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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (8/3/2024)

Updated: Mar 10

(Reviews of Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World; Vindication Swim; and Copa 71)


DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD.


Radu Jude is the maverick radical of the Romanian New Wave. His 2006 outing, The Tube With a Hat, is the country's most decorated short, while he was widely acclaimed for his wry debut, The Happiest Girl in the World (2009). Following the featurette, A Film For Friends (2011), he scored more festival kudos with Everybody in Our Family (2012) and Uppercase Print (2020), while Aferim! (2015) and Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021) respectively took the Silver and Golden Bears at the Berlin Film Festival.


He now returns with Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, a lacerating treatise on the pre-occupations of the modern world that makes knowing use of extracts from Lucian Bratu's 1981 drama, Angela Moves On, which starred Dorina Lazar as a Bucharest taxi driver. Riffing on the absurdity of making art under strict bureaucratic conditions, this continues a theme explored in The Potemkimists (2022), a short inspired by Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). Jude has been in this meta-territory before with I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History As Barbarians (2018), a trenchant satire about the Romanian Holocaust that serves as a companion piece to The Dead Nation (2017), which centres on photographs of small-town life in the 1930s and 40s, and The Exit of the Trains (2020), an account of the Iași pogrom that

was co-directed by Adrian Cioflâncã.


Woken at 5:50am by the alarm on a phone lying on top of a well-thumbed Marcel Proust paperback, Angela Raducanu (Ilinca Manolache) heads out to interview candidates for a workplace accident video that's being produced by an Austrian company. She toils long hours for Forbidden Planet and complains to her boss on the phone as she gets stuck in endless Bucharest traffic jams.


The first person she visits has gone fishing and she has to conduct a Zoom interview about how he lost his fingers in a factory machine. She asks him to put up a fake background so it doesn't look as if he is having a nice time and completes her questions surrounded by his anxious family members, who could do with the money because they can't afford to heat their apartment.


Picking up her mother (Rodica Negrea), Angela visits her grandmother's grave before heading across the city to interview a woman who has been confined to a wheelchair after falling following a colleague's lunchtime drinks party. Angela says she hopes she's chosen before returning to her van and has to tactfully turn down a picture of a cat that the woman insists she takes after she had admired it.


Whenever inspiration hits her, Angela stops to record pieces for her social media site. In the clips, she adopts a bald cap and some bushy eyebrows to transform herself into Bobita, an Andrew Tate-worshipping slob whose misogynist remarks have earned him a cult following. Intercut with these monochrome sequences are colour clips from Angela Drives On, which are occasionally slowed down and even paused to offer a contrast to Romanian society then and now.


Kept waiting at a swish office block, Angela eventually meets with the owner of the property company whose build is encroaching upon the cemetery because of a clerical error. He jokes that he likes to spook visitors by keeping a copy of Karl Goldsmith's Capital on his boardroom table so that they think it's by Karl Marx. Refusing to budge and claiming that his lawyers will win any court case, he couches his threats in smiles and Angela has to settle for the pyrrhic victory of asking for an icon to be taken down.


She pauses for lunch and berates the security guard who chases away a woman who had been begging on the pavement. Similarly, she curses any motorists who annoy her on the road, even when she is in the wrong - such as when she momentarily dozes off at some traffic lights because she works such long hours. What was the film about again?


Arriving at her next destination, Angela is welcomed by an elderly woman who is pleased they share the same name, although wonders whether Raducanu is a Gypsy name. As she is played by Dorina Lazar, we see clips from the 1981 film as she explains how she met her second husband, who had fallen asleep in the back of her cab. She explains how he had been a drunkard, but had reformed out of love for her. As he was an ethnic Hungarian, however, they had quarrelled after the 1989 revolution.


Angela presumes they separated and he died. But Gyuri (László Miske, who was also in the Bratu film) is in the next room and introduces himself with

some snatches of poetry. When their wheelchair-bound son, Ovidiu (Ovidiu Pirsan), gets home, Angela records his testimony and chats to Gyuri about whether Viktor Orbán is a dictator before taking her leave.


Having booked a restaurant for the Austrian delegation, Angela records a Bobita clip in the washroom, in which she claims to have discussed cultivating lawns with King Charles and Queen Elizabeth's funeral. Putting off an afternoon tryst with her beau, she interviews a man who can't speak and doubts whether he'll be chosen for the project. Blowing bubbles with her gum, she drives across the city past a power station that had also been in the 1981 film. Arriving at a film studio, she picks up some lenses and persuades her friend to introduce her to Uwe Boll, who is shooting a green-screen creature feature. He chats to her about Bobita and agrees to swear in a video for Instagram. Angela's friend also asks to be in a clip and the cloaking device gives her a bald head, too.


Summoned back to the office after pulling over to have a nap in a sun-dappled woodland halt, Angela joins a Zoom meeting with Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss), who is co-ordinating the film. As the hired director has died overnight (prompting a discussion about how David Hemmings died on the set in Romania and why Jean-Luc Godard chose to kill himself), she is introduced to his replacement (Serban Pavlu) and he discusses the style he proposes to adopt using Cooke lenses. Having spat on some snacks she is serving to the team, Angela is asked to talk Doris through the people she has interviewed and they agree only to use the first name of a man whose surname in Romanian means `buttock'. They also agree to avoid references to Gypsies and Russia.


Despite the image freezing, the meeting goes well and they concur with the big boss, who wants the film to convey emotion. Back on the road, Angela buys some books from a street vendor in the traffic and does a Bobita piece about having sex with Miss Jean Brodie. She picks up Ovidiu and delivers him to the studio before dashing off for a rendezvous with her boyfriend (Daniel Popa). During a quickie in the back of the van, he ejaculates on her spangly dress and Angela is flustered when she collects Doris at the airport.


As they drive, Angela asks if Doris is related to the great German author and she admits to not having read many of his books because he's family. When Doris notices how aggressively everyone drives, Angela tells her about a 250km stretch of single carriageway leading to the southern city of Buzau that had over 600 crosses marking accidents because no one stays in their lane. A protracted colour cutaway shows many of these crosses before returning to the journey to the hotel.


Doris isn't sure when Angela asks if her company is cutting down Romanian trees to make furniture, but is sure they wouldn't do it without government permission. Angela scoffs about corrupt officials and responds to question about Romanian poverty by averring that Albanians are poorer and are less civilised. When Doris asks to hear some manele music, Angela plays her favourite track before explaining how Nicolae Ceauescu tore down the Uranus-Izvor neighbourhood (see in Bratu's film) to build the Palace of the Parliament. Dropping her off, Angela staggers back to the van exhausted after learning that Goethe's last words weren't `More light', but `More nothing.'


As the film shifts to Ovidiu recording his testimony with his mother and daughters, the imagery is in colour and confined to a single camera shot of the group positioned before the car park barrier that had put Ovidiu in an 18-month coma and left him paralysed from the waist down. Angela is behind the camera with the director, who calls a halt to proceedings while a van advertising Russian vodka is moved from the middle distance.


Asked about his next project, he declares that corporate film has dominated cinema history, ever since the Lumière brothers photographed workers leaving their factory in Lyon. As they hadn't liked the first take, the second was a re-staging of reality rather than a documentary record. He also notes that Georges Méliès made a film advertising Bornibus mustard. But only a still remains, which proves that photography is more enduring than the moving image.


Wandering into shot, the director asks Ovidiu to avoid mentioning anything that is detrimental to the company, such as poor lighting in the car park or the fact he had been tired after working overtime. When asked to admit that he wasn't wearing a safety helmet, he argues that he was off company property when the car crashed into the barrier and the bar hit him. Besides, he doesn't want to say anything that contradicts the testimony he has already given to his compensation tribunal.


As they mull over this development, Angela tells a story about a firing squad officer who was tried for stealing bullets from the corpses of his victims. Ovidiu's family don't understand the point of her anecdote and start complaining about the rain. Meanwhile, Doris has called the set for a progress report and ask them to remove the rusty barrier, as it makes the company look bad. The director reminds Ovidiu not to mention it in his testimony and he begins to wonder what he can actually say.


When the big boss says he hates the clip, he orders them to film Ovidiu's speech as a pastiche of Bob Dylan's `Subterranean Homesick Blues' (even though he hates the singer because he's Jewish). While someone goes off to get a green cards from the van so they can digitise the words later, Angela records a Bobita video in which she hopes that Russia crushes Ukraine. When a colleague asks why the content is always so contentious, she explains that she is satirising both those who post such crap and those who take it as gospel truth. While they wait, the director criticises Doris and her boss and claims that the Austrians were enthusiastic Nazis and even elected a former officer, Kurt Waldheim, as president.


When the cards arrive, Ovidiu is asked to pass them to the daughter on his right. The director applauds, but suggests doing it again, only more slowly. It's raining quite hard by now and Ovidiu keeps wiping his face. Fearful that the fee for the shoot he so desperately needs will come at the expense of his lawsuit, he is also anxious that the company will write whatever it wants on the cards rather than using his words. The director ensures him that he won't allow this to happen and offers to take them to lunch. But Angela is ready to run them home and can't afford to linger, as she's got tons to do before home time.


There are echoes of Ben Hecking's Haar in Radu Jude's brilliant absurdist take on the gig economy and the world going to hell in a handcart. Kate Kennedy also works for a production company and finds herself dealing with bad news about her father and an unwelcome proposal from a lover while clearing away the Budapest soundstage where shooting has wrapped on a crass sci-fi flick entitled, Time Travelling Vampire Pirates. As wonderful as Kennedy was, she's a speck n the rearview mirror of Ilinca Manolache, who is utterly riveting as the exploited gopher who displays her suppressed intelligence in biting back in the guise of a misanthropic bigot who confrontationally mocks the Instagram and TikTok followers who respond positively to his hate speech with the taunt, `I'm like Charlie Hebdo, suckers!'


It's only in the latter segment that we get to realise that Angela has been wearing a rainbow-coloured sequin dress to canvass potential subjects for a corporate video about workplace accidents. She still shimmers in the sunlight in Marius Pandaru's grainy, high-contrast black-and-white images, but she doesn't stand out to the same extent as she does in the colour coda.


What makes this hilariously straitlaced sequence more compelling than it already is is the fact that it offers an unofficial ending to the story told in Angela Moves On, because Jude cajoles us into accepting that marvellous octogenarian Dorina Lazar is reprising the role she had played four decades earlier. But Angela hasn't moved on very far at all and the implication is that the same will be true in 40 further years time of Ms Raducanu.


Editor Catalin Cristutiu does a fine job of cutting between Jude and Lucian Bratu's footage, as Pandaru's camera captures the changing face of Bucharest in the 33 years since the fall of Communism. However, the lens spends much of its time fixed on Manolache's right profile, as she traverses the city to the point of exhaustion without once recognising the irony that she is helping make a film about safety at work. Yet, for all the woes that befall her and those worse off than herself, there's no Lavertyesque sentiment or Loachian reproachfulness here. Instead, Jude commends the indefatigability of the human spirit with a wry observational detachment that is complemented by an ideological clarity that eschews easy targets and pointing fingers.


As the sign beneath the clock with no hands reads, it is, indeed, later than you think. But, while we probably shouldn't expect too much of the end of the world, this fierce and funny, crass and canny, chaotic and controlled 163-minute masterpiece won't let you down. It's already one of the films of the year and firmly among the best in the first quarter of the 21st century.


VINDICATION SWIM.


Elliot Hasler started making films while he was still at junior school. He began work on Charlie's Letters when he was 14 and looks every bit a boy in taking the lead based on the great-grandfather who escaped from an Italian POW camp in the 1940s. Released as World War II: The Long Road Home (2017), this ambitious, if not always accomplished debut has now been followed by Vindication Swim. Produced either side of the pandemic, this second period piece represents a marked improvement on its predecessor and it has done much to revive interest in Mercedes Gleitze, who hailed from Hasler's hometown of Brighton.


Driven by the spirit of her late father and newsreel footage of Gertrude Ederle's record-breaking feat, 27 year-old Mercedes Gleitze (Kirsten Callaghan) is determined to become the first British woman to swim the English Channel. She has made seven attempts by the summer of 1927 and hopes to get sponsorship from the newly formed Channel Swimming Association in order to try again. However, Sir Arthur Coleridge (John Tolputt) breaks the news that the CSA has decided to back Dr Edith Gade (Victoria Summer), as it doesn't feel it would be appropriate to support someone with a Germanic surname so soon after the Great War.


Gleitze is also subjected to the unwanted advances of the manager (Owen Oldroyd) of the London firm where she works as a typist. So, she quits and seeks out former Channel swimmer Harold Best (John Locke), in the hope that he will train her. She is disappointed to discover, however, that he is now an embittered alcoholic. But, despite having sent her packing with some lines from `Farewell and Adieu You Fair Spanish Ladies', Best has a change of heart. Moreover, he confides that he lost interest in the sea after his son died while serving in the Royal Navy and his wife suffered a breakdown.


Best's expertise comes in handy, as Gleitze builds her strength and plots her course from Cap Gris-Nez. Gade's partner, Samuel Huntington (David Aitchison), sends Mr Havers (James Wilby) with a bribe to give Gade a clear run. But Gleitze storms round to his hotel to return the envelope before embarking upon her epic swim on 7 October.


Following in a rowing boat, Best provide Gleitze with sustenance, while keeping an eye on conditions. The glare off the surface proves a problem and there's nearly a tragic collision with a steamer. She also runs into some jellyfish, but comes ashore between South Foreland and St Margaret's Bay at 18:10, after 15 hours and 15 minutes in the water.


For a week, Gleitze is the talk of the town, as she meets the Home Secretary, appears on the radio, and attends the premiere of the Hollywood silent, Swim Girl, Swim. However, her thunder is stolen when Gade announces that she has completed the crossing in 13 hours and 10 minutes and Gleitze finds herself having to be polite with her rival at a swanky function. When goaded, however, Gleitze wonders how Gade could have strolled up the beach so effortlessly and sipped champagne for the cameras after such gruelling exertion.


Angry with Best when he urges her to accept the situation gracefully, Gleitze feels vindicated when photographer P.J. Templeton (Sam Bullen) comes forward to confess that Huntington had paid him to forge the footage. When challenged, Gade insists that she was merely trying to expose the laxity of the CSA in accepting claims without adjudicatory proof and Gleitze insists on attempting a second swim on 27 October after a panel refuses to confirm her record.


With Templeton and Dr H.W. Phillips (Mike Skinner) in the boat with Best, Gleitze struggles with the cold and a pain in her shoulder. A biplane circles overhead to confirm her position. But Phillips orders Best to pull Gleitze out of the water and she is devastated, as she was only seven miles from the White Cliffs. As the boat approaches land, however, it's greeted by other craft filled with admirers, while a cheering crowd lines the waterfront. Gleitze's glorious failure has caught the public imagination and the film closes with newsreel footage of the athlete, who would go on to complete a number of iconic swims and set a world endurance record before marrying engineer Patrick Carey and having three children.


Opting not to go before the camera this time, but retaining the roles of writer and director (and, one presumes, cinematographer and editor, as no one is credited on screen), Hasler confirms that he can hold his own against such recent youthful British film-makers as Vicky Jewson, Jack Spring, Scott Elliott, and Sid Sadowskyj. He's still got a lot to learn, but he's making progress, with a little help here from sound designer Markus Moll and composer Daniel Clive McCallum.


Unlike many neophytes, Hasler doesn't have a flashy style. His technique is similar to that of siblings Dominic and Ian Higgins in their Brendan Finucane biopic, The Shamrock Spitfire. Indeed, he displays an admirable ingenuity in placing his camera to disguise the shortcomings of his mise-en-scène. He has an instinctive eye for an image and a decent grasp of basic screen grammar. But his close-ups are too tight, his cross-cuts overly abrupt, and his switches between monochrome and colour often feel unmotivated. In addition, his story structuring is awkward, while he also struggles to achieve rhythm and tension within scenes, with his refusal to use two-shots restricting rapport between the characters.


Notwithstanding the spirited performance of the debuting Kristen Callaghan (who not only did her own swimming, but also took on received pronunciation), Hasler sometimes has problems coaxing persuasive line readings from his actors, with the result that the action often seems staged and stilted. His framing of John Locke often leaves him looking like a cross between Ernest Thesiger and Timothy Spall. But Hasler has cast local u3a members as extras, which is a nice gesture. He's also managed to get hold of some splendid period props, including an old bus, while the costumes are unfussily apposite. Moreover, Hasler has done his research, with the reference to Clarence Badger's sadly lost Bebe Daniels vehicle, Swmg Girl, Swim (1927), being a particularly neat touch.


But the experienced Douglas Hodge fails to catch the formal BBC newsreading style of the time and Hasler pushes his luck in having his bulletins play over the pastiche cine-footage. British films were still silent in 1927 and the ploy to sync radio voiceover (if that's indeed what it is) with captioned newsreel feels clumsy, especially as the Ederle clip is clearly accompanied by a wholly anachronistic commentary.


These may appear to be minor details, but their aggregation undermines the veracity of a film that already has reliability issues because of the decision to opt for so many à clef, fictional, or composite characters. Why, for example, has Hasler called Gleitze's trainer Harry Best when his real name was G.H. Allan? It's also puzzling why Hasler has decided to dub her rival Edith Gade when she was actually Dorothy Cochrane Logan (although she also employed the professional name of Mona McLennan).


Yet Hasler makes passing reference in the newsreel opening to the actual Gertrude Ederle, an American who had taken relay gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics. She played herself in Swim Girl, Swim and briefly enjoyed fame on the vaudeville circuit. Her Channel feat was re-enacted in a BBC radio play in 2010 and it will also be the subject of Joachim Rønning's Young Woman in the Sea, which is due for release later this spring, with Daisy Ridley in the title role. Coming so soon after Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's Nyad, which features the Oscar-nominated duo of Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, this will surely test the cinema-going public's interest in endurance swimming, despite bearing the Disney imprint.


Hasler states in a caption: `Certain names, characters, places and events have been changed or invented for dramatic purposes.' But the tweaks have little `dramatic' impact and one wonders what prompted such a compromising change. One can see why he would alter details of the Vindication Swim for budgetary reasons, as Gleitze was actually followed by a number of support vessels filled with friends and journalists, with one report mentioning that well-wishers sang to her as she battled the cold and exhaustion. But it's frustrating that he has changed the names of all-but his heroine in seeking to establish the validity of her achievement.


It also feels like a missed opportunity to have ignored Gleitze's fascinating connection with Rolex, especially as Hasler does namecheck one of the many products she endorsed, Be-ze-be honey. On 29 July 1926, the Swiss company had patented the Rolex Oyster, which was the first waterproof wristwatch. When co-founder Hans Wilsdorf heard about Gleitze's second October swim, he contacted her with the offer of a free Oyster in return for a letter testifying to its performance under duress. In its report of the swim, The Times noted that Gleitze had worn the watch on a ribbon around her neck and she kept her end of the bargain by writing that the Oyster had `proved itself a reliable and accurate timekeeping companion'.


Surely this episode was worthy of a subplot, especially as the watch sold for £17,038 at a Christie's auction in 2000 and Rolex retains its association with Gleitze to this day. Moreover, the sponsorship deal helped finance her swims across the Straits of Gibraltar and the Dardanelles and around the Isle of Man that reinforced her reputation and enabled her to set up the foundation for the homeless that is now known as The Mercedes Gleitze Relief in Need Charity. Perhaps Rolex declined to co-operate, but Hasler could easily have changed the name, for `dramatic purposes'.


COPA 71.


James Erskine holds a little piece of cinema history. His 2004 thriller, EMR (which he co-directed with Danny McCullough) was the first feature to be released simultaneously in cinemas, on disc, and online across the world. In the two decades since, Erskine has built a reputation for making sporting documentaries, with One Night in Turin (2010), From the Ashes (2011), Battle of the Sexes (2013), Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist (2014), Sachin: A Billion Dreams (2017), The Ice King (2018), and The End of the Storm (2020) all being based on solid research, classical presentation, and a wealth of archival material that rekindles glory day memories.


In teaming with the debuting Rachel Ramsay, however, Erksine turns the focus on an event that has largely been forgotten. This is primarily due to misogyny. But FIFA is also keen that no one remembers the 1971 Women's World Cup in Mexico, as it refused to sanction it. Consequently, as is revealed in Copa 71, much of what happened off the field was as dramatic as the tournament itself.


In a contrived opening sequence, Ramsay presents 1991 World Cup winner Brandi Chastain with an iPad to show her clips from the 1971 Campeonato de Fútbol Femenil. She feels a mix of elation and frustration at not previously knowing anything about a tournament in which women had played in front of huge crowds in vast stadia. Yet this reaction says as much about a personal lack of curiosity and US insularity in general as it does the obscurity of what was actually the second competition staged by the Federation of Independent European Female Football (FIEFF), after Denmark had prevailed in Italy in 1970 - the same year in which Mexico had hosted the FIFA men's tournament that had seen Brazil claim and keep the Jules Rimet Trophy.


Tennis legend Serena Williams (who co-executive produces with sister Venus and ex-footballer Alex Morgan) intones that chauvinism had ensured that the footage had remained hidden for five decades. But, even though it is still unrecognised by the football associations of some of the participating nations, the 1971 Women's World Cup is not quite as recondite as the film-makers would have you believe.


Awed by the roar emanating from St James's Park in Newcastle, Carol Wilson was determined to become a footballer, even though she wasn't allowed to play the game at school. In Mexico, Silvia Zaragoza had played on the street out of sight of her highly traditional father, while rebel Elena Schiavo would beat up the boys who refused to allow her to join in. Nicole Mangas's parents would let her watch the local French league team (so why show Old Firm footage?), but felt it was too physically dangerous to let girls play football.


Historian David Goldblatt mansplains his way through the origins of the women's game and how it became illegal in Italy and Brazil (surely the producers could have found a woman with this knowledge, such as credited specialist consultant, Dr Jean Williams). But the 1960s saw the likes of Carol Wilson and Trudy McCaffrey break the mould in the UK, while Schiavo became the captain of the Torino team in 1968. As Nancy Sinatra's `These Boots Are Made For Walking' plays over newsreels of Swinging Sixties fashions, Danes Birte Kjems and Ann Stengård reveal that they could knit and use chain-saws, so why couldn't they play football?


Selva was delighted to discover she wasn't the only girl who played football, although Elvira Aracén notes that they weren't allowed to use pitches set aside for boys. But, as journalist Marion Reimers recalls, the 1970 World Cup in Mexico caught the imagination of women as well as men and a decision was taken to bypass Sir Stanley Rous and FIFA and stage their own tournament. But Ramsay and Erskine themselves ignore the 1970 Coppa del Mondo in order to take a pop at the male-dominated Mexican business community who proposed a women's event primarily to make some extra money from the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara that had hosted games the previous year.


As Martini Rosso had been persuaded to sponsor the tournament, countries like England were able to fund a team and Wilson and Chris Lockwood remember the thrill at hearing that they would be on the plane with pioneering manager, Harry Batt. Argentinian Elba Selva was also leaving home for the first time and she recalls having to be given kit by the organisers because they didn't have any. Wilson still feels overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome, as crowds lined the street from the airport, throwing gifts through the windows.


Despite not being released until 1974, Kiki Dee's `I've Got the Music in Me' plays over his section. But no mention is made of the farcical qualifying tournaments that left Mexico, Argentina, and England in Group 1 and Denmark, Italy, and France in Group 2. In fact, England and Austria had been knocked out by Italy and the former was only been reinstated after Spain, Switzerland, and West Germany withdrew. Holders Denmark got through because Belgium and Sweden opted not to compete, while France only had to overcome the Netherlands because Czechoslovakia dropped out. In the only Latin American group, Argentina progressed without kicking a ball because Chile and Costa Rica were deemed incapable of staging the games. This is fascinating stuff and says much about the politics of the women's game at the time. But it's airbrushed out of the story, which is ironic given the theme of the documentary.


Instead, Ramsay and Erskine examine the chauvinist ways in which the tournament was marketed by the major Mexican media companies in order to fill such large arenas. Plenty of emphasis was placed on the looks of the players to attract a male audience, while Xochitl the mascot (who was named after a Toltec warrior empress) emphasised the fact that girls fill kits in a more appealing way than men.


The Azteca was packed on 15 August 1971 for the opening ceremony and Wilson and McCaffrey remember the thrill of parading around the pitch before Mexico beat Argentina 3-1. This meant the latter had to beat England to make the semi-finals and McCaffrey, Lockwood, Leah Caleb, and Gill Sayer recall how hard it was training at altitude. They speak highly of the captaincy of 19 year-old Wilson, but admit that they underestimated Argentina, as Elba Selva scored all the goals in a 4-1 win.

Janice Barton concedes that it wasn't what the squad expected and they had to wait and watch the Group 2 games on TV. Having needed a lift from the Italians after their coach broke down en route to Guadalajara, Denmark beat France 3-0. The French then lost to a Schiavo goal to set up a decider, which ended in a 1-1 draw that sent them both through, with Italy awaiting the winner of the Mexico-England game.


Barton and Wilson recall the noise of the crowd, as they had been used to playing in front of a few hundred spectators. Martha Coronado admits to having been intimidated by the stature of the English team during the anthems, but they decided to give it a go. Bafflingly ditching their green shirts to wear white (like England), but with red shorts, Mexico raced to a 3-0 half-time lead. With Wilson breaking a bone in her foot and the heat taking its toll, a fourth was added four minutes into the second period and Mexico progressed. But the team came to the hotel to wish England well and they stayed on to make public appearances and enjoy the parties hosted by the embassies of the competing nations. (In fact, England remained until 28 August, when they lost 2-3 to France in the Fifth Place Play-Off).


Maurizia Ciceri and Daniela Sogliani suggest that Italy had the most photographed team and declare Schiavo the most difficult player because winning meant everything to her. She admits to being a handful, as we see her being introduced on an Italian chat show like a curio because of her job. The Danish duo, however, ponder the responsibility they had to set a good example so other girls would want to follow. But, as the tournament progressed, FIFA started to discuss how to stifle the women's game and bring it under their control.


Dispensing altogether with Denmark's 5-0 win over Argentina, Ramsay and Erskine focus on the rough semi-final between Mexico and Italy. Ciceri and Sogliani have no doubts that the game was rigged in favour of the hosts, as they were awarded two first-half penalties after Italy had taken a sixth minute lead. Schiavo and Zaragoza got into a scuffle that resulted in a famous photo of the latter on her back with her legs raised as her rival towered over her. We don't see any highlights to suggest that the Italians squandered chances to equalise, however, but a conspiracy makes for more intriguing viewing than uncontextualised match footage.


As fans kept the Danish players awake by surrounding their hotel (the embassy eventually found them billets with Danes in Mexico City), news reports spread that the Mexican squad had decided to boycott the final unless they were paid a cut of the profits. Aracén insists this was never the case, even though they felt they had earned a reward. But there was great relief when it was announced that they would play out of respect for the public.


Schiavo would score one more goal, as Italy claimed third place with a 4-0 thumping of Argentina (not that the film tells you this). Instead, we leap to 5 September 1971 for the final in front of 110,000 in the Azteca, which remains a record crowd for any women's sporting event. Wilson recalls the incredible atmosphere, while the Danes remember being relaxed after having enjoyed having a police escort to the ground. Not once, however, do they mention that they were defending champions or how the size of the crowd inspired rather than intimidated them.


Although Mexico had a couple of early chances, Denmark scored after goalkeeper Aracén might have done better with a shot from 15 year-old Susanne Augustesen. Coronado disputes teammate Alicia Vargas's contention that they had an inferiority complex, but admits that they didn't play well at the end of a stressful week. Augustesen completed her hat-trick in the second half (to match Geoff Hurst in scoring three goals in a final - and in red and white at that) and skipper Inger Pedersen lifted the trophy depicting Nike to tumultuous applause, after the ground had momentarily fallen silent on the full-time whistle.


The Danes flew home to 15 minutes of fame before the football association stepped in to clip their wings. Similarly, bans were imposed on women's teams in Mexico, while Wilson and McCaffrey remember returning to no sort of reception and vindictive stories in the press. Humiliated by an emcee at a dinner at Newcastle United, Wilson walked away from the game and didn't even speak to her old teammates for nigh on 50 years. At least they weren't banned for life by the FA like Harry Batt, whose fate isn't discussed.


In a coda, Chastain and fellow USWNT star Alex Morgan (without addressing the standing of American women's soccer at the time) lament the fact that this tournament has been erased from the record and resulted in women's football being outlawed for several years. They credit their successes to the unsung heroines and it's nice to see Wilson among others watching the Lionesses at Wembley. But no one comments on the style or standard of play in 1971 or the reasons why techniques and tactics have improved so markedly since the first official FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991. But, then again, nothing is said about the fact that the goalposts at Copa 71 were painted with pink and white hoops in one last well-meant, but patronising gesture.


The squad names are given in the closing credits, but the film lacks an anorak factor that might have made its focus a little sharper. The human interest element is rightly stressed through the wonderful interviews with the veterans of the tournament. Much more might also have been said about what kind of players they were in their heyday and what they brought to their teams. It's as if Ramsay, Erskine, and co-writer Victoria Gregory don't trust the audience to stay interested in a football story for 90 minutes. A little more transparency would have been welcomed, too. Mexico, Denmark, and England had all joined Italy in the 1970 edition, in which Schiavo and Vargas scored goals. So, the film-makers does these squads a disservice by almost pretending the inaugural even hadn't happened because it didn't yield the same cornucopia of visual evidence.


The socio-political aspect is vital, but its rather halfhearted analysis has resulted in the exclusion of so many other intriguing details that could have made this the definitive record of a truly historic act of feminist subversion. Wisely opting not to revisit ground covered in Kelly Close's When Football Banned Women (2017), the co-directors have commendably rescued so much shelved footage to demonstrate that taking part was the main priority of the six competing teams. But winning mattered, too, and it's a shame more isn't made of the fact that few viewers will know the outcome in advance (although the poster shot of the Danes with the trophy is a bit of a giveaway).


Editors Arturo Calvete and Mark Roberts do a magnificent job of blending press cuttings, talking-head interviews, behind-the-scenes news footage, and match action (which was covered with as much tele-sophistication as had been evident during the 1970 men's mundial). Myriam Boiselle and Dan Weinberg's sound mix is also splendidly evocative, although it might have been nice to let the Danes speak in their own language (flawless though their English is).


Given how long these fierce competitors have kept quiet about what should have been a launch pad for women's football (and they might have said more about the inflicted shame behind this reticence), it's poignantly inspirational to see them finally get to enjoy their achievement. This is a film to celebrate in so many way, especially as it hints at the fact that things haven't changed beyond all recognition (viz the 2023 final being almost hijacked by an embarrassing act of male entitlement). But, for all the punch-the-air moments, it doesn't quite merit whipping off a shirt and whirling it above your head.



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