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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (8/12/2023)

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

(Reviews of John Lennon: Murder Without Trial; Trenque Lauquen; Smyrna; Tarrac; and A Stitch in Time)


JOHN LENNON: MURDER WITHOUT TRIAL.


Forty-three years ago today, John Lennon was gunned down outside the Dakota Building in New York. The world went into shock and mourning, as it struggled to comprehend why a man so dedicated to peace should have met such a violent end. Paul McCartney was so stunned that he appeared almost insouciant as he informed reporters that losing his fellow Beatle was `a drag'. This clip resurfaces in Rob Coldstream and Nick Hoult's John Lennon: Murder Without Trial, a three-part investigation into the shooting that is streaming on Apple TV. However, the focus isn't on Lennon, but on the man who pulled the trigger and waited calmly to be arrested.


In `The Last Day', narrator Kiefer Sutherland sets the scene on Monday 8 December 1980 by introducing Laurie Kaye, who flew into New York to conduct what would be John Lennon's last interview. Her excitement at meeting a hero remains undimmed, although she recalls with sadness a line that haunts her to this day. `I've always considered my work one piece,' Lennon said, `and I consider that my work won't be finished until I am dead and buried and I hope that's a long, long time.'


As Lennon and Yoko Ono left by limousine for the Record Plant recording studio, Dakota concierge Jay Hastings and porter Joe Many notice a chubby man step across the pavement to ask Lennon for an autograph. They confess to remembering there was something odd about Mark David Chapman's demeanour, as he mingled with the gaggle that always seemed to be outside the Dakota hoping to catch a glimpse of a Beatle. But nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen.


Record producer Jack Douglas was only looking forward, as Lennon had been in high spirits while mixing Yoko's `Walking on Thin Ice' for a single release after having returned to performing with the Double Fantasy album after a five-year sabbatical during which he had raised his second son, Sean, who had been born on his 9 October birthday. He recalls watching the lift doors close at the end of the session and returning to work with a reminder that they had an early start in the morning.


Back at the Dakota, John and Yoko were pulling up as taxi driver Richard Peterson was dropping off a fare. He saw Chapman approach Lennon and heard gunshots. At first, he thought they must be making a movie, but it soon became clear that he had just witnessed a cold-blooded killing. NYPD officers Peter Cullen and Herb Frauenberger were the first and second responders at the scene. Along with Hastings and Many, they recall seeing Lennon stagger into the courtyard and fall to the floor. His bloodied glasses were removed and placed on the reception desk, as Ono cradled her husband's head in her lap.


Cullen was shocked when he recognised Lennon. But he was more taken aback when he realised that Chapman had remained at the scene of the crime. As he was handcuffed, he apologised for having spoilt the cop's night and Cullen had responded by informing him that he had just ruined his entire life.


Finding a faint pulse in Lennon's neck, Frauenberger had placed him in his squad car and driven a few blocks to the Roosevelt Hospital. He had avoided using the radio because journalists monitored the frequency and there had been amazement at the ER that someone so famous had been admitted with gunshot wounds. Nurses Barbara Kammerer and Deartra Sato and Dr David Halleran recall the 45 minutes they had spent trying to treat Lennon before they accepted that he was not responding. Halleran wishes he could have done more, while Kammerer and Sato remember the `oh shit moment' when they realised that `Imagine' was playing over the muzak speakers.


Downstairs, Douglas and his wife were trying to persuade security staff to let them in. Anxious to prevent Sean from hearing anything on television, Yoko had left the hospital soon after the medics had stopped treating her husband. But Douglas remained and still curses himself for staying at the studio and not riding home with Lennon as he was wont to do, as he might have been able to stop Chapman from pulling the trigger.


By now, news of the shooting had leaked to media outlets and we see clips of rattled newsreaders straining to compose themselves before making the announcement that Lennon was dead. Even commentator Howard Cosell on the Monday night football felt the need to mention the tragedy during a delay while the New England Patriots lined up a field goal. While crowds came to mount a vigil outside the Dakota and share their dismay with waiting news crews, Chapman was taken to the 20th Precinct, where Detective Ron Hoffman was placed in charge of the inquiry. He reflects on the scrum that developed as news units from around the world crowded in for updates. Moreover, he muses on how anonymous and unperturbed Chapman had seemed and how difficult he knew it was going to be to find out anything about someone who had, to this point, led a blameless life.


While officers were sent to gather evidence, cabby Mark Snyder came to give a statement about his encounter with Chapman earlier in the day. He had boasted he was a record producer for The Rolling Stones and had just been recording with the secretly reformed Beatles. Looking in the rearview mirror, Snyder had noticed Chapman flipping through the pages of an empty notebook and he remembered thinking it odd that he had made such a point of giving his name and insisting that he would never forget him.


Elliot Mintz opens `The Investigation' with a recollection of the scenes outside the Dakota the following morning. Lennon's blood was still on the tiles, while Ono was in a state of deep shock. Over at the 20th Precinct, NYPD officer Tony Palma describes the chaos caused by the media scrum and the shudder he had felt when he escorted Chapman to the bathroom and he had declared: `I killed myself, I'm John Lennon.'


Cabby Peterson and cop Frauenberger mention how Chapman had remained in situ reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. This sense of stage-managine events also occurred to Hoffman after he searched Room 1041 at the Sheraton Hotel, where Chapman's passport had been left alongside a Bible that was open at the Gospel According to John. Also present was a tape of the Runt album by Todd Rundgren (who had questioned Lennon's revolutionary credentials in Melody Maker in 1974), a still from Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), and a letter of commendation about Chapman's work at a camp for Vietnamese refugee children.


Defence lawyer Herbert Adelberg claimed that this display suggested insanity rather than premeditation and he asked for a psychological evaluation of his client to be carried out on the Bellevu Hospital prison ward. Assistant commissioner Ed Hershey remembers being taken aback by how calm Chapman was and this composure, in spite of some flashes of confusion, persuaded Dr Naomi Goldstein to pass him fit to stand trial.


While this was going on, Ringo Starr turned up at the Dakota to console Yoko and Sean. She had corrected him when he had averred that he knew how she felt and, as he left through a throng eager to catch sight of a Beatle, he recalls wishing that the fans would leave the scene because the wake was running the risk of turning into a circus.


Meanwhile, at Ono's request, Mintz had started checking out the conspiracy theories that had started circulating. He tells of the documents that would later emerge in which President Richard Nixon sought a solution to `the Lennon problem'. Mintz also draws our attention to Dr Milton Kline, who had worked on MK Ultra, a contentious hypnosis technique that could turn a hapless individual into a pliable patsy. To Mintz's mind, it was highly significant that Kline wound up as part of Chapman's defence team. A reference is also made to Sirhan Sirhan's reaction to shooting Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.


Hoffman admits that the killer's behaviour at the scene seemed peculiar. But he resists indulging in speculation in reflecting on what a blank canvas Chapman seemed to be. Officers were dispatched to Hawaii to get some background information and we hear from Brook Hart, the lawyer who had accompanied the suspect's wife, Gloria Chapman, to the press conference at which she had expressed her love of The Beatles and her sorrow that Lennon `had to die'. He was concerned about Chapman's fitness to plead and how he would hold up after he was transferred to the Rikers Island facility in the Hudson River.


Shortly after this move (which was deemed for Chapman's own safety), Adelberg resigned and was replaced by Jonathan Marks, who appointed David Suggs to his team. He recalls visiting the client and being in no doubt about his mental state when he confided that he had killed Lennon in the hope that he would turn into Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. Suggs continues to maintain that Chapman was `crazy' and should have been detained in a secure hospital.


By contrast, state prosecutor Kim Hogrefe explains that he had never bought the insanity plea, even though Kline had put Chapman under hypnosis. We hear the tape in which he reveals that he had struggled with the voice telling him to `do it' and that he had felt simultaneously present and absent from the scene. Across the city, a vigil was being held outside the Dakota, which included a 10-minute silence that Ono had requested for the repose of her husband's soul. Among those in attendance was John Hinckley, Jr., who would attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan just three months later and Sutherland notes in his closing narration that the police were also to find him in possession of Salinger's novel.


The final part of the series, `The Trial', opens with Hinckley's psychiatrist, Dr William Carpenter, claiming that he recognised schizophrenia in his patient and was able to plead that he was innocent by virtue of insanity. However, he realises that the public wants guilty verdicts when it comes to heinous crimes and Suggs agrees that he and Marks knew they faced an uphill battle in convincing a jury that Chapman was insane, especially after he had told the police, `All You Need Is Love, have you ever heard that? Well, this is what I say to that: all you need is love and 250 million dollars. He was the biggest, phoniest bastard that ever lived. I wasn't about to let the world endure 10 more years of his menagerie of bullshit.'


Refusing to use the defendant's name on camera because he believes his motive was the pursuit of fame, Hogrefe outlines how Chapman bought a gun in October 1980 and flew to Atlanta, Georgia to obtain bullets. In a further act of premeditation, he befriended some of the female fans outside the Dakota in order to blend in and not arouse suspicion.


Suggs counters this line of reasoning, however, and insists it makes no sense to ruin your life merely to snag front page notoriety. He recalls Chapman confiding on tape that he had killed Lennon in order to promote The Catcher in the Rye. He even hoped to become the new Holden Caulfield for having eliminated a phoney, whose hopes for the world in `Imagine' were at odds with his own luxurious lifestyle.

In order to reinforce the insanity plea, Suggs knew they needed to find triggers in Chapman's past. They found Vance Hunter, his childhood friend from Georgia, who had been aware that his father had beaten him and his mother. Seeking an escape from his distressing domestic situation, Chapman had turned to drugs and had told Hunter that he had seen Jesus Christ during a weekend-long LSD trip.


Religion certainly played a part in the young Chapman's life and we hear from Charles McGowan, the pastor who had baptised him at his Atlanta church. Youth club girlfriend Jessica Blankenship also testifies. She remembers Chapman being a sensitive soul, who played guitar and had been a popular summer camp counselor. He had been a firm Fabs fan until 1966 when Lennon had claimed that they were bigger than Jesus (although this was five years before they dated). While they had been an item for a time and had studied together at Covenant College, Blankenship had broken up with Chapman when he started to become hectoring and he had gone to Hawaii to make a fresh start.


Things did not work out, however, and Chapman had attempted suicide by carbon monoxide asphyxiation. However, Hogrefe dismisses this as a stunt, as he was an inveterate attention seeker. But this angle isn't followed up and the documentary leaves significant gaps in its account of Chapman's life in the late 1970s, when he had gone on a six-week world tour inspired by Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, and had started to drink after marrying Gloria Abe and struggling to hold down various jobs.


A trial date was set for 22 June 1981 and journalist E.R. Shipp recalls the chaos outside the courtroom when the doors were closed and proceedings were delayed. It eventually transpired that Chapman had informed his lawyers that God had appeared in his cell and ordered him to change his plea to guilty. In Suggs's mind, this course of action confirms Chapman's insanity. But he had argued that he didn't want to go to a mental health institution because he feared his demons would get him.


At the time, Marks had told the press that he was disappointed to have been denied the chance to participate in an exciting trial. But forensic psychiatrist Dr Liz Gold thinks that Chapman should have been reassessed, as she believes he had frayed under pressure and Suggs describes and psychotic incident at Rikers after the change of plea, when his client had insisted he was possessed by two demons.


Shipp reveals that Chapman had brought his copy of The Catcher in the Rye to court and had read a passage before sentence was pronounced. No mention is made, however, of psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis's attempt to speak on Chapman's behalf, as Judge Dennis Edwards sentenced him to 20 years to life. Gold suggests the fact that Chapman had asked to be addressed as Holden Caulfield confirmed that he didn't want to be himself. But NYPD detective Hoffman remains unimpressed, as he confides that most of the shrinks he has met have been as nutty as their patients. He also derides the importance of Salinger's book and admits he had never bothered to read it because he had always known it was a red herring.


Photographer Bob Gruen hails Yoko Ono as a pillar of strength in the months following the murder. She had pictured her husband's bloodstained glasses on the cover of her 1981 Season of Glass album as part of her campaign for gun control. Eleven years later, Larry King interviewed Chapman from the Attica Correctional Facility on 8 December. He claims that the Lord has cured him and that he now regrets shooting Lennon, who hadn't been a phoney after all.


Denied parole on 3 October 2000 and subsequently on 12 further occasions, Chapman remains behind bars at the Green Haven Correctional Facility. Regretting that he is too scared to attend chapel services, McGowan hints that he had shot the wrong man, as he would have been released years ago if he had not killed such a beloved celebrity.


As he had claimed insanity, John Hinckley, Jr. had received treatment and been paroled to his mother, as he was no longer considered a danger. But Chapman had changed his plea and been left to suffer the consequences. As the series proffers this note of pity and references a Scouse fan outside the Dakota who reckons that Lennon would have advocated forgiveness rather than retribution, it concludes with Yoko lamenting that her husband has not been around to help a troubled world, while a tweenage Sean tells an interviewer that he is just glad to have had John Lennon as a father. And that's reality.


There's much to commend in a series that persuades so many people connected to the Lennon case to speak on camera for the first time. The eyewitness testimonies certainly add to the immediacy and poignancy of the account of events on 8 December 1980. The contributions of those involved in representing and prosecuting Chapman are also valuable. Yet, much is missing - particularly relating to Chapman's prior life - from a supposed deep dive that feels too short at around two hours.


It was asking too much for Coldstream and Hoult to be able to coax Yoko or Sean into collaborating with the production. But their use of audio clips from the pair, along with Ringo Starr, feels slightly disingenuous. Similarly, the inclusion of Elliot Mintz's reference to conspiracy theories muddies the water, as the majority of them are ignored, while there is no real discussion of the Kline connection. The linking of the Chapman and Hinckley cases also feels desultory and this reluctance to delve undermines the documentary's sense of exhaustivity and authority.


The producers can't be faulted for corralling so many significant figures, while the central thesis that Chapman was let down by the US Justice System seems sound. Yet they avoid reaching a definitive conclusion as to whether Chapman was insane in the legal sense or a calculating killer with mental health issues. They also seem reluctant to press the talking-heads, with a number in the latter episodes having little of genuine import to impart.


There are also blind spots. Nothing is said about Lennon-Rundgren feud and how this might have shaped Chapman's thinking. More might also have been made of the role of Judge Dennis Edwards and his handling of Chapman's two days in court. It would also have been useful to learn more about Jonathan Marks and his tactics for the case (and where Suggs fitted into the defence hierarchy). Furthermore, too little is said about the legal and clinical reasons for the continued denial of Chapman's parole applications.


Editors Leigh Brzeski, James Gold, and Tom Herington make a decent job of assembling the diverse archival materials, with the first episode creating a particularly vivid impression of how the world reacted to the tragic news that fateful December day. Given the nature of previous items bearing the 72 Films banner (including profiles of Donald Trump and Elon Musk), it was to be expected that this would be a considered rather than a sensationalist discourse. Yet one can't help thinking that Jared Leto's portrayal of Chapman in Jarrett Schaefer's Chapter 27 (2007) offered more perceptive take on the irrational sense of betrayal that gained a delusional nowhere man the infamy he craved.


TRENQUE LAUQUEN.


In Laura Citarella's debut feature, Ostende (2011), Laura Paredes played a character named Laura whose curiosity gets the better of her. The same happens to another Paredes-played Laura in Trenque Lauquen, a two-part, 260-minute puzzle without solutions that is closer in feel to Mariano Llinás's six-part, 808-minute Argentinian epic, La Flor (2018) - which Citarella produced for the El Pampero Cine collective - than her own sophomore outing, La Mujer de los perros (2015).


Divided into seven chapters, Part One begins with `The Adventure', which sees Buenos Aires academic Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd) join reluctant forces with delivery driver Ezequiel (Ezequiel Pierri) to search for his partner, Laura (Laura Paredes), a botanist who has gone missing while working in the small pampas town of Trenque Lauquen. She has been classifying flowers for the local council and Rafael is convinced that Laura has gone to find an elusive orchid. However, Ezequiel has spotted a note tucked under the windscreen wiper of Rafael's car that reads: `Farewell, farewell. I am going away. I am going away.'


In `Ezequiel's Part', we flashback to examine his relationship with Laura, who also had a `Women Who Made History' slot on the show hosted by Juliana (Juliana Muras) on the local radio station. She is talking about Lady Godiva when Ezequiel comes to pick her up to look for a flower on an outlying farm. Over lunch, she tells him about renovating a house with Rafael, but she doesn't sound enthusiastic. Instead, she asks to visit a farm owned by Martín Fierro and they discover only a burnt-out farmhouse on the land. Over supper, she confides that she is fixated on a love letter that she found in a library book and tells Ezequiel the story in `The Letters and the Books'.

While seeking a topic for her next talk, Laura had come across Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai's The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Woman. Secreted in some stuck together pages was a letter dating from 1962 to schoolteacher Carmen Zuna from Paolo Bertino, a member of a landed Italian family that had settled in the area. A clue had led her to a book on bees in a collection donated by Martín Fierro and she admits that she had gone to the farm for clues rather than blooms.


Using record cards, Laura had found letters in hundreds of books and had been drawn into Carmen and Paolo's world. Yet Ezequiel is puzzled why the clandestine correspondence of two people she didn't know could prove so intriguing. As they read the letters on their flower-hunting trips, however, he becomes involved in the exchanges, which are sometimes coyly graphic in the description of their love-making. Despite the passion, Carmen begins to pull away and Laura and Ezequiel speculate on the words that had so hurt Paolo and decide upon, `Farewell. Farewell. I am going away. I am going away.'


This is also the title of the next chapter, as Rafael and Ezequiel arrive in América to visit a pig farmer who might have seen Laura. It proves to be a dead end and they spend the night in a hotel after getting a flat tyre. Rafael does establish, however, that Laura had taken Ezequiel's vehicle and that he had driven her around town on her various errands (including the LU 11 radio gig that he had known nothing about). Over breakfast, Rafael explains that the underlined passages in the Kollontai tome seem to indicate that Laura had got cold feet about moving in with him and taking a job in his department.


Ezequiel has his own thoughts, however, and drives off alone at the start of `The Roads'. We flashback to him undertaking a little research of his own. As the letters often had a student/teacher theme, he returned to his old school to see if Carmen had worked there. The caretaker, the librarian, the principal, and his old teacher take him through some photos from the 1960s and they all fail to recognise a particular woman. Checking the files of supply teachers from this period, Ezequiel deduces that Carmen came to Trenque Lauquen on a temporary basis and met Paolo during her stay.


At the start of `Carmen Zuna', Ezequiel tells Laura in an empty restaurant how he has been doing some more digging. He has discovered that Carmen (Laura Citarella) had taught Paolo's children, which makes their liaison all the more illicit. However, reading ahead, Ezequiel notes that Paolo starts mentioning a third party in his letters and expressing a fear that Carmen's head has been turned. As he reads on, he discovers that the person involved is female and that shortly after this is mentioned in a missive, Carmen disappears some time in 1968.


While Ezequiel is stumped, Laura has a theory that Carmen left while Paolo was in Italy because she had fallen pregnant. She walked to avoid leaving a trail he could follow and he had despaired because the correspondence had dried up. Eventually, after reaching the sea, Carmen had stopped to give birth to a daughter named Juana.


Paolo, meanwhile, had wandered around Italy pining for his lost love. At some point, however, Juana comes to live with him and he raises her alone, in the hope that her mother would some day return. He had gone back to Trenque Lauquen and placed more letters in more books so that she could find them. But she never did and Laura's look of satisfaction at reaching a satisfactory conclusion had so enchanted Ezequiel that he had been unable to resist an impulse to kiss her. She had giggled in surprise.


While Ezequiel drives around wondering where Laura could have gone, `Rafael's Part' takes us back to the stranded academic returning to Trenque Lauquen in a cab. He is cross and calls into the council office to see Laura's boss, Normita (Cecilia Rainero). She is confused as to why he knows so little about his girlfriend's life, as she explains that Laura had become distracted towards the end of her contract and had run up a bill at the hotel minibar before renting a room from Normita's grandmother. Laura had allowed this to become cluttered with library books and Normita had had to ask Ezequiel to return them.


Offering to show the stranger around town, Normita drives past Laura's past residences and her favourite bar. As a theremin plays spookily on the soundtrack, she passes the radio mast that resembles a flying saucer. At the bus depot, she bids Rafael goodbye with a passing remark about a story that has been in the news about a weird creature resembling both a monkey and an alligator that had been found in a lake. Rafael shrugs, as he has heard nothing about the case and he returns to the capital, as the first half ends.


Part Two starts with `Juliana's Part', which finds her in the radio studio listening to Laura's Lady Godiva contribution. This brief chapter is soon succeeded by `A Sea of News' (which is the name of Juliana's show) and this centres on a meeting between Juliana and Ezequiel, in which the former ventures that Laura doesn't necessarily want to be found. She takes him to the studio after hours and plays a recording of Laura informing her friend that she is going to leave and that no one is to come looking for her because everything will be okay.


As Ezequiel listens, he hears Laura describe an encounter at a farm with Elisa Esperanza (Elisa Carricajo), an almost spectral woman who had asked her to keep an eye out for some rare yellow flowers. She had spotted some in a field and promised to fetch them when Elisa appeared at her hotel one day in urgent need of them. She had failed to collect them, however, and that's when Laura had read about her story on the front page of the newspaper.


This takes us into `The Lake Case', which harks back to the emergency services coming to the lake in a local park, where a barely living creature had been plucked from the water. Juliana had included the incident in a bulletin and noted that there were conflicting stories about the nature of the recovered being, with some claiming that it was a boy who had been reared by monkeys and others insisting it was an alligator. As Dr Elisa Esperanza was in charge of the case, Laura had recognised her as the flower woman and become perplexed, especially when Marquitos the monkey boy (as the press had dubbed him) had turned out to be an alligator after all and the medic had resigned amidst rumours that the town mayor had devised the incident to distract people from an unpopular privatisation project.


Ezequiel is baffled, but Juliana insists he keeps listening, as Laura continues her story in the penultimate chapter, `Elisa Esperanza'. So puzzled by Eliza's part in the Marquitos episode, Laura decides to stay in Trenque Lauquen when her contract with the council expires. She moves in with Normita's grandmother and cycles around town trying to find the doctor. Eventually, she latches on to her red pick-up truck and follows her to the remote house she shares with her lover, Romina (Verónica Llinás).


Hiding in the bushes one night, Laura had watched the couple dancing. However, an alarm had gone off and Elisa had rushed into an upstairs room with a hypodermic needle to administer an injection to an unseen patient who emitted a guttral moan that convinced Laura that the women were harbouring the lake alligator in their home.

Taking the flowers, Laura wangled an invitation from Elisa to listen to the creature at the door of its room. She notes that the doctor is heavily pregnant and dozes off in an armchair after Romina gets home and insists on making her a sandwich. Next day, Elisa had explained that the creature was a shape-shifting mutant that was capable of living underwater. She thinks it's currently exhibiting female characteristics, but offers no more insight before asking Laura to leave.


She was invited back shortly afterwards and given jobs around the house and garden. Soon, Laura felt part of the family and hoped they would ask her to stay. Despite being curious about the occupant of the upstairs room, she asked no questions, even after finding an incubator full of rare plants in a shed in the grounds. One night, however, Elisa made a bitter brew and told Laura that she could see the room they had been preparing for their guest. She's pleased to be taken into their confidence, but is made to leave the next day after asking Elisa why she had been searching for the yellow flowers before Marquitos was found in the lake.


Confused at being ostracised, Laura had returned to her room. But she soon received a call from Elisa telling her that they had been forced to leave in a hurry. They were lying low and needed Laura to borrow Ezequiel's car and fetch some supplies from the house. Unable to resist, she had ventured into the creatures room and discovered that Elisa and Romina had created a little jungle hideaway, complete with remote controlled running water, fans, and birdsong to make the creature feel secure.


She also finds some plants in an insulation chamber before rowing out to the island in the middle of the lake to find some yellow flowers. On sniffing them, however, Laura passes out and she has to wade to the shore prior to making her way to the studio to record her message for Juliana. As this ends, Ezequiel asks what they are supposed to do next and drives round the nocturnal town with the word `nothing' ringing in his ears.


Arriving at the rendezvous in `Laura's Part', the botanist learns from Elisa that her slight delay in reaching them has caused the creature to perish. Without blaming her, she wishes Laura well for the future and she hangs up. Leaving a note under the windscreen wiper of Ezequiel's car, Laura sets off on foot across country. She's given food in a remote inn and rides as far as a bridge on a convenient white horse. Crossing to the other side, she sleeps before finding shelter in an abandoned house. Finding a change of shoes in a shed, she trudges on and spends the night on the bank of a still river. As dawn breaks, the camera pans away to scour the horizon and, by the time it returns to Laura, she's gone.


This comes as no surprise. Indeed, nothing does in this delightfully plot logic-averse saga that meanders along at its own pace and down its own byways. Whether Lauras Citarella and co-scenarist Paredes are deconstructing genre conventions, demystifying the mystery rubric, or simply letting this six-year-in-the-making odyssey take them where its mood fancies, they have succeeded without pretension in challenging the structures of narrative cinema as they have existed since the silent era. Their refusal to resolve storylines (or is it merely a whimsical lack of interest in what-comes-nexts) leaves every diegetic option open, with the result that this four-hour celebration of the empowerment of women manages to be both satisfying and frustrating, intriguing and gnomish, and daring and contrived.


Although there have been a number of films about epistolary romances, the first part is the more involving of the two, as the faint echoes in the second of Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017) are hard to ignore, even though we never get to see this creature from the lagoon. Moreover, it seems unlikely that the Laura we see in the first seven chapters would be living a double life that sees her become a fixated factotum to a sketchily limned lesbian couple harbouring a mutant. But all bets are off when it comes to plausibility in this milieu and Paresdes is such a magnetic screen presence that anything she does has an in-built believability.


The byplay between Ezequiel Pierri and Rafael Spregelburd also has its moments, while the latter's interview with Cecilia Rainero's boss is excruciatingly amusing. Her shifting stance is one of many ways in which Citarelli (whose family comes from Trenque Lauquen) plays with storytelling forms and perspective, although the discussions that Paredes and Pierri have about their investigations into the letter chain are more absorbing than the audio recording, which feels a little functional considering how inventive so much else is in a picture that revels self-referentially in being variously Borgesian, Antonionian, and Lynchian.


Forever changing angle and distance, the cinematography of Agustín Mendilaharzu, Inés Duacastella, and Yarará Rodriguez draws the viewer into the action before stepping back to present another frame of reference. Similarly, Miguel de Zuviría and Alejo Moguillansky's editing dictates the tone of scenes that are mostly played with a degree of leisureliness that is both disarming and enticing. But the masterstroke is Gabriel Chwojnik's score, which samples Frédéric Chopin and pastiches Ennio Morricone when not dabbling in finger-picking folk and theremin-flecked atmospherics. Such tonal switches reinforce the playful nature of this unclassifiably paradoxical piece. But it also has serious things to say about truth, which is out there somewhere if only you know where to look - perhaps in a concluding part of the Laura trilogy?


SMYRNA.


What curious coincidences the cinema release schedule can throw up. The day after Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made his first trip to Athens in six years to meet Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Grigoris Karantinakis's 2021 epic, Smyrna, arrives in UK cinemas. Aspiring more to the heritage style of Merchant-Ivory than the stylised realism of Theo Angelopoulos, this adaptation of Mimi Denissi's long-running play, Smyrna, My Beloved, this makes for effective melodrama. But its political inferences are rather more problematic.


As Syrian refugees come ashore on Lesbos n 2015, Filio Williams (Jane Lapotaire) laments that the chaos that drove her family from Ionia in the 1920s is happening again. Having travelled from New York to see how her donation is being spent, she entrusts a diary to her granddaughter so that she can understand her heritage.


On 26 October 1916, St Dimitrios's Day, Filio Baltatzi (Mimi Denissi) prepares for her husband's name day by purchasing spices from the Turkish quarter of Smyrna with her new maid, Zaharoula (Katerina Geronikolou). Chauffeur Halil (Burak Hakki) warns her that it's no longer safe to venture out of the Greek sector, but she insists she was born in the city and that everyone knows she treats her Turkish servants life family. Over supper, however, husband Dimitris (Leonidas Kakouris) argues with his brother, Spyros (Krateros Katsoulis), over the conflicting stance of King Constantine and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos over where to place their loyalty if Greece enters the Great War because the monarch supports his German cousins, while the politician is hoping to make territorial gains following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire by siding with British prime minister, David Lloyd George, and his allies.


As the British bombard the nearby port, American diplomat William Dawson (Duncan Skinner) is briefed on the situation by George Horton (Rupert Graves) and his wife, Katina (Daphne Alexander). They inform him that the British, French, and Italian residents are known as `Levantines' and that their governments refrain from any concerted attack on this part of the Ottoman domain because they would never risk harming their own nationals.


Halil is a member of the Young Turks group hoping for an independent state after the war, but father Osman (Özdemir Çiftçioglu) warns him of the dangers of dabbling in politics. He reminds him that they are all Smyrniots and that they owe much to the Baltatzis. But he is aware that Dimitris supports Venizelos and his ambition to reunite Greece and Asia Minor and Zaharoula flirts with his son, Vassilis (Giannis Eglezos), while trying to read the headlines of his newspaper.

Insisting that the family has nothing to fear from Young Turks after Halil warns her to take care, Filio is distressed when her dressmaker, Madame Takoui (Tamilla Koulieva), fears that the 1915 Armenian genocide that claimed her family and the 1914 Greek massacre in Phocaea could happen in Smyrna. As the scene shifts to 1917, however, Filio remains confident that the internecine connections within the city will hold strong. Indeed, she's more concerned about daughter Lefkothea (Anastasia Pantousi) marrying into the family of Lady Whittall (Susan Hampshire), who gossips about her while watching Enrico Caruso at the opera house.


Later that summer, Eddie Whittal (Nathan Thomas) invites the family to one of his grandmother's cocktail parties and the two matriarchs sound each other out. Having been rescued by Halil from a knife attack outside by opera house, Dimitris is overjoyed to learn that the king has been overthrown and that Greece is about to enter the war. But Spyros is anxious and feels no better when victory comes and Dimitris and pals like Socrates Onassis (Manolis Gerapetridis) and Metropolitan Bishop Chrysostomos (Thodoros Katsafados) toast Constantinople's return to Athens. However, Eddie's father, Phillip (Ian Robertson), cautions that the British will never allow the reunification and will only sanction an autonomous state under its protection.


Venizelos sends troops to Smyrna, but Young Turks fire on the welcome parade on the waterfront and Halil leaves to join up with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after Aristeidis Stergiadis (Christos Stergioglou) is appointed governor. He's equanimity infuriates Dimitris, while Filio bridles at any suggestion that the family should flee Smyrna before the tide turns and the Turks retaliate for Greek attacks on sympathetic villages.


Meanwhile, housekeeper Eftalia (Dina Mihailidou) catches Vassilis leavng Zaharoula's bedroom and warns him that his mother will never allow him to marry a servant girl. Feeling frustrated, he runs away to fight with the army, while his father heads to Athens to help Venizelos win the 1920 election on the back of the Treaty of Sèvres. Filio feels alone, but is happy that she was able to persuade Lady Whittall to bless Eddie's engagement to Lefkothea.


Appalled by the return of Constantine and Venizelos's humiliation at the polls, Dimitris returns to Smyrna. However, Spyros is convinced that it's only a matter of time before the army is withdrawn from an unpopular war at a time of economic austerity and he announces that he and Angelica (Nedie Antoniades) are leaving for Athens before Atatürk rids the region of all Greeks to impress his nationalist following. Scared that the tide is turning, Filio suggests that they should also start making plans. But her husband insists that women shouldn't interfere in politics and vows never to betray the land of his birth.


Shortly afterwards, Vassilis returns wounded from the calamity of the Battle of Sakarya and he has flashbacks to the slaughter as Zaharoula welcomes him home during a storm. However, she is frustrated that she's not allowed to dance with him on New Year's Eve, as Dimitris and Spyrios make up and new American YMCA official Asa Jennings (Daniel Crossley) learns from Horton and Dawson that the Turks have renamed Smyrna as Izmir because they consider it to be the Infidel city. Jennings (who is a Methodist missionary) puts his hope in God that all shall be well.


Things remain tense until the summer, when the Greek line collapses and the army goes into retreat. With Atatürk marching on Smyrna, Spyrios curses Dimitris for not heeding him and they hope that the Whittals will give them shelter. Zaharoula is pregnant and can't break the news to the crushed Vassilis, as the family packs hastily and leaves its country retreat at Kordelis. Meanwhile, Horton implores Jennings to use any influence he has to persuade Washington to send ships to collect those fleeing the inferno.


The Metropolitan is dragged from his cathedral and butchered outside, while Spyrios tries to use his wealth to find someone willing to sail the family to safety without passports. Stergiadis is branded a traitor by the Smyrniots for failing to warn or protect them and Dimitris apologises to Filio for being too pig-headed to listen to the warnings. As Eddie crosses the city to find his fiancée, she refuses to leave without her family. However, she puts on her wedding dress and he slips the ring his grandmother had given her on to her finger. Filio bids a tearful farewell to her aged father, who stays with Osman.


Deciding to split up, Spyrios heads to the waterfront, only for too many people to jump on to the rowing boat and it sinks with many people being drowned. Filio and Dimitris get to the US consulate, where Horton apologises for being unable to help them as the relief ship will only take Americans. As Madame Takoui is burnt alive while praying in her home, the family decides to make a dash for the harbour. Dimitris has his throat slit in front of his wife and daughter and they get separated in the crush.


The Whittalls watch from the deck of a British ship as the city burns, with a distraught Lady Whittall urging the sailors to cast their searchlights on to scene to show up the crimes being committed by the Turks. Having found his father murdered, Halil makes for the quay, where he finds Filio. He places her in the same boat as Zaharoula, but she is forced to watch as a deranged Lefkothea walks off the dock into the Mediterranean Sea in her wedding dress.


The film ends in Lesbos in 1923, as Filio cares for Zaharoula and her granddaughter in a refugee camp. As it's St Dimitrios's Day, they decide to make baklava and she renews her vow never to remember Greek Smyrna and ensure that no one is allowed to forget. Closing captions estimate the numbers of deceased and dispossessed, although these remain unconfirmed a century on and there is no mention of the fate of the men and boys aged between 17-45, who were dispatched into the Anatolian interior.


While obviously a Greek rather than a Turkish production, this bold bid to shoehorn a family saga into five years of brutal history strives to maintain a balance for much of its 141-minute running time. Obviously, this becomes more difficult once the massacre begins, although Karantinakis and Denissi limit the amount of blood-shedding shown and leave the rape and pillage to the audience's imagination.


Cinematographer Simos Sarketzis uses close-ups and shakicam for much of this extended sequence in order to convey the savagery and mayhem, which is reinforced by Lydia Antonova and Lambis Haralambidis's pugnacious editing. But the much of the scale of the atrocity is suggested by Aris Louziotis's sound design, which might have been more envelopingly effective if it had not had to compete

with Andreas Katsigiannis's accomplished if over-emphatic score.


As is to be expected of one of Greece's finest actresses, Denissi holds the picture together with a performance of valiance and poignancy. But, while the support playing is earnest and adept, Filio is the only character with anything approaching contextual and emotional depth, although she can appear complacent in her both attitudes and her appreciation of what's at stake. This decision to present a complex historical situation in the simplest and most emotive of terms hardly helps, however, and will frustrate those with knowledge of the period, as well as anyone hoping to learn more about the connection between the refugees cast adrift in the opening and closing segments. Franco Zeffirelli's Tea With Mussolini (1999) fell into many of the same traps and Karantinakis's direction has its cumbersome moments, most notably when Halil cuts meat with bloodied hands as he hears news of the Ottoman defeat in the Great War. For all the misgivings and shortcomings, however, this proves a worthy memorial whose underlying message needs to be heeded.


TARRAC.


A prolific TV director with credits going back to the 1990s, Declan Recks has also collaborated with playwright Eugene O'Brien on such features as Eden (2008) and The Flag (2016). The pair return to the big screen for their first Irish language outing, Tarrac, which introduces audiences outside the Kerry Gaeltacht to the sport of naomhóg racing.


Aoife (Kelly Gough) temporarily leaves a well-paid job in Dublin to return to the Dingle Peninsula after her father, Breandán `Bear' Ó Braoin (Lorcan Cranitch), suffers a heart attack. He is begrudgingly pleased to see her, as they have drifted apart since her mother died. But she receives a warmer welcome at the pub, where Jude (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), Aisling (Kate Finegan), Mairéad (Muireann Ní Raghallaigh), and Cáit (Sláine Ní Chathalláin) are celebrating reaching the semi-final of the Munster naomhóg competition.


Having rowed out to Bear's boat after she thinks he's collapsed tending his lobster pots, Aoife remembers the pleasure and the pain of being in a currach and looks at the trophies won in her youth that still decorate her room. She insists her rowing days are over, however, after going for an impromptu swim in the ocean with Jude and Aisling. Yet she watches Naomi (Rachel Feeney) rowing across the sunset-dappled water and feels a pang.


When Cáit gets injured, Aoife is asked to join the crew. But she is dismayed by how unfit Mairéad and drops her from the boat when Aisling and Jude make her skipper. She implements a training regime and demands the crew stay off the booze until the semi-finals. In order to get her crewmates more time, she helps Jude with her three children and persuades Aisling's pub-owning father, Jim (Liam Heffernan), to change her hours. She even tries to get sponsorship to help put the village of Baile na Trá on the map.


Calling at the trailer park to ask Naomi to join the crew, Aoife meets her cousin, Noellie (Cillian O'Gairbhi ), a good-hearted eccentric who is putting Naomi up because she's having trouble with her parents. As she has Olympic aspirations, she's not slow in criticising the others, who put up with her because the race is just three days away.


Much to everyone's surprise, the quartet qualifies in second place behind Limerick to reach the four-crew final of the Munster Cup. Bear is impressed that they have made it for the first time in 22 years and joins the women in Tigh Dan for a coke. But Naomi knows there is a lot of work to do before the final and she turns training rows into bonding sessions and performances start to improve.


While Naomi worries about her parents, Aoife pines for her mother and wanders into the outside room she had turned into a dressmaking workshop. Still feeling estranged from Bear, she gets upset when he sings a sentimental song she associates with her mother in the bar. She also becomes resentful when Bear offers the crew some tips before the big race and presents them with `Máire', a currach named after his late wife that he has recently finished after many years. Grabbing a bottle of poitín, Aoife heads for the hills to get drunk because, as she tells Noellie, she can't stand the pain of missing her mother and wishes that Bear would realise that things will never quite be the same between them.


Waking in the dark, the disorientated Aoife staggers home and crashes into bed. When Bear rouses her, she gets into a flap and winds up accusing him of abandoning her when her mother died and drowning his sorrows. She was only 16 and felt as though she had lost both parents at once. Thus, she's in no mood to listen when he reveals that he had nearly drowned at sea on the day she was born and had been so overwhelmed at seeing her in her mother's arms that he felt he could never be a good enough father.


They drive to the jetty in silence and Aoife struggles to keep herself together, as she carries Máire down to the water. The commentator and watching spectators consider Baile na Trá to be rank outsiders and they get off to a scrappy start because Aoife's head isn't in the race. Jude urges her to let it all go and she shrieks out her pain and her crewmates join in. Suddenly sisters pulling in the same direction, they get their rhythm and pull into the lead at the turning buoy. It's too close to call on the line, but Baile na Trá triumph and, while Jude, Aisling, and Naomi hug husband, father, and cousin in delight, Bear and Aoife content themselves with quiet smiles.


On the way home, Aoife notes that the lobster pots are ready to come in and father and daughter row out together the next day. Pausing for tea from a flask, Bear gives Aoife a Wagon Wheel, which had always been the treat that Máire had packed for them on their boat trips. She tucks in with a smile and the pair bob in a streak of buttery sunlight upon a placid sea.


Despite being bereft of surprises and stealth, there's plenty to like about this a low-key saga, whose title translates as `pull'. Those hoping for a crash course in naomhóg or what it means to the people of Kerry Gaeltacht will have to go elsewhere, as O'Brien and Recks treat the sport as little more than a romanticised MacGuffin. They may as well have chosen iománaíocht or cleas na bacóide, especially as the crew's oars are all over the place in the rowing close-ups. But the sun glints prettily on the water and cinematographer Patrick Jordan makes some nice studies of the clouds and distant hills.


However, this isn't the kind of postcard weather that many will associate with the Dingle Peninsula and it's disappointing how disinterested Recks seems in the locale or the nature of daily life in Baile na Trá. Apart from the Ó Braoin abode and Noellie's caravan, the only place we see is the pub and that's only from the inside. We don't get a single street shot and are left to imagine how the village nestles into the coastline.


The story itself couldn't be more straightforward. It's obvious from the moment the Munster Cup is mentioned that Aoife is going to join the boat and win the race. But it's equally apparent that she's going to make up with Bear, even though it's dramatically convenient that she should choose the morning of a momentous event to raise an issue that has dominated every waking hour for almost half her life.


Kelly Gough and Lorcan Cranitch play the scene well enough, which has its echo in the confrontations between Cranitch and Éanna Hardwicke in Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney's Gaelic football drama, Lakelands. Yet it lacks emotional potency because Aoife and Bear's relationship has been so sketchily outlined, although it feels like an in-depth case study beside the travails of Aoife's sparky crewmates, which are mentioned in passing and instantly forgotten about. The same can't be said of Cormac O'Halloran's score, however, which twinkles its way delightfully through every scene and transition, as sisterly solidarity wins the underdog day and helps a damaged prodigal heal and find her way home. Formulaic in every regard, this is slight to the point of being trite. But it's sincere and likeable all the same.


A STITCH IN TIME.


If a cinematographer with a track record like Donald McAlpine chooses a project, it must have something. But debuting Australian director Sasha Hadden slops so much sentiment over the slender storyline in A Stitch in Time that its small pleasures are somewhat submersed.


Approaching her nineties, Sydneysider Liebe (Maggie Blinco) continues to dote on musician husband, Duncan (Glenn Shorrock), even though he doesn't have a good word for her. Sacked from his cabaret job at the local bowling club for being too old, he decides to record an album and approaches former bandmate Justin (John Gregg) for seed money and support.


They had fallen out years before when Justin quit music to go into business and Duncan had prevented Liebe from seeing Justin's wife, Christine (Belinda Giblin). They pick up where they left off, but Duncan and Justin squabble and any prospect of a deal is dashed. As a Kindertransport child, Liebe is used to surviving and has stashed away lots of A$5 bills as a nest egg. But Duncan's harsh words finally force her to leave him and she accepts Christine's offer of an attic room in her luxurious house.


In her youth, Liebe had been a talented dressmaker and, a chance meeting with young Chinese designer, Hamish (Hoa Xuande), at Balmain markets persuades her to follow her dream. The noise made by her ancient sewing machine drives Justin mad, however, while the neglected Christine's eagerness to socialise makes excessive demands on Liebe's time. When Duncan calls to fetch her home, an ensuing stand-off culminates in him spilling the beans about a distant fling with Christine and the heartbroken Liebe ups sticks and moves into a chilly garage in a house full of Chinese students.


As Liebe starts selling a few of her gloriously retro brocade dresses, Hamish sets up a website, Grandma Couture, and the orders start tumbling in. Working long hours, Liebe makes herself ill. But she recovers after the students make her chicken noodles and agree to tidy the kitchen so that Liebe can take over the cooking.


There's no prospect of a cure for Duncan, however, who has been coughing since the opening scene. Christine tells Liebe that he's in hospital and she arranges for him to record his last song with a young musician friend and it goes viral in time for Duncan to make a deathbed apology for having been such a lousy husband. Having cried herself out, Liebe determines to make the most of her second chance.


Held together by an affecting performance by 89 year-old Maggie Blinco, this is an undemanding drama that trundles along without ever ringing true for a second. Throwaway details like Liebe having lost her parents in the Holocaust are typical of a screenplay that considers contrivance a boon. It's eminently possible that Liebe would remain loyal to Duncan after years of emotional abuse, but it seems unlikely that they would be able to survive on his bowls club wage or that a man of his age would have retained a residency when no one listens to his stuff. Still, this is the country that gave us Kevin Carlin's Boy Town (2006), so why shouldn't a never-has-been in his 80s aspire to recording an album?


The feud with Justin and the one-night stand with Christine are also cornball convolutions to push the plot along, as Liebe is adopted by Hamish and the Chinese students and befriended by customers who include the niece of a renowned Aboriginal artist who gives her a painting in return for a free dress. Such gestures give proceedings a cosy patina, but they also expose their self-conscious feel-goodness and essential superficiality.


Best known for his work with The Little River Band, Glenn Shorrock copes well enough with being a grouchy chauvinist, but finds ailing penitence more difficult to master. In his last role, John Gregg does a nice line in minted smugness, while Belinda Giblin proves poignant as the trophy wife in entitled need of a playmate and Hoa Xuande does what he can in the slightly patronising part of the migrant fashionista who takes to Liebe (whose name, of course, means Love) because she reminds him of his grandmother.


McAlpine's photography is crisp and fondly attentive to texture and technique during the dressmaking sequences, while Angela Little's score oozes like molten honey over an already soddenly sentimental storyline. Nevertheless, it has a certain charm that should appeal to anyone who saw Robert Asher's Norman Wisdom comedy. A Stitch in Time, when it came out in 1963.



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