• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (6/5/2022)

(Reviews of Wild Men; Atabai; and Arica)


Even if we presume that cinema-going is a thing again, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.


Whether you opt for the big-screen experience or some quality home time, enjoy and stays safe.


WILD MEN.


As Robert Eggers's The Northman keeps setting the box-office tills ringing Thomas Daneskov's Wild Men provides a very different insight into the Norse male. Coming after The Elite (2015), this sophomore outing puts a comic spin on the mid-life crisis. But it takes its cues from such ferociously unfunny features as John Boorman's Deliverance (1972), Ted Kotcheff's First Blood (1982) and Sean Penn's Into the Wild (2007).


As the camera surveys rugged snow-topped mountains, Martin (Rasmus Bjerg) weeps quietly. Bedecking in Viking furs, he is out hunting, but fails to bag a sheep with his bow and arrow and only makes himself sick with a meal of roasted frog. Finding a chocolate wrapper near the river, Martin ventures into the convenience store abutting a petrol station and proposes a barter of his axe for some groceries.


Following an altercation with the manager, Martin lumbers back to his tent. At the same time, Musa (Zaki Youssef) staggers away from the car crash he thinks has killed his fellow drug smugglers, Simon (Marco Ilsø) and Bashir (Jonas Bergen Rahmanzadeh). Martin finds him and stitches a gash in his leg, while discussing favourite breakfast dishes. He also reveals that he has been living rough for 10 days in a Norwegian wood because life in Denmark had been getting him down and he felt he needed an adventure.


Meanwhile cop Øyvind (Bjørn Sundquist) has heard about the 7/11 incident and has found the crashed car. As it's the sniffer dog's day off, he sends underlings Eigil (Tommy Karlsen) and Tore (Håkon T. Nielsen) to follow the trail of blood. He is puzzled by the Viking report, although there is a settlement nearby for people who want to relive the Norse era (in fact, it was where Musa and his pals were heading to make a deal).


He keeps this from Martin (as well as a bag of money). But Martn is also withholding the fact that he has snuck away without telling his wife, Anne (Sofie Gråbøl), who thinks he is on a business trip while she is home looking after their daughters, Sally (Katinka Evers-Jahnsen) and Luna (Thea Lundtoft Larsen), and a pet rabbit named Rose. She learns the truth when Martin drops his phone while rescuing Musa from Eigil and Tore and going on the run (because he thinks they have come to arrest him for the grocery theft).


Øyvind (who despairs of his juniors) gets home to an empty bed, but still speaks to his much-missed wife, even though she's been dead for some time. While he sleeps, Martin and Musa share a joint over a discussion about whether men and women can live together because Musa hasn't seen his two year-old son since his birth. He has doubts about Martin's Viking skills, but realises he's his best bet of getting to his rendezvous.


While they get lost in the mountains, Simon and Bashir steal a car from a bickering pregnant couple. Anne arrives with her daughters and promptly lets Rose escape and they all hug in miserable bemusement by the side of a lake. She can't understand why her dependably dull husband has gone rogue and resents Øyvind's intimation that there might be something wrong with their marriage.


Next day, Martin and Musa reach the Viking camp at Guddalen, only for the former to be dismayed that it's run like a theme park. He is so angry that he takes some non-Norse foodstuffs from a kitchen and has to be rescued by Musa at gunpoint when the chief (Rune Temte) confronts him. They steal his car and Øyvind dismisses the camp as a waste of time when he comes to investigate the thefts.


Meanwhile, Martin and Musa reach a cabin and break in for a rest. Feeling guilty about roping Martin into a crime, Musa admits that he's a hash smuggler and a distraught Martin reveals that he feels suffocated in his perfect marriage, but couldn't bring himself to tell Anne about it because she has been a model wife. He flees when Tore comes into view, while Musa takes the car to the docks and is forced to check into a motel (after hiding the bag of cash).


Simon and Bashir are staying in the same place and don't believe that a nutcase dressed as a Viking tossed the loot in a river. He is sleeping in a hollow when Anne finds him as part of a police search party. She is relieved to see him, but baffled by his questions about Viking attitudes to supermarkets. When he asks for a divorce, however, she slaps him and glares at him as he is bundled into the back of a police car.


Øyvind can't understand why Martin would want to get away from such a wonderful woman and tells him about his wife having a stroke when he was on one of his secret fishing trips. He reminds Martin that time is short and so it proves when Øyvind tracks the gang to the motel and is shot by Simon after felling Bashir (after Martin shoots him in the leg with an arrow). He sits on a bench and waits to join his wife, while he urges Martin and Musa to get the ferry back to Denmark.


As Rose the rabbit hops over the snow to one of the Ted Lucas songs that have studded the soundtrack, this genial saga closes with something of a cornball anti-climax that rather lets both off the hook (presupposing that Eigil and Tore are too dumb to follow up the leads). It remains to be seen, of course, whether Anne will take Martin back on the strength of a remorseful phone call from the backseat of a cop car. But the intimation is that he and Musa have learnt their lessons and will strive to stay on the straight and narrow, no matter how tiresome it might sometimes feel.


Nevertheless, Daneskov and co-writer Morten Pape have pitched their flawed characters into some intriguing situations that comment on the state of modern masculinity, the commercialisation of history and the transience of time. Rasmus Bjerg eschews cheap laughs as the pitiably desperate, but recklessly inconsiderate family man whose emotional immaturity contrasts with Zaki Youssef's burgeoning regretfulness and Bjørn Sundquist's debilitating sense of loss.


More might have been made of Sofie Gråbøl's trusting spouse (who disappointingly winds up being as shrewish as Kathrine Thorborg Johansen's pregnant wife), while the final showdown lacks finesse. But Daneskov conveys the absurdity of the situation, while also using Jonatan Rolf Mose's views of the forbidding wilds to highlight how insignificant we all are.


ATABAI.


Feted for her performances in pictures like Dariush Mehrjui's Sara (1992) and Vahid Jalilvand's Wednesday, May 9 (2015), Niki Karimi has also become one of Iran's leading woman film-makers. A former assistant to Abbas Kiarostami - who produced her 2001 documentary about childless couples, To Have or Not to Have - Karimi has followed her feature bow, One Night (2005), with three more dramas, A Few Days Later (2006), Final Whistle (2011) and Night Shift (2015). However, UK audiences have had limited access to her work, which makes the release of Atabai so intriguing.


When architect Kazem (Hadi Hejazifar) returns after a time away to his home village near Lake Urmia, he is met by his naive nephew, Aydin (Danial Noroush). He is pained to discover that his brother-in-law, Parviz, has sold the orchard that was part of the dowry when Kazem's detested father (Yoosefali Daryadel) forced his sister, Farokhlagha, to marry against her will. She committed suicide and he has never forgiven his once best friend, Yahya (Javad Ezati), for giving up so easily on their romance.


Having chewed out his father for wasting his days smoking opium, Kazem drives into the hills to ask the purchaser to give him first refusal if he ever decides to sell the orchard. Next day, he learns that Yahya's wife has died and they make up over cigarettes. He also gives Aydin a pair of knock-off Adidas trainers and is more civil to his father over an outdoor supper.


While walking with his nephew, Kazem sees sisters Simin (Mahlagha Meynoushzad) and Sima (Sahar Dolatshahi) in the orchard and later loses a plastic bag full of wild mint when he spies them from the top of a windy hill. When he passes them on the road, he stops to give them a lift because Simin is in distress and he is taken by the way in which Sima berates her father for being so slow in fetching them.


Taking a break from supervising the building work on his land, Kazem takes Yahya to roll a burning tyre down a hillside. They drink over a fire into the night and reminisce about the old days. Yahya wishes his friend hadn't run away to Tehran go get away from his father. He urges him to forgive Farokhlagha for killing herself and find himself a wife so that he can enjoy life again. But, while he insists he's changed, Kazem claims it's impossible to find easy answers.


He upsets Yahya by accusing him of cowardice in betraying his sister by failing to fight for her. Standing in the shallows of the lake, Yahya suggests that Farokhlagha set light to herself because he was going to marry his cousin and not because she was unhappy with Parviz.


Running away in confusion at this revelation, Kazem lets rip at Aydin for swimming in front of Simin and Sima and chases him through a field in order to beat him for dishonouring the family. By nightfall, however, he is full of remorse and asks Aydin to forgive him for losing his temper. He implores him to be himself and not feel compelled to follow the family line.


Taken aback when Jeyran (Masoumeh Robaninia) begs him to marry her so she can escape the village, Kazem discovers that Simin has been suffering from breast cancer. He asks a trusted neighbour about her and learns that she is also a divorcée. Aware that Aydin likes Sima, Kazen proposes a trip to the town to do a little sightseeing. They drive to the lake and he chats with Simin by moonlight. She takes a puff of his cigarette and mentions having to give up smoking. But he assures her that she doesn't have to go into details.


When Parviz comes to visit Aydin, Kazem drives to a hilltop to watch through binoculars. Yahya sits with him and is happy to see the family reunited, but walks away when Kazem mentions his sister's wasted life. The whole village attends a party for Parviz and Simin sidles over to Kazem. She asks if he loves her and he admits that he is and that learning about her illness gave him the courage to open his heart. However, she doesn't want to be pitied and he is furious with himself for bungling his profession.


The next morning, Kazem learns from Jeyran that Sima and Simin have left for Tehran with their father. He has decided to sell the orchard and Kazem is crushed that he has driven Simin away. Aydin admits to knowing that they were planning to leave and confides that he has arranged to meet up with Sima at university. Smiling sadly, Kazem fixes on the road and begins counting in his head.


Filled with revelations and confrontations, yet told with a detachment that dissipates its intensity, this is an atmospheric, but frustrating insight into a man's anguish, as he seeks to come to terms with the life-wrecking past while stumbling towards a hesitantly hoped for future. Scripted by Karimi and Hadi Hejazifar, the individual scenes have undeniable poignancy. But they resist being woven into a compelling narrative.


Cinematographer Saman Lotfian makes the most of the undulating environs, while editor Hossein Jamshidi Gohan imposes a measured pace. But too few characters come into focus, with even Simin seeming like an afterthought rather than Kazem's salvation. Rarely letting his emotions show (even in his voiceover), Kazem is a difficult man with whom to empathise, despite Hejazifar playing him with an earnestness that matches Karimi's admirably controlled direction. Yet, for all the gravity of the themes and the sincerity of the approach, there never seems to be quite enough for the audience to latch on to.


ARICA.


Having been born in Chile and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, Lars Edman was dismayed to discover that, in 1984, the mining company named after the north-eastern village of Boliden had shipped 20,000 tonnes of smelter sludge to be processed and buried in the desert near the town of Arica. Unfortunately, the bulk of the consignment had been dumped in the open, where it became a favourite haunt of the local children. Over time, the residents began to develop cancers and other ailments related to arsenic poisoning, while an increasing number of infants were born with physical defects.


While at film school, Edman had teamed up with William Johansson Kalén on a graduation project that was released in 2009 as Toxic Playground. At its centre was Scandinavia's largest transnational corporate accountability case, which resulted in a verdict absolving Boliden of any culpability for events in Arica. Now, in Arica, Edman and Kalén return to Chile to catch up with the victims of this disaster and meet the lawyers who insists that Boliden still has a charge of toxic colonialism to answer in the courts.


Back in 2006, Edman and Kalén had discovered that the Chilean company, Promel, had processed only a fraction of the sludge and that it had become a play area for children from the expanding outskirts of Arica. In addition to befriending 10 year-old Jocelyn Tudezca, the co-directors had made a connection with Boliden's environmental director Rolf Svedberg. He agrees to accompany the crew to Arica in 2008 and meets some of those caught up in the health scares. Yet, while he is moved and wishes he had made a different decision in 1984, he persists in exonerating Boliden for the tragedy.


Anthropologist and community leader Rodrigo Pino explains how Promel and the Chilean state were forced to pay compensation to some of the victims in 1999. So, in 2011, lawyer Lewis Gordon started compiling evidence against Boliden and the Swedish government, with the help of Johan Öberg and Göran Starkebo.


They take medical testimony in a bid to establish proof and meet Jocelyn, who is now heavily pregnant. Having established that 796 people from the Polygono neighbourhood closest to Site F have a case, the lawyers call environmentalist Jonas Ebbesson to advise on how to claim €10 million for negligence against Boliden.


When the court case is held in 2017, Robin Oldenstam appears for the company, who is represented in court by communications director Klas Nilsson. They argue over whether Chilean or Swedish law holds sway in the hope Boliden can escape through the statute of limitations. As evidence is submitted, toxicologist Joyce Tsuji claims the arsenic poisoning could have been caused by contaminated fish, even though most locals claim it's too expensive to buy. Epidemiologist Craig Steinmaus counter-claims that the various cancer outbreaks are linked to the arsenic levels linked to the sludge.


Oldenstam dismisses his expertise and calls soil specialist Walter Shields, who came from the same Exponent consulting firm as Tsuji and Edman avers that they will have been well paid for their opinions. Edman is suspicious of the wind tunnel experiment Shields conducted to determine whether dust blew off the sludge pile into residential areas. But his evidence merely goes into the mix, while Boliden lawyer Cecilia Darrell is allowed to dismiss Pino as `a happy amateur' because he's not a toxicologist.


Much depends on Sandberg and the Arica lawyers are worried that his remorse for the plight of the victims will be outweighed by a reluctance to take any personal or corporate responsibility for their conditions. Even though he contradicts things he said on camera in 2008, Oldenstam insists he is a man of integrity and a credible pro-Boliden witness that everything was done by the company to ensure the disposal would be handled safely. According to Edman, the defence sums up that the `material of negative value' has not contributed to the ailments seen in Arica and that Boliden could not to expected to foresee any deleterious effects because it had undertaken due diligence.


On 8 March 2018, the verdict goes Boliden's way. But the legal team point to discrepancies between the Chilean and Swedish assessments of the arsenic levels in urine samples. So, they lodge an appeal, with the company legal team being more intransigent than ever. When the decision comes on 27 March 2019, the appeal court applies Swedish law to time the suit out.


Naturally, the Aricans feels they have been treated like second-class citizens and that the truth has been buried to save Sweden's face. The Swedish Supreme Court refused a right to appeal. All involved should be ashamed of themselves, especially the Boliden executives who are (according to a closing caption) threatening to make the Arica Victims lawyers personally responsible for over $4.8 million legal costs. Until now, nothing has been done about a 2021 demand by a group of UN experts for the remaining waste to be removed from Chile.


We should no longer be surprised that companies use their wealth to buy justice when it comes to cases of this sort. What still dismays, however, is that lawyers who are supposedly committed to the truth continue to take what amounts to blood money in return for preventing corporate colonialism from having to own up to its responsibilities. One also wonders how the experts and witnesses they corral manage to sleep at night.


Edman and Kalén do a good job in naming and shaming the lackeys in this case, although they retain a sense of composure that tempers their advocacy. They also do well to avoid emotionalising the distress of the plaintiffs, who conduct themselves with a humbling dignity that contrasts with the smug aloofness of some of the jobsworthy suits and well-remunerated experts.


While Kalén wields the camera, Edman makes a genial spokesman for the Aricans, while also slipping in some discomfiting questions to the Boliden lickspittles. In all, the pair amassed over 150 hours of film and editor Göran Gester does a fine job of interweaving footage from Toxic Playgound with new material and the courtroom audio. The battle goes on. But this is just one of countless ongoing examples of corporate injustice in the developing world and, no matter how many documentaries expose the chicanery involved in avoiding responsibility, they won't persuade any big business boardroom to put morality above lucre. And how sad is that?


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