie that her daughter needs her room back, she makes a call to Serge Dumontet (Jacques Weber), the father who had abandoned her as an infant, and goes to visit him on the island of Porquerolles.


She is surprised to discover he owns a number of restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, bars, and golf courses and he is saddened to learn of the death of her mother. On a whim, Serge invites Stéphane to lunch and housekeeper/chauffeur Agnès (Véronique Ruggia) does little to hide her disapproval. Overwhelmed by the size of the house and its outré contents, Stéphane is further taken aback by her domineering stepmother, Louise (Dominique), and the photo-snapping Jeanne Patterson (Céleste Brunnquell), the teenage daughter of Serge's other daughter, George (Doria Tillier), who has run the various businesses since her father suffered a debilitating stroke.


Over lunch, as Stéphane asks and fends off questions, the screen splits into five segments, isolating each family member as they weigh up the interloper. Feeling under pressure, Stéphane lies that she owns the cannery and feels gratified when Serge commends her on her initiative in taking over the ailing business. She offers to help him cut his meat, but he claims not to be hungry and she sits with him on the sofa as he dozes off.


Hiding a call from on her phone from the prying Jeanne, Stéphane offers to help Agnès in the kitchen and is reminded that she should leave serving to the staff. Spooked by watching a Venus flytrap close in a corner of the kitchen, Stéphane takes a stroll in the grounds with Serge. He jokes that Louise spends wildly to annoy him and admits to resenting having to let George take over his empire because he dislikes being powerless. Much to Stéphane's frustration, however, George appears to take her back to the mainland on the family boat. She understands why she came, but asks her not to return.


Following a visit to prison during which she fibs about why she didn't pick up a call the previous Saturday, Stéphane finds herself homeless and she has to spend the night with a workmate. Having been fired for taking a call from Serge at work, she returns to the island and accepts a room for a short stay. Serge allows her into the office the others are forbidden to enter and tells her about his lost son, Frédéric. The snooping Agnès tells George about developments and she comes sweeping home demanding to see some ID to prove Stéphane isn't just some gold-digging chancer.


Already furious that nobody had tried to help Serge when he had a turn, Stéphane storms out of the house, only to return because the last ferry has gone. In her absence, George lambastes Serge for trusting a stranger and he slaps Louise for taunting him that Frédéric might also come back. Informing George that her purse had been stolen, Stéphane promises to return with ID. But she insists there won't be a next time and explains to Louise that Serge is only being nice to her so that he can manipulate her into testifying when they apply for guardianship. This is precisely what Serge is planning to do and Stéphane gets nervous at the prospect of having to give evidence in court. He has a wobble and she massages his legs to make him feel better.


Life continues, with Stéphane filling anchovy tins in one half of a split screen and her girlfriend stuffing envelopes as part of work experience in the other. During a conjugal visit, however, it emerges that the inmate is really Stéphane and her partner is Nathalie Cordier, who shouts her down when she says she feels ready to contact her estranged father. Recovering her poise, Nathalie makes a play for Samira (Naidra Ayadi) and asks her to contact her old cellmate, as she needs for documents forging for a friend in trouble.


Armed with her papers, Nathalie sails back to Porquerolles and shows Serge her ID card. She also mentions that Agnès steals from Louise and hoards things in a basement room. When Louise needs help putting up a mesh to stop her piles of VHS tapes from falling over in a hideaway, Nathalie volunteers and is touched when Louise gives her a fox fur coat. She also shows her a secret passage to the sea and confides that Frédéric isn't dead. He was gay and so resented Serge's violent disapproval of his lifestyle that he left without a franc. Louise wonders if he ever might return and hugs Nathalie for being so concerned about the family.


Feeling conflicted because she is seeing a side of Serge she had not suspected, Nathalie wonders whether she can testify in court, especially when Serge asks her to lie about treating her mother well and spending time together during her childhood. He throws money at her and orders her to pick it up when she insists she doesn't want it.


Stéphane is concerned that Nathalie has not returned her calls and repeatedly tries to get in touch from the prison phone. When she accidentally knocks over a vase having answered, Nathalie bangs her head into a wall to give her an excuse for the breakage. When she comes round, she finds Serge telling Agnès that he knows about the thefts and wants her to vacate the red cottage so that his daughter can move in. However, George intervenes and curses Serge for being such a monster, as Nathalie looks on from the sofa wondering what she has got herself into.


She feels even more conflicted when Jeanne tells her she hates her family and will leave the moment she turns 18. Furthermore, as she lies in the bath, Nathalie is shocked when Serge comes in and dangles his hand in the water while telling her that Agnès will leave at the end of the month. This also disturbs her because she knows how much Agnès has helped Louise cope with all her tribulations.

When the hearing comes in front of a judge (Caroline Roulin), Nathalie is asked to speak on Serge's behalf. She starts by saying how caring he had been in the past, but surprises George and Louise by stating that the stroke had changed him. She accuses him of being violent and forgetful and he collapses after she claims he stripped naked and climbed into the bath with her.


When George goes for a coffee, Nathalie sits at Serge's bedside. He tells her he had wanted to kill his wife and daughter for mocking him and plotting to rob him. But he thought he could exploit a liar posing as his daughter, as he had always known that Stéphanie was in prison for manslaughter. Moreover, he knew that she was her cellmate and that she had a history of identity theft. As George comes back into the room, she pauses to listen to Nathalie maintaining the pretence and offering to find Frédéric. Suddenly, she lurches forward and suffocates the old man before returning to her seat to feign sleep so that George can call for help, safe in the knowledge that she won't give her away.


Meanwhile, desperate because Nathalie is not taking her calls, Stéphane gets into a fight in the shower. She reads about Serge's death in a newspaper in the library, but is denied permission to attend the funeral because she can't prove kinship. Instead, she escapes during day release and is mortified to walk into the church to see Nathalie in the family pew with Louise, George, and Jeanne.

Stéphane comes to pay her respects at the house and Nathalie bundles her outside. George tells her to leave and ignores her claim to be Serge's child. She vows vengeance on Nathalie, who keeps up the act again and later joins the others in drinking wine snuggled on the sofa. When George starts singing at the piano, Nathalie sees Stéphane peering in through the window. Rushing to confront her, she finds her pouring petrol around the cellar. In a bid to disarm her, Nathalie kisses Stéphane who sets light to her and continues dousing the floor. Putting out the flames, Nathalie beans Stéphane with a shovel and pops her phone in the pocket of her jeans before hauling the body through the garden to roll it off a cliff and into the sea.


Changing her top, she sprays herself with perfume and rejoins the others. However, they decide to turn in and Louise asks Nathalie to tidy up because Agnès has had a long day. As she works, the police arrive looking for Stéphane. Louise recognises her, but Nathalie claims not to have seen her at the funeral. As they leave, the cops decide to call Stéphane's phone and it rings in Nathalie's pocket and she fights back the tears as she realises all her efforts have been in vain.


Despite not being as fiendishly clever as some have suggested, this is still a hugely entertaining drama that breathes fresh life into the hackneyed Highsmithian imposter scenario. Marnier and Fanny Burdino's script is splendidly slick and cunningly withholds its secrets. But it would be markedly less effective without the ever-excellent Laure Calamy's slippery performance, which becomes even more adroit once the cat is out of the bag, as Nathalie has to play so many people off against each other.


Stéphane's escape from prison is a little too convenient, while a femme fatale as ruthlessly methodical as Nathalie would have remembered the phone, especially as it only just slipped into a tight pocket. Nevertheless, her error justifies the magnificent final shot peering upward into her welling eyes, as she curses herself for letting the prize slip from her grasp. Roman Carcanade's photography is adept throughout, with Marnier and editors Jean-Baptiste Beaudoin and Valentin Féron making amusing use of multiple split-screens to reinforce the battle lines between the characters.


Brian De Palma would be proud, while David Lynch will recognise the nods towards Mulholland Drive (2001). However, this is much more Chabrolian in overall tone, even though there are also echoes of those so-called `woman's pictures' from the 1950s that used to star the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Bennett. But Calamy is a more nuanced actor and it would be fascinating to see her and Olivia Colman playing sisters separated at birth.


She superbly supported by Jacques Weber, as the charismatic wounded beast, and Dominique Blanc, as the seemingly eccentric wife who is actually suppressing the pain of decades while wreaking revenge by trying to ruin her husband one extravagantly expensive impulse purchase at a time. Marnier might have found more for Doria Tillier, Céleste Brunnquell, and Véronique Ruggia to do, especially as George shifts gear once she realises how useful the interloper could be. Nevertheless, with composers Philippe Brault and Pierre Lapointe in on the joke, as they nudgingly underscore the acerbic action, this is a highly enjoyable exercise in toying with audience perceptions and is well worth a second watch.


IO CAPITANO.


Although Italian films like Emmanuele Crialese's Terraferma (2011), Jonas Carpignano's Mediterranea (2015), and Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At Sea (2016) did their bit to alert audiences to the harrowing realities of the ongoing wave of migration, the emphasis was on the aftermath rather than the journey. In making Io Capitano, however, Matteo Garrone has taken his cues from features focussing on the perils of transit across Africa, including Moussa Touré's La Pirogue (2012), Boris Lojkine's Hope, David Fedele's The Land Between (2014), Mati Diop's Atlantics (2019), Salvador Calvo's Adú (2020), and Ousmane Zoromé Samassékou's The Last Shelter (2021).


Seydou (Seydou Sarr) lives with his mother (Ndeye Khady Sy) and sisters in a shack in Dakar. Eager to leave Senegal and become a recording star in Europe, he does odd jobs with his cousin, Moussa (Moustapha Fall), in order to save up for their passage. However, his mother is set against him leaving home, while Sisko (Oumar Diaw) warns them about the dangers of the trip and the homelessness on the streets of the major European cities. She demands he stays put, completes his education, and keeps playing drums for the street sabar dances.


Undaunted, the pair visit the cemetery to seek blessings from their ancestors and the auspices of a shaman before sneaking away during the night. They travel by bus to Mali, where they purchase fake passports for $100. A soldier at the Niger border realises that they're wearing the same shirts as in their photos, but let's them proceed to Agadez on payment of a $50 bribe. As they step off the bus, they are accosted by a man selling them passages to Libya and they spend a couple of days in a holding bay, where a man advises them to hide their money up their bottoms.


Appalled when the driver refuses to stop for a man who falls off the truck while bouncing through the rough terrain in the Sahara Desert, Seydou is even more distressed when an older woman (Beatrice Gnonko) collapses on a trek to the next staging point. Moussa pleads with him to let her die, as they can't afford to lose the guide. He sobs at having to leave her behind and imagines returning for her to find she floats likes a balloon.


Trudging on, they are ambushed in the night by a Libyan police patrol. Everyone is searched and has their money stolen, while those who claim to have nothing are forced to drink laxatives. Moussa is arrested for trying to conceal cash and is driven off in a truck, leaving Seydou alone. Eventually, the group is loaded into a box truck and taken to Sabha, where they learn from a middle man (Jackie Zappa) that they have been duped and are now being held in a mafia-controlled compound.


Here, they are subjected to torture in order to give up the contact details of loved ones who could pay a ransom. Scarred around the eyes, Seydou dreams that an angel comes to take a message to his mother and he wakes calling her name. Martin (Issaka Sawadogo) takes pity on him and, when a guard asks for builders, he drags Seydou along with him. They are sold to a foreman who drives them to a large house in the middle of nowhere and orders them to build a wall. Sleeping in the animal shelter, they share food and information about their families. Martin teaches Seydou how to lay bricks and they make such a good job of the wall that they are promised a ticket to Tripoli if they can build a fountain to please the owner's wife.


Sad to part with Martin, Seydou takes a job on a building site and searches for Moussa. After several weeks, he finds him and has to talk him out of returning to Senegal because he is suffering from a leg wound after being shot while escaping from prison. A doctor working on the site tells Seydou to get medicine from a barber in the market. But he also warns him that Moussa might lose the leg unless he has an operation.


Desperate to reach Italy, Seydou agrees to pilot the boat across the Mediterranean in return for his passage. After learning the basics about navigating and steering from Ahmed (Hitchem Yacoubi), the 16 year-old sets off from Zuara. He's nervous at carrying so many passengers and fears encountering choppy waters. Following a false alarm when they pass an oil platform lit up in the night, Seydou has to use the emergency GPS line because a woman has gone into labour.


When the Maltese coastguard refuses to respond, Seydou ploughs on towards Italy. There's a panic when ailing people are found in the engine room and there's a clamour for water. But he restores calm by reminding everyone that Allah is protecting them. Trust restored, Seydou takes the wheel. Barely able to stay awake, he sees land on the horizon. As everyone cheers, a helicopter flies overhead and Seydou waves shouting, `Io capitano!'


Having won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, Garrone received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best International Film. But it's difficult to ignore the fact that this African odyssey is told by a white European in a classical manner that isn't averse to resorting to melodrama to ensure the story gets something close to a happy ending. Of course, there's still much for Seydou and Moussa to endure once they reach shore and their dream of signing autographs for white fans of their music is still a long way off. Such is the skill of the film-making, however, that it's impossible not to be swept along by the Homeric narrative and only the hardest heart would not want to share in the intrepid teenager's moment of triumph.


He is superbly played by Seydou Sarr, who won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor at Venice. A Senegalese Tik Tok celebrity who wrote his own songs, he copes particularly well with the flights of fancy inflicted by Garrone and fellow scenarists Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini, and Andrea Tagliaferri. But there's never a sense that Seydou is going to fail in his mission and this looming feel-good factor proves enervating, as no matter what dreadful fate befalls him, his blissfully naive optimism means he is always going to find someone to help him or summon the resourcefulness needed to resolve the situation himself.


When Garrone first came to attention with Gomorrah (2008) there was an unflinching grittiness that has been slowly dissipated by Reality (2012), Tale of Tales (2015), and Pinocchio (2019). Even the brutally raw Dogman (2018) had its moments of contrivance. Consequently, even though this acquires an aura of authenticity from the first-hand accounts on which it's based, the accumulative effect of so much misfortune, coupled with the picture's aesthetic polish (Paolo Carnera's photography, Marco Spoletini's editing, and Andrea Farri's score are all first rate, but inescapably slick), means that this always feels like a well-meaning, but romanticised outsider's approximation that actually takes a socio-political step backwards from the director's 1996 immigrant docudrama, Land in Between.


THE TROUBLE WITH JESSICA.


Director Matt Winn seemingly has a thing about social gatherings. His debut feature, January 2nd (2006), revolved around a festive reunion at a family farm, while his third outing, The Trouble With Jessica, centres on a Hampstead dinner party. His second venture, The Bunker (aka The Hoarder), also took place in a confined space - an underground storage facility. Another uninvited guest shows up in this class satire and, like the film itself, she rather outstays her welcome.


Sarah (Shirley Henderson) is furious with architect husband Tom (Alan Tudyk) for mishandling a dream project that has forced them into selling their Hampstead home. They have sent the kids away for the night so they can host a farewell dinner party with oldest friends, Beth (Olivia Williams) and Richard (Rufus Sewell). But, much to Sarah's chagrin, Beth brings along Jessica (Indira Varma), Tom's old college flame, who has just published a bestselling memoir about her racy past.


As she has refused to read the book, Sarah makes snide small talk while guzzling down wine. Joking that Sarah has never liked her, Jessica asks Tom for a guided tour of the house, leaving Beth to tick off Richard for obsessing over the clafoutis that Tom has made for dessert. She works with traumatised women and deeply resents the fact that her lawyer husband makes a fortune from defending rapists.


Sensing that Tom and Jessica have been gone a long time, Sarah finds them in his attic study and chivvies them downstairs. Barbs fly over supper, as Jessica plays down her literary success and teases the others for being so locked into their perfect lives that they no longer know how to have fun. Nettled by the criticism, Sarah claims Jessica has nothing to be smug about and quickly comes to regret her outburst when Beth discovers that Jessica has hanged herself in the garden.


Cutting down the body and covering it over, the friends go back inside. Tom starts to call the police, but Sarah forces him to put down the phone because she has realised that a suicide on the property might put off their potential buyer. As they will lose everything if the sale fails to go through, she suggests that they take Jessica back to her apartment and restage the hanging there. Richard objects on legal grounds, while Beth raises moral objections that are shared by Tom, who is troubled by the knowledge that, while they had been alone together, Jessica had asked him to run away with her and start a new life.


At that moment, the doorbell rings and Tom is confronted by Miranda (Anne Reid), the next-door neighbour who has spotted Jessica through the window. As she is a fan of the book, she wonders if she could autograph her copy and feels put out when Tom leaves her standing on the step. Finding Jessica's credit card, Sarah forges the signature and sends Miranda packing with an excuse that Jessica can't stand the fuss of being a famous author.


No sooner has the discussion resumed than PCs Terry (Jonathan Livingstone) and Paul (David Schaal) show up in response to Tom's aborted call. They insist on coming inside to check all is well and Richard has to squeeze Beth's hand to stop her from blurting out about the body. PC Paul is intrigued by the clafoutis, as he had just made one of his own. But PC Terry ushers him to the door, even though he suspects that Tom is fibbing when he insists that he had dialled 999 because a couple of kids were trying to break into a neighbour's car.


With Beth resenting Richard for silencing her, she continues to refuse to go along with Sarah's scheme. However. a call from the estate agent re-focusses minds, as the buyers want to have a quick look round while the husband is in London between business trips. They bundle Jessica into the loo under the stairs and try pretend nothing untoward is going on while Ellen (Amber Rose Revah) and the grouchily Germanic Groth (Sylvester Groth) take a tour. He insists on seeing the downstairs loo and Tom and Richard have to carry Jessica upstairs when Groth is conveniently distracted by an urgent phone call.


Satisfied with what he has seen, Groth takes umbrage at Beth for criticising his work as a fossil fuel lobbyist. The others talk over her and the visitors leave. But the incident confirms her conviction to have nothing to do with the plan, which she feels disrespects her best friend. Aware that his refusal to report the crime to the police will ruin his career, Richard seeks to change his wife's opinion of Jessica by revealing that he is the Mr X, the high-profile lover at the heart of her memoir. Demanding a divorce, Beth agrees to help move the body because she needs Richard to retain his well-paid job so that she can screw him for as much alimony as she can get.


Shrouding Jessica in a green hoodie, they pretend she's drunk and plonk her in the backseat between Richard and Beth. Miranda pops out in the hope of meeting her and swears when Sarah informs her that while Jessica might write for the Daily Mail, she actually hates her readers.


Silence reigns, as they drive across London, at one point coming to a halt alongside a police car at some traffic lights. But the problem comes when they discover a party going on in Jessica's building and have to wait in the car park until the guests start to leave.

Richard loses his temper when a drunken couple has sex against the vehicle. But they eventually succeed in smuggling Jessica inside and hanging her corpse from a ceiling fitting. Back at the house, however, Sarah finds a note from Jessica apologising for the mess and explaining how the success of the book has failed to banish her demons. They all feel sorry for her and wish they'd been better friends. Sarah feels particularly guilty for baiting her and announces that she is going to call the police and confess. Everyone protests, but they are brought up short by another ring on the doorbell.


Groth has returned. As he has to fly out in a couple of hours, he is keen to conclude the deal and Tom is about to sign the papers when Sarah pipes up about the evening's shenanigans. Sardonically amused by the revelation, Groth teases them over the fact that a bad man would exploit the situation to his own advantage. But he is too busy to play games and would rather Ellen is kept in the dark about the tragedy. Before he can leave, however, Beth and Sarah get into a fight about her phone and PCs Paul and Terry just happen to be on hand to respond to a report of a disturbance.


Watching on with impassive fascination, Groth is wondering how they are going to extricate themselves when Tom declares that Sarah is unhappy with him because he is Mr X in Jessica's book, even though they only had one tryst on the night they graduated from university. PC Terry is content with the explanation and compliments Tom on the clafoutis when Paul asks for a taste.


Groth leaves with the documents and Richard and Beth depart soon afterwards, with the latter hissing that she has decided against the divorce because she intends to punish her spouse instead. Relieved to be alone, Tom and Sarah tuck into the clafoutis and acknowledge how lucky they are. A key turns in the lock and their teenage daughter breezes in. She's decided to come home on a whim and her parents exchange knowing looks.


Co-written by Matt Winn and James Handel, the scenario seems better suited to a theatre stage than a cinema screen. Yet Tristan Oliver's camera busies itself around Matthew Button's well-judged interiors, while David Freeman's editing is neatly timed. But the cutaways deprive viewers of the suspense that would be generated by clipped close-ups of the apprehensive faces of those listening to the doorstep exchanges. Similarly, the cross-city excursion is limply bereft of jeopardy, as Jessica is deposited in her apartment without alarms.


The nocturnal jaunt also messes with the timescale, as the party would most likely have gone on into the small hours, by which time five people huddled in a parked car would surely have attracted some unwanted attention. This also means that the daughter would be arriving home closer to early morning than late night, which should surely concern even distracted parents more than it does.


As was the case with Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955), Winn and Handel just about get away with the recurring intrusions of the neighbour, the buyer, and the cops (although how no one heard Beth scream is a puzzle). But the lack of wit and zip in the dialogue is painfully evident when lines fall flat, in spite of the best efforts of game cast members who deserves something closer in tone to Paolo Genovese's much-remade Perfect Strangers (2016). Coming in the week that he plays Prince Andrew opposite Gillian Anderson's Emily Matliss in the Netflix saga, Scoop, Rufus Sewell's smart display of complacent selfishness looks set to be overlooked. Alan Tudyk also does a nice line in weary blameworthiness, while Olivia Williams deftly captures the shame of compromised liberalism.


But it's Shirley Henderson who steals the show, as she barely conceals her contempt for Jessica before turning into a haut-suburban Lady Macbeth determined to do whatever it takes to protect her family. Her climactic crisis of conscience is less convincing, but the cosy ending will fool few, as it's only a matter of time before Jessica's body is found and people start putting the pieces together.


GOYA, CARRIÈRE AND THE GHOST OF BUÑUEL.


Even though he was 89 years old, Jean-Claude Carrière's death on 8 February 2021 seems to have caught everyone by surprise. His passing lends added poignancy to José Luis López-Linares's documentary, Goya, Carrière and the Ghost of Buñuel, which is being shown in London by Bertha Dochouse. Following on from Bosch: The Garden of Dreams (2016), this is not only a fascinating insight into the mind of a great painter, but also a guided tour through the career of a screenwriter whose wit, knowledge, and love for life illuminates every frame.


Starting his journey with an Occitan folk song on the train, Carrière takes great delight in visiting Francisco de Goya's birthplace in Fuendetodos and in describing the shadow of revolution hanging over the scene of workerly contentment in `Summer, or The Threshing Ground' (1786-87). As Luis Buñuel also hailed from Aragon, he enjoyed teasing an American woman that he, Goya, and Ludwig van Beethoven were all famous, Aragonese, and deaf.


Director Carlos Saura sees similarities between Goya and Buñuel's abilities to switch from the savage to the sensitive and uses `The Countess of Chinchon' (c.1800) to illustrate his point. Louvre conservator Charlotte Chastel-Rousseau similarly highlights the delicate way in which Goya depicts the ailing sitter in `The Marquise de la Solona' (1795).


Between 1773-74, Goya worked at the magnificent Charterhouse of Aula Dei, where he painted the frescoes that are admired by painter Guillermo Pérez Villalta. We see weavers working on pieces inspired by `The Tapestry Cartoons' (1773-93), as Carrière notes that Goya loved painting feet, but charged extra for hands. While showing off the copy that the Prado allowed him to make of `María Teresa de Vallabriga on Horseback' (1783), Julian Schnabel opines that artists leave handwritten notes for subsequent generations to follow. He also admits that he and Carrière indulged in a little poetic licence in making At Eternity's Gate (2018) because Vincent Van Gogh didn't actually see any paintings by Goya or Diego Velázquez at the Louvre.


Musical scholar Luís Antonio González Morín speculates whether Goya met a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Boulogne before we head to the Regina Martyrum cupola in the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar in Zaragoza, where Goya painted `Adoration of the Name of God' in 1772. Carrière then draws out attention to his skill as an engraver and we see some of the 80 symbol-laden prints collected in Los caprichos (1797-99) before Pascual Adolfo Lopez Salueña produces an exquisite reproduction of one of Goya's images.


Widow Nahal Tajadod recalls Carrière's curiosity and eagerness to learn from friends like astrophysicist Michel Cassé, as he was aware how fortunate he was to live on a fascinating planet. Sitting in a church he had visited in the mid-1960s with Buñuel, he reveals that the director had written a screenplay about Goya in his younger days, but had rejected it for being too biographical.


A clip follows from the flamenco scene in Saura's Goya in Bordeaux (1999), as Carrière looks through scrapbooks of his time with Buñuel and confides that he doesn't miss him, as he still asks advice on projects. He ventures into the Prado gallery containing `The Black Paintings' (1819-23) and admits to having been scared during his first visit with Buñuel, as he had never seen human suffering exposed so graphically. He remains moved by the image of a small girl wondering if she will have to endure this hell.


We see the plaque marking the site of his home at Quinta del Sordo and the apartment complex that now towers over it. Carrière reveals that Buñuel had a pet named Tristana who could have bounded out of `The Dog' and a cutaway to Schnabel reinforces the idea that Carrière retained a childlike wonder to the end of his days.


He pauses as he turns into the room containing `La maja desnuda' (1795-1800) and `La maja vestida' (1800-07), as he can't decide which one he prefers. Noting the scarcity of sensual nudes in Spanish art to this point, Carrière fixes on the challenge in María Cayetana de Silva's gaze, as she stares back at the world looking at her. Goya's eyes are also mentioned during a vox pop segment involving visitors to the 2021-22 Fondation Beyeler exhibition in Basel.

Academic Araceli Guillaume-Alonso considers Goya's depiction of bullfighting and reveals how Enlightenment thinker Francisco de Saavedra had chastised him for making Pedro Romero look so heroic in his portrait. But Carrière reflects that Goya came from the ancien régime, but lived through the age of revolutions and this dichotomy makes his work all the more valuable and compelling.


He visits the Liria Palace to see `The White Duchess' (1795), one of many portraits of María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Silva-Bazán, 13th Duchess of Alba. Historian Antonio Gascón explains that her pointing finger relates to the letter `G' in the sign language of the time and says it was the deaf painter's way of conveying their closeness. As we see sketches from The Sanlucar Album (1794-95), Carrière refuses to speculate about their relationship, but notes that so many of the élite that Goya painted would soon lose their status and power.


Following a clip of dancers in Goyaesque poses as Imperio Argentina sings in Benito Perojo's Goyescas (1942), we see `Saturn Devouring His Son' (1821-23), as various voices agree that the fall of the old order would have aroused mixed feelings in Goya. He enjoyed his status at court, but never forgot his humble beginnings or the common people he so regularly painted and a neat passage dissolves between some of his images and scenes of simple pleasures being taken in Edgar Neville's Carnival Sunday (1945).


Around the time that the French Revolution entered its most violent phase, Goya fell ill in Seville and lost his hearing. Carrière ponders how a man already in artistic solitude coped with being cut off from conversation, music, and the throb of existence. He suggests that a voice inside Goya's head told him to focus on what he saw and depict it truthfully in order to reflect the fact that he was standing at a crossroads of history.


A rather inelegant leap takes us into a comparison between Goya and Buñuel's surrealist forays. Over a shot of the execution scene from The Phantom of Liberty (1974) - which he co-scripted - Carrière explains that the witches and demons the artist drew held no interest for the film-maker, as he felt their wickedness was embodied in humankind. A short snippet from Un chien andalou (1929) is accompanied by writer Carlos Fuentes outlining the history of Surrealism, while Carrière avers that the opposite of truth is reason.


Following a survey of the frescoes that Goya painted in the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva in Cádiz (1796-97), we learn that Goya left Spain during Ferdinand VII's restoration and set up home in Bordeaux. He frequented the local hot chocolate shops and the occasional salon and continued to paint ordinary people, even when they seemed to question his choice of subjects, as in `Man Mocked By Two Women' (1820-23). But his deafness isolated him and changed the way he painted portraits, as he now had to rely solely on what he saw to gauge a sitter's personality and this is why some critics feel the eyes became key to his later works.


Carrière recalls that Buñuel's last words were to announce his death and Tajadod reveals that her husband had also wanted to be conscious as he passed. Singing his little chansons on the train, he looks the picture of contentment. Even when troubled by one of the Black Paintings, `Judith and Holofernes', he is still more lucid in his critique than the rather ramblous Schnabel, who shares his contention that Goya may well have been referencing Caravaggio's treatment of the same subject.


Equally morbid was `Still Life of a Lamb's Head and Flanks' (1808-12), which Chastel-Rousseau explains was painted during the Peninsular War and reflected Goya's state of mind during the French invasion. Carrière describes how Surrealist André Breton had told Buñuel that it was impossible to shock after Auschwitz and a visit to Belchite (which has been preserved as it was ruined during the Spanish Civil War) prompts a comparison with the images that Goya collection in his album, The Disasters of War (1810-15). As he surveys the rubble, Carrière despairs that similar destruction is still commonplace in Iraq and Syria. He also feels shame that the rifles in `The Third of May 1808' (1814) are being aimed by French troops.


Ruminating on `The Colossus' (c.1808), Carrière declares it to be a study of enforced migration and notes that he has known many exiles, including Buñuel (who fled Francoist Spain for Mexico), his Iranian wife, and Miloš Forman, with whom he had collaborated on Goya's Ghosts (2006). Although Goya died in Bordeaux in 1828, he was buried in the Hermita de San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid and Carrière pays his respects beneath the trompe l'oeil ceiling he had painted 30 years earlier. As he leaves, Carrière mentions the rumour that the painter had asked for his head to be buried beside the Duchess of Alba.


Following a visit to the immersive INGOYA exhibition in Madrid, Carrière goes to say his goodbyes to Las Majas. He confesses that he still can't decide which one he likes most, even after 50+ years, and promises to return if he can. Sadly, this would be his last visit, but it provides a deeply poignant reminder that great art lives on long after its creators have departed. One hopes that this will be as true for Carrière as it has been for Goya and Buñuel.


Intriguingly scripted by Carrière and editor Cristina Otero Roth and beautifully photographed by Andrés Recio Illán, this is an illuminating dissertation that might have been even more useful had the paintings been captioned and some of the white-on-light subtitles been legible. There's also an imbalance issue, with Buñuel being seriously short-changed and often having to be squeezed back into the reckoning via tenuous links (many of which are provided by the somewhat stuffy Schnabel, who blithely avers, `You have to think of Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude in the same breath as you do Goya.').


Modestly, Carrière says little about his own illustrious career, as he prefers to combine affection for his old friend with an unassumingly scholarly, but nonetheless infectious appreciation of Goya and his times. As in the Exhibition on Screen series, the assembled experts are concise and acute, while the fond personal reminiscences about Carrière make him an even more genial travelling companion.


30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (24/5/2024)

(Reviews of Slow; Hoard; The Present; Ospina Cali Colombia; and Big Banana Feet) SLOW. Born in 1991, Marija Kavtaradzė graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and made her feature b

Parky At the Pictures (17/5/2024)

(Reviews of Nuestra Madres; Nezouh; The Almond and the Seahorse; and Catching Fire The Story of Anita Pallenberg) NUESTRA MADRES. Five years have passed since César Díaz unexpectedly won the Caméra d'

Parky At the Pictures (10/5/2024)

(Reviews of La chimera; Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger; and On Resistance Street) LA CHIMERA. The theme of doing what it takes to get by has run through Alice Rohrwacher's The Wo

Comments


bottom of page