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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (8/5/2020)

(Reviews of The Whistlers; Infinite Football; In Search of Greatness; Camino Skies; and Enemy Lines)

Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation. THE WHISTLERS. Born in 1975 in the eastern city of Vashlu, Corneliu Porumboiu has always been regarded as the joker in the Romanian New Wave pack. Such is the deadpan nature of his humour that he has often been compared to Finn Aki Kaurismäki. But Porumboiu has been a distinctive voice since he followed the feted shorts, Gone With the Wine (2002), A Trip to the City (2003) and Liviu's Dream (2004), with his scathingly acerbic account of the 1989 revolution. 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006). Despite the glowing notices he received for the equally exceptional Police, Adjective (2009), Porumboiu rather disappeared off the radar of UK audiences, as neither When Evening Falls On Bucharest or Metabolism (2013) nor The Treasure (2015) secured a mainstream release, while his fascinating football documentary, The Second Game (2014), only reached selected venues. Fortunately, lockdown has prompted the unearthing of his follow-up sporting actuality, Infinite Football (2018; see below). So, one can only hope that the two missing fictional features will also be dusted down by an enterprising distributor following the wave of positivity that will undoubtedly greet The Whistlers, which debuted in competition for the Palme d'or at Cannes last spring. Bucharest police inspector Cristi Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov) travels to the Canary island of La Gomera in order to learn the whistled language of El Silbo in order to aid his pursuit of a gangster named Paco (Agusti´ Villaronga). His contact is Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), who is collaborating with him in order to secure the release of her boyfriend, Zsolt Nagy (Sabin Tambrea), who has been jailed after being framed for cocaine possession on the orders of Cristi's unprincipled boss, Magda (Rodica Lazar). In fact, he is suspected of using his mattress factory to launder money for mobsters from Spain and Venezuela. On greeting him on the island, Gilda reminds Cristi that what had happened between them in the Romanian capital was strictly for the surveillance cameras and we flashback to their meeting outside the cop's apartment building in full view of a snoop in a parked car. Taking advantage of the fact that there are no cameras in the lift and the corridor, Gilda persuades Cristi to pretend that she's a high-class hooker and even slips him the cash to pay for her services before putting on a noisy show for the three cameras that have been strategically placed around the flat. The watching cop, Liviu (Andrew A. Popescu), leers as Gilda gyrates on top of the bemused Cristi, who is left with no option but to fall into line when she slips under his pillow an envelope containing air and ferry tickets to get him to La Gomera. As Cristi doesn't know Spanish, he has to speak English with his Silbo teacher, Kiko (Antonio Buíl), who shows him how to position a cocked finger inside the corner of his mouth (like a pistol aiming for the bullet to pass through the opposite ear) in order to make the correct whistling sound. However, Cristi finds it difficult and is sent for a swim in the sea in order to loosen him up. When he returns Kiko quizzes him about how the Bucharest police came to hear about the secret whistling code and Cristi unconvincingly claims that the department received a phone tip from an anonymous female caller. Once again we flashback, to see Madga telling Cristi and his partner, Alin (George Pistereanu), to put Zsolt and his premises under surveillance. Cristi takes a room in the Opera motel near the factory and is irritated by the aria playing on vinyl at the reception desk. He meets with Zsolt, who wears an attention-grabbing false beard and presents him with a plastic bag, which Cristi proceeds to hide by torchlight under a funnel in his mother's cellar. Impatient with the slow progress being made with the inquiry, Magda orders Cristi to plant cocaine on Zsolt and, when he refuses to do so, she gives the mission to Alin, who accepts without hesitation, despite Cristi warning him that he will be the one to get into trouble if the frame-up is every uncovered. Cristi buys a mobile phone, which he drops into the bag of an Oriental woman at the main railway station. That night, he gets a call summoning him to the mattress factory, where someone named Ortiz has been brutally murdered and Magda is interrogating Zsolt about the €30 million he has stashed. Kiko realises that Gilda must have told Cristi about Silbo and he pulls a gun on her when she returns from shopping. She admits that she and Zsolt had planned to steal the money and he lets her go. He works for Paco (Agustí Villaronga), the criminal mastermind behind the smuggling ring to which Zsolt belongs, and he reminds Cristi that he needs him to learn the whistling lingo so that he can communicate with his oppos in Bucharest without the cops eavesdropping. Having failed to coax Gilda into sleeping with him, Kiko threatens to tell Paco that she was planning to cheat him with Zsolt. But he holds his tongue and Gilda is relieved. However, she lets slip that Paco knows that Crisi's mother (Julieta Szönyi) has a gambling problem that prompted her son to indulge in a little criminous activity in order to keep her out of trouble. Feeling compromised, Cristi tries to escape. But he is tracked down by Kiko, who returns him to the compound, where Carlito (Cristóbal Pinto) is entrusted with his Silbo lessons in a locked outbuilding. This sparks a flashback to Cristi's discovery that his mother has found the €50,000 that he had hidden in her cellar and donated it to the local church. Father Daniel (Ioan Coman) had no idea that depositing such a large sum would bring the police to his door and he informs Cristi that he had declared the source of the bequest without hesitation. He also tells him that his mother has asked him to pray that he wasn't homosexual because she is so disappointed not to have grandchildren. When Cristi confronts her about her capricious folly, Mama laments that he has strayed off the straight and narrow, as he had been such a good child. Nevertheless, she agrees to tell the cops that the money had been her life savings, which had been bolstered by the bribes that her husband had taken during his time as a Communist Party apparatchik. But Magda isn't fooled and she also sees through Cristi's half-hearted effort to rough up Zsolt during his interrogation. She threatens to arrest Mama unless he co-operates in helping her nail Paco and Cristi is left with no option but to clutch at the straw. So, having executed an American film director (David Agranov) who happens to stumble into a planning meeting, Paco sends Cristi back to Romania with a vial that will so incapacitate Zsolt that he can be abducted from an attending ambulance. In return for his part in the escapade, Cristi asks Paco to spare Gilda and he is amused that the taciturn cop has a crush on the femme fatale. Back in Bucharest, Cristi gives Magda a bunch of flowers containing a note to meet him at the Cinematheque. As John Ford's The Searchers (1956) plays on the screen, Cristi offers his boss a sizeable bribe in return for Zsolt, Gilda and himself walking free after she nabs Paso. She agrees and tells Cristi to get Zsolt to make a statement incriminating Paco, so that she can tell the prosecutors that he turned informer. Realising that Paco intends to kill him, Zsolt goes along with the plan and accompanies Magda to a film studio she has commandeered to be the location where he has buried the loot. Zsolt even swallows the drug and allows himself to be kidnapped from the hospital so that Magda can swoop on Paco and his cohorts. However, Magda has left Alin watching the CCTV feed at the hospital and he notices a foyer exchange between Gilda and Cristi after Carlito had allowed her to go free. Alin follows her to Oper motel, where the desk clerk (István Téglás) gives her Room 18 because the usual Room 19 is occupied. When Alin asks after her, the clerk is begrudgingly co-operative. But he resents being asked to turn the music off and slits Alin's throat when he lures him into the back office to watch the CCTV link. Meanwhile, Magda has taken a SWAT team to the film set and they wind up gunning down Kiko and his cohorts when Zsolt takes them to dig up the cash. Unfortunately, he is shot by Kiko before he is picked off by a sniper. Magda tskes calculated pleasure in offing Carlito before the action switches back to the Opera, where Gilda disarms the desk clerk when he tries to stab her in the shower. He offers to split the cash hidden in the mattresses in Room 19 if she spares him and they drive off together, as Cristi runs across country from the film set to meet up with Gilda. However, he has been tailed by Liviu, who dispassionately ploughs into him when Cristi stops on a moonlit woodland road to flag him down. Time passes and Gilda parks outside Mama's house, which has been put up for sale. She learns that Cristi suffered a head injury and that the doctors believe he is insane because he keeps whistling. Mama inquires about Paco and Gilda reveals that they are no longer together. However, when she hears that Mama is being watched by Magda, she beats a retreat to the hospital where Cristi is being held under guard. They exchange whistled messages and Cristi warns Gilda that Magda is behind her before settling down to watch Sergiu Nicolaescu's Un comisar acuzã (1974) on TV. Some months later, the pair keep their arranged rendezvous at the Gardens By the Bay in Singapore, where they greet each other in silence as the lights dance in the Supertrees to the waltzes and marches in that evening's Garden Rhapsody programme. This knowing display of controlled flamboyance provides an eminently fitting finale to a film that keeps its own cinematic pyrotechnics on a very short leash. Indeed, this is what it might have looked like had Robert Bresson and Paolo Sorrentino been able to team up on a crime comedy. In building the story around a minor character from Police, Adjective, Porumboiu drew inspiration from such classic noirs as John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941), Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944), Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious and, of course, Charles Vidor's Gilda (all 1946). There's even a playful nod to Psycho (1960). But one suspects that he also had in the forefront of his mind the debuting Lauren Bacall's flirtatious whistling lesson in Hawks's To Have and Have Not (1944). There's a lot more to El Silbo than putting your lips together and blowing, however, and Vlad Ivanov's struggle to master the art affords Porumboiu the opportunity to flashback to the incidents that limn the backstories of the principal players. Each character is deftly defined and is enacted with a tacit understanding that the audience and the cast are in on the joke together. Ivanov's palooka (who may not even be the main protagonist in his own story) and Catrinel Marlon's proactive femme fatale are textbook creations, but there's a mischievous ingenuity about the way in which Agusti´ Villaronga's thuggishly urbane Mr Big, Rodica Lazar's cynically ruthless cop and Julieta Szonyi's Christian-Communist convert slip in and out of the sinuous action and, in the process, drag Cristi deeper into the mire from which he seems utterly incapable of extricating himself. Complementing the impeccable performances are the exceptional production values, with Porumboiu's wife, Arantxa Etcheverria, co-ordinating the use of colour and brightness in Simona Paduretu's production design and Dana Papanuz's costumes. Tudor Mircea's camerawork is unobtrusively watchful, whether skulking around Bucharest or exploring `the pearl' of the Canaries, while the contrasting moods are wittily counterpointed by the use of such disparate soundtrack selections as Iggy Pop's `The Passenger', Ute Lemper's rendition of `Mack the Knife' and Jacques Offenbach's `Barcarolle'. But the genius responsible for holding this gleefully implausible picture together is Porumboiu. Some will question the need for Marlon to be naked during what is supposed to be a comic sex scene (even though she is playing a role for an unblinkingly voyeuristic state-owned camera), while others will debate the extent of and necessity for any romantic element in the denouement. Regardless of such quibbles, however, Porumboiu weaves together observations on duty, honour, idealism and professionalism on either side of the law into a pastichingly deconstructive and deceptively profound treatise on language, tradition and the lingering legacy of history with a storytelling grace and visual assurance that would have John Ford tipping his hat. INFINITE FOOTBALL. Unless you're one of those football fanatics who has been fixating on Belarus's Vysheyshaya Liga or Liga Primera de Nicaragua, it's likely you are pining for the beautiful game. Fortunately, Romanian auteur Corneliu Porumboiu is on hand to provide a little sporting distraction with Infinite Football, a 2014 profile of Laurentiu Ginghina, a unique thinker whose variations on the established rules of play will spark heated lockdown debate. This isn't Porumboiu's first soccermentary, however. In The Second Game, he sat down with his referee father, Adrian, to assess his handling of the Bucharest derby between Dinamo and Steau that was played in treacherously snowy conditions on 3 December 1988. It's a shame the films couldn't be seen as a double bill, but we should be grateful that the estimable Anti-Worlds distribution company has revived this offbeat gem. In July 1986, during a six-a-side match on a concrete handball court, Laurentiu Ginghina had his right fibula broken in a clumsy challenge. The bone didn't knit together properly and, consequently, Ginghina couldn't complete the compulsory long-distance run that was required of applicants to the Forestry University. He took a factory job and, on 31 December 1987, he fractured his tibia while helping some workmates move a heavy table. Slowed down by the injury, he missed the last bus and had to walk 6km home in considerable pain. As he recuperated, Ginghina became convinced that his football injury had come about because of flaws with the laws of the game. He felt that the rectangular pitch caused problems with wasted space and devised an octagonal version that would allow greater fluidity of movement. A second tweak led to the sub-division of teams into groups of five who were respectively confined to the defensive and attacking halves. In order to accommodate this change, Ginghina introduces new offside lines (which he seems to have borrowed from Subbuteo) and began trying to interest sporting bodies in his new game. Despite vague interest from a firm of London lawyers in 2010, Ginghina had no takers and he shelved the project. He was galvanised, however, when he decided to do away with offside altogether and used the new line as a demarcation to confine two of the offensive midfielders with a pair of their defensive counterparts, while the final third became the exclusive preserve of three attackers and their markers. Concerned that this could slow down the game, Ginghina gave defenders the complete freedom of their half, while keeping the strikers and the `supporting forwards' in their zones. At this point, Porumboiu cuts away from the magnetic tactics board Ginghina was using to explain his rule changes to the Vashlui office where he works as a mid-ranking bureaucrat. He has been here since graduating two decades earlier from the Sociology University, although he twice tried to leave in order to work on farm outside Reno, Nevada and an organic orange farm in Florida. The second application was thwarted by the attack on the Twin Towers in on 9 September 2001 and he is about to expound upon this hard luck story when a chess tutor from the nearby special school knocks and enters to browbeat Ginghina into addressing a land registry issue that has been raised by Virginia Donose, who is mourning the loss of her 103 year-old sister. Dumitru Boboc, the man accompanying the 92 year-old refuses to let Ginghina get away with making a couple of unanswered phone calls and involves Porumboiu in the conversation by joking about the civil servant's obstructive body language. Eventually, it's established that the claim has been sent to Bucharest and Ginghina informs Porumboiu that helping people is a major part of his job. However, he refuses to take the bait when the director asks why it has taken 27 years after the 1989 overthrow of Nicolae Ceausescu to settle a case involving two little old ladies. Instead, he returns to his own past and explains how he had hoped that things would change after Romania joined the European Union in 2007. However, the pace of reform slackened after an initial burst of activity and he complains that the EU will never work as an institution because it lacks a recognisable identity. He cites the example that Europe Day on 9 May isn't s public holiday in a single member state and suggests that things might be different with a little pomp and circumstance. But the point he really wants to make is that his inability to move to the United States or within the EU made him realise that limiting the movement of players in a game of football would improve the speed with which the ball is passed. Porumboiu is curious to know why Ginghina is so obsessed with the ball and is surprised when he avers that the ball is the `star of the sport'. He explains that a player can only change the course of a match (and, thus, become a star) if he is in possession of the ball. In his view, this makes the ball the most important component of the game. But he is also aware that, by making the ball do more of the work, the players need to expend less energy. Therefore, his version of football would enable people to play for longer, as they wouldn't need to be so physically fit in order to compete. A colleague pops in to remind Ginghina that he has to collects some ballots and Porumboiu urges him to attend to his duties. But Ginghina has a final point to make, as he sees comparisons between himself and Clark Kent and Peter Parker in that they all have mundane jobs that prevent people from guessing the secret of their dual lives. Just as Superman ekes out a living as a reporter on the Daily Planet and Spider-Man delivers pizza, so he is a pen pusher when not bringing about a revolution in the world's favourite sport. He laughs at the comparison, but it's clear he isn't entirely joking. We cut to a sports hall, where Ginghina explains the rules of his game to two teams of seven. They divide into three attackers and defenders, but former FC Vaslui midfielder Sorin Sava quickly realises that players simply mark an opponent and prevent him from dribbling or turning towards goal. Ginghina suggests that the amateurs are insufficiently fit and tactically savvy to play to the levels that would reveal the genius of his approach. But Sava says a lot of professional coaches employ similar gambits to make training more interesting and he insists that Ginghina will have to codify an entirely new sport, as FIFA will never sanction his changes. Porumboiu remains on the bench for this segment, while Tudor Mirceas's camera is too far removed from the action to see how the game is panning out. So, they film the next section in Ginghina's apartment, with the camera hovering over the shoulders of the two friends, as they sit on a bed to discuss the new variations that Ginghina has devised. Having realised the flaws in his most recent version, he has extended the 18-yard line to the touchline to divide the pitch into six strips. He has also come to the conclusion that it's too easy to mark players out of the game and he proposes that passing laterally or backwards would stretch the action horizontally and leave more gaps for attackers to exploit. In pointing out that soccer jettisoned this concept soon after breaking away from rugby, Porumboiu makes it clear that he believes Football 2.0 to be a retrogressive step and Ginghina is nettled by his negativity and they wind up looking at the books on a shelf by the window. Ginghina digs out a photo from his wedding day and points out his wife, Nicoleta, and his brother Florin. They also bump into Ginghina's father, Nicolae, who has enlarged a picture of Porumboiu standing between two large votive candles. He assures the director that he hasn't had the image framed to give him on camera and his son concurs that he had the snap enlarged years before. Porumboiu is touched and a little embarrassed and listens as the old man recalls an insulting eulogy that was read out at a dullard friend's 60th birthday party and points out the symbolism of a tacky painting of a young woman on a beach. As he speaks, however, Porumboiu realises that he is talking about the legacies that we all leave behind and hoping that he has done more to make an impact than the poor pal who was celebrated solely for having stayed alive for six decades. Over a blue-tinted shot of his street, Ginghina reveals that he had come to wonder what he must have done wrong to have been robbed of his life's ambition by the age of 19. He scoured the Bible and found Revelations 3:19, which stated that God rebukes and punishes those He loves. While studying Plato's Cave of Shadows in The Republic, however, Ginghina had learned that the word `paideia' meant `knowledge' rather than `punishment'. He had made a similar discovery with the term `metanoia', which was translated as `repentance' in Scripture, when it was often used to denote `change' in secular sources. Ginghina had come to the conclusion, therefore, that the words had been given their more prescriptive meanings by feudal princes and prelates in order to subjugate their serfs. As a consequence, he had rejected rules that are based on a tacit support for violence and restriction. As silhoetted animals in a sort of animated Eden fill the screen, the credits roll on a documentary that ultimately boils down to the irony that someone who earns his living as a pen-pushing enforcer of petty rules is a bit of a rebel, who dislikes the way in which the civic and spiritual authorities abuse their position and power to oppress the little people. Despite calling for a more expansive and expressive society, however, Ginghina succeeds only in creating an anti-sport that rectifies what few would consider to be problems with solutions that deprive its players of the same essential facets that make football such a simple, absorbing and thoroughly unpredictable game. The hangdog Ginghina bears a vague resemblance to Bob Newhart and his whiteboard spiel about the rules of his new game sounds as though the veteran stand-up had fashioned one of his peerless monologues around the invention of a human form of bar football. Hovering beside him, Porumboiu makes the perfect straight man, although he's somewhat nonplussed by Nicolae's disarmingly poignant musings on what constitutes a life well lived. The look of quiet pride that Ginghina gives him confirms that this particular apple hasn't fallen far from the tree and that both men are grateful for that small space inside themselves where their hopes and dreams remain untouched by the ravages of reality and time. Sometimes, however, utopian daydreams prove a hindrance to dealing with everyday travails. IN SEARCH OF GREATNESS. Having made such a splendid job of divulging the secrets behind the Soviet Union's ice hockey success in Red Army (2014), documentarist Gabe Polsky turns his attention to the concept of sporting genius in his follow-up, In Search of Greatness. This has the potential to be a compelling exploration of the notions of nature and nurture. But Polsky adopts a rat-a-tat editorial approach that prevents him from developing trains of thought. Moreover, he proves an intrusive presence during the one-to-one interviews with his triumvirate of heroes, while his reluctance to consider the prowess of female athletes leaves this looking somewhat shabbily chauvinistic. Following a busy opening credit sequence that makes extensive use of Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering human locomotion photographs, Polsky introduces us to Canadian ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and fabled American Football wide receiver Jerry Rice. Each man modestly plays down his achievements and suggests that he wouldn't do well in the physical aptitude tests to which college hopefuls are subjected during the annual Scouting Combines held by the national football and hockey leagues. However, David Epstein and Sir Ken Robinson, the respective authors of The Sports Gene and Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative, insist that sports scientists have come to place so much faith in statistics that they fail to appreciate the other attributes that contribute towards athletic success. When asked to identify the best footballer he has ever seen, Pelé names his Brazilian teammate, Garrincha, who became a winger for Botafogo despite having a shorter right leg and knees that turned in different directions. Doctors were amazed he could walk, let alone dribble with a speed and trickery that meant Brazil never lost a game in which he and Pelé played together. Robinson also notes how heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano overcame having a short 68-inch reach to develop a scuffling style that enabled him to remain undefeated and win all but six of his 49 fights by a knockout. In pointing out that speech is a skill that's acquired rather than taught, Robinson and Epstein aver over footage of a toddling Tiger Woods that sporting talent comes from enjoying the thrill of playing and improving. Both Gretzky and Rice cite childhood examples of how they devised ways of understanding where a puck travels during a hockey game and how a football fits into the hand. Gretzky explains how he relied on his intelligence and vision rather than his speed and physique to make himself elusive and Rice also recalls learning the discipline of route running in order to put him in sync with his quarterback. Pelé and Gretzky consider how they benefited from playing in non-structured teams as kids because they learned to express themselves. Epstein and Robinson echo the importance of individuality, while also revealing that kids who play a range of sports tend to pick up skills that they can apply when they specialise. Gretzky acknowledges the debt he owes to baseball and lacrosse, while Pelé's adolescent karate training helped his balance (and gives Polsky an excuse to cut in some footage of Bruce Lee). All three express gratitude towards their fathers - Walter Gretzky, Joe Rice and Dondinho - for allowing them to develop at their own pace. Robinson and Epstein lament the fact that so many modern parents seek to give their children the best start in life by filling their leisure time with purposeful activities when, in fact, kids tend to prosper when they seize upon their own passions. Polsky cuts away here to consider the role Richard Williams played in pushing daughters Venus and Serena towards tennis greatness. In voiceover, Serena reveals how hard it was to emerge from her sister's shadow when she was the chosen child and Robinson notes how often greatness is rooted in rebellion. Citing David Bowie as a musical example of a rule-breaker, he claims that John McEnroe changed his game by insisting that the standards of those officiating his matches were as high as his own. We also see a clip of Tom Brady arguing with a coach in the touchline and it's this refusal to conform that sets the best athletes apart from the pack. Comparing the way in which the best pianists and athletes are able to visualise the next move while executing their skills, Epstein highlights the importance of intuitive intelligence in being able to perform at one's best in a pressure cauldron. Gretzky and Rice concur that it's often impossible to think in the heat of the moment, but sport smarts tell you how to react to certain situations in order to be in the right place at the right time and avoid a heavy tackle or grab a scoring chance. However, they usually spent the night before a game running scenarios so that nothing could take them by surprise and Epstein asserts that the true greats combine this ability to learn quickly with a `rage to master' their skill sets. This leads on to a section on perfectionism and the need to obsess about a sport in order to excel at it. Gretzky reveals how he used to watch every game during a season in order to study his opponents, while Epstein uses the example of skateboarder Tony Hawk refusing to leave the arena during the 1999 X-Games until he had mastered the 900 degree aerial spin. He also recalls watching Roger Federer warming up at the US Open by repeatedly hitting shots in the direction of a ballboy until he could catch the ball without having to move his hand. Such is the competitive spirit that mice can be bred to live for running on a wheel and become depressed if they are deprived of their passion. For many athletes, however, the greatest motivating force is criticism from those deemed unworthy, as basketball icon Michael Jordan demonstrated during a Hall of Fame speech that resembled Ted Crilly's list of grievances when he won the Golden Cleric in Father Ted. Following a passage on the importance of coaches Glen Sather, Bill Walsh and Mário Zagallo, nine-time NBA winner Red Auerbach speaks in archive footage about how the titans embrace pressure and demand the ball when the crunch comes. Pelé admits that he hated disappointing people, but being able to bounce back from mistakes and defeats is crucial, as Rice reveals in recalling how he kept fumbling on joining the San Francisco 49ers from college. Robinson says that personality is key to sporting success, as is a recognition that they are artists and entertainers. Gretzky has no problem with assuming this mantle, while adding that he was also paid to win. Footage of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson accompanies a discussion on style and imagination. Rice jokes that he was obsessed with his appearance on the field and always wore new boots, but there was always a method in his dandiness. As we see the Ali Shuffle, we learn about the speed of his ducking skills when punches were raining in on him. But he was a soloist. Our three champions were team players and Rice pays homage to Joe Montana, while Gretzky eulogises about Mario Lemieux. Presumably, Pelé would again choose Garrincha. Over footage of The Beatles rehearsing `Hey Jude' at Abbey Road, Robinson recalls how Paul McCartney had once told him that he and John Lennon had balanced discipline and spontaneity while composing a song. But who's to say whether there have been dozens of undiscovered Lennon and McCartneys who simply didn't get the breaks? Gretzky agrees that luck and willpower were crucial to the perfect storm that was his career. But Epstein and Robinson wonder where sport will go when the body reaches its limit and speed, height and distance records can no longer be broken. They also ponder the future of sports if one team comes to dominate solely because it had the resources to ensure it retains its primacy. But these questions are left hanging, as cut to the credits via a snippet of Walter Gretzky singing `Que Sera Sera' in a noisy diner. This random ending rather sums up this fascinating, but frustrating film. It's a fun clip and reinforces why Wayne Gretzky is so in awe of his father, but it feels lobbed in, like the footage of Bill Bixby's David Banner turning into Lou Ferrigno's Hulk being used to symbolise the rage that Michael Jordan had to feel in order to play at the peak of his powers. Equally out of place is the scene of Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix (1999) to illustrate a commendation of Muhammad Ali's reaction speeds and the extract from The Simpsons to highlight the pressure that fans place upon their heroes. Others may view such scattershot interjections as quirkily charming. But Polsky's bias towards male athletes is less easy to excuse, especially when one considers the number of erudite speakers he could have called upon, including Billie Jean King, Lindsey Vonn and Megan Rapinoe. He also struggles to integrate Pelé into the discussion, which winds up being shaped by the theorists rather than the practitioners. Clearly Epstein and Robinson know their stuff and their contributions are valuable. But most sports fans would rather hear from the idols who have been there and done it than those who watched from their armchairs. They could also probably do without the aphorisms captionised from the writings of British Zen philosopher Alan Watts, which feel as superfluous as the distracting zooms and camera movements that Polsky insists upon using during his interviews with Rice and Gretzky. There are nuggets here, but not as many as there could or should have been. CAMINO SKIES. Running 800km from Saint Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, the Camino de Santiago has been walked by Christians since the 9th century. Over a quarter of a million souls attempt the arduous route each year and first-time documentarists Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth have been fortunate in their choice of the Antipodean pilgrims embarking upon the Way of St James in Camino Skies. However, this is far from the first screen account of this punishing, but inspirational act of faith. The highest profile picture is Luis Buñuel's The Milky Way (1969), a Pythonesque odyssey that accompanies a pair of French vagrants, Pierre (Paul Frankeur) and Jean (Laurent Terzieff), on an eventful progress that sees them encounter Jesus (Bernard Verley), the Virgin Mary (Édith Scob), the Marquis de Sade (Michel Piccoli) and Satan (Pierre Clémenti), as well as a man in a black cape (Alain Cuny), who urges them to procreate with a prostitute (Delphine Seyrig). Full of diversions through time warps and digressions through the byways of Catholic doctrine, this is akin to a scathingly sacrilegious catechism. But it does feature a cameo by the director as a pope being executed by some revolutionaries. Markedly more commercially successful, Emilio Estevez's The Way (2010) is a feel-good celebration of human durability that sees grieving father Martin Sheen set out to retrieve his lost son's body and latch on to Irish travel writer James Nesbitt, battered Canadian wife Deborah Kara Unger and overweight Dutchman Yorick van Wageningen. Personality clashes also dominate Coline Serreau's St Jacques…La Mecque (2005), which follows siblings Muriel Robin, Artus de Penguern and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, as they strive to suppress their hatred of each other in order to complete the Camino and inherit their mother's fortune. Antipathy also proves crucial to Spaniard Roberto Santiago's romcom, Road to Santiago (2009), which sees mutually loathing reporter Malena Alterio and photographer Fernando Tejero sally forth to check on whether Argentinian guru Diego Peretti is a fraud or a genuine guru. Easily the most distinctive feature is compatriot Fernando Cortizo's stop-motion animation, O Apostolo (2012), which follows an escaped convict to the Camino village where a cellmate had hidden a stash of jewels many years before. However, he quickly discovers that the only reason he has received such a fulsome welcome from the elderly inhabitants is that they have been cursed to lure unsuspecting strangers into the orbit of the Grim Reaper. If only that was available online. Grady and Smyth are hardly the first docu-makers to tackle the trek, either. Many will have seen the three-part BBC series, Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago (2018), which trod the path with celebrities Neil Morrissey, Debbie McGee, Ed Byrne, Heather Small, Kate Bottley, Raphael Rowe and JJ Chalmers. But they were merely following in the footsteps of Lydia B. Smith's Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago (2013), Juan Manuel Cotelo's Footprints: The Path of Your Life, Chris Karcher and Terry Parish's I'll Push You (both 2016) and Aaron Leaman's Looking For Infinity: El Camino (2017). Among the assembled are Susan Morris, a 70 year-old from Perth who is hoping that her degenerative arthritis and spinal curvature won't conspire to prevent her from completing the pilgrimage; 56 year-old Cheryl Stone, who is mourning the recent death of her father, while also walking to commemorate the lost love of her life; Claude Tranchant, a 72 year-old Frenchwoman who has lived in Australia since 1979 and who is making her second trip after recounting her first in the 2012 Camino memoir, Boots to Bliss; 50 year-old Mark Thomson, who is travelling with his 69 year-old father-in-law, Terry Wilson (who is doing his second Camino), in order to mark the passing of his 17 year-old stepdaughter, Maddison, who had just lost her fight with cystic fibrosis; and Julie Zarifeh, a 54 year-old from Christchurch who is seeking to make sense of the fact that 16 days after her 60 year-old husband, Paul, succumbed to pancreatic cancer, their 27 year-old son, Sam, was drowned while on a rafting expedition. For much of the film, we see them trudging, socialising or resting in short snippets that have been edited into a sort of living snapshot mosaic by Ramon Watkins. We learn little about them until they have their individual confessional moment and, such is their humility and sincerity, that one wishes that Grady and Smyth had spent more quality time in their company. It might also have been nice to hear more about each pilgrim's spiritual motives for making the trip. Moreover, something on the history of the Camino and some background information on the various landmarks that the sextet pass might also not have gone amiss. Given that Smyth had to lug a camera for 42 days, while Grady and Phoebe Curran had to carry the sound recording equipment, the film-makers had plenty to preoccupy them en route. But this rather feels like a home movie that haphazardly alights upon incidents and utterances without bothering to contextualise them. The debuting duo play up the `suspense' element of Susan's ongoing battle with her body, which occasionally drives her to resort to various forms of transport. Yet they barely pause to ascertain why she leaves her wedding ring at Cruz de Hierro, the highest point on the route, after 30 years of marriage to and separation from a man with whom she seemingly remains on good terms. Similarly, little is made of Mark's contention that Maddy had sent the dog that appeared from nowhere to guide him up a steep hill when he was on the verge of quitting. His visit to the chapel where a mass had been said for a daughter with pneumonia is also rushed, in spite of the fact that he has clearly been hurt by Tranchant's thoughtless remark about the need to deal with emotions and move on,. By contrast, the camera rather lingers on Julie's grief, as she recalls hearing of Sam's death after returning from the trip to the pictures that had been intended to mark her return to normality after her husband's funeral. It similarly hovers uncomfortably, as she leaves keepsakes on the road and scatters ashes near the lighthouse at Muxia. The significance of this remote spot some 86km further along the Costa de Monte is not explained. Nor are the reasons for taking Julie off alone for this climactic moment of picturesque catharsis, which plays out to the accompaniment of Tom McLeod's obtrusively emotive score. The dripping of backstory details to build emotional suspense has seeped into the cinematic documentary from Reality TV and Grady and Smyth won't be the last to utilise the technique. Clearly, the pilgrims were content to have their progress recorded. But the pair's inexperience behind the camera keeps undermining the sincerity of their enterprise and leaves it open to accusations of voyeurism and exploitation as it comes perilously close to becoming an endurance game show for bereaved pensioners. This is a shame, as the co-directors are evidently wholly respectful and supportive of their subjects and their documentary could not be any more affectionate or compassionate. It could, however, have been longer than its current 80 minutes, as the pace is too brisk to convey the full extent of the physical and psychological toll that the expedition across occasionally treacherous terrain in often inclement weather conditions takes on the intrepid trekkers. These are nice people, who showed considerable courage in putting their vulnerabilities and insecurities on show. In truth, they deserve a bit better. ENEMY LINES. The perilous wartime mission behind enemy lines to rescue a figure of strategic importance is nothing new. Commandos Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton teamed to spring a general from an impregnable Bavarian bastion in Brian G. Hutton's Alistair MacLean adaptation, Where Eagles Dare (1968), while Ifan Meredith led a unit of unknowns into occupied territory to liberate a scientist who could turn the course of the conflict in Nick Lyon's Operation Dunkirk (2017). Unfortunately, Anders Banke's Enemy Lines has more in common, in terms of both plotline and quality, with the latter, as the Swedish director looks to kick on after dwelling on Arctic vampires in Frostbitten (2006) and a Moscow detective launching her own reality show in Newsmakers (2009), which was filmed in the city where Banke had attended the prestigious VGIK film school. It's 1943 and General McCloud (Corey Johnson) and Major Kaminski (Ed Westwick) meet Colonel Preston (John Hannah) at a London opera house to inform him that they need four of his best men to accompany the Polish-speaking Kaminski behind enemy lines in order to rescue Dr Alexander Fabien (Pawel Delag), a scientist the Americans need to help develop an atomic bomb. Having been put ashore in the Baltic by a trawler skipper (Patrik Karlson) wary of Nazi patrol boats, Kaminski presses inland with Sergeant Will Davidson (Tom Wisdom) and his underlings, Corporal John Waites (Gary Grant) and privates Mick Cooper Cooper (Daniel Jillings) and Ben Lee (Scott Haining). Meanwhile, Fabien is under pressure to make progress with his research or he will be denied his monthly visit to his wife, Kalina (Svetlana Anikei), and daughter, Irena (Maria Bondareva), in a dacha in the woods. This is interrupted by Kaminski's raid, which results in the slaughter of dozens of Germans and Kalina, who is shot by the officer trying to take her hostage. Fabien is reluctant to go with his rescuers, but they realise they have no option and struggle through the snowy woods to the nearest village, where they have to risk detection after missing a rendezvous with the partisans. What they don't know is that the Soviets also want Fabien and an NKVD unit dressed as Nazis is hot on their heels under the command of the ruthless Petrov (Vladimir Epifantsev). They realise that one of the Tommies is wounded and are confident that they can pick them off before they reach their contacts. However, the partisans rescue the fugitives from a forest patrol and take them back to their hideout. Their leader, Stanek (Andrey Karako), wants to kill Fabien for being a collaborator. But he explains that he has been playing for time and given the Nazis no information that could help them build a bomb. Sara (Ekaterina Vladimirova) is more sympathetic and takes a shine to Davidson, while also teaching Irena to shoot. Many of the unit are wiped out while trudging through the forest in an effort to liberate the villagers who have been rounded up by the Nazis for abetting Kaminski's crew. He has to be reminded of his heritage by Sara in order to get him to join the mission, as he has managed to make radio contact with Preston and is focused solely on getting Fabien to the abandoned airfield where a cargo plane will be waiting for them. But the Allied quintet do their bit, even though the partisans are heavily outnumbered and the Germans have a missile launcher and a tank. The Soviets watch the skirmish from a safe distance and gloat about how easy it will be to secure their quarry, especially as Cooper and Lee have been killed and the survivors are now wholly in Sara's hands. She takes them to her father's cabin in the woods, where she tends to Davidson's wounds and has frenzied sex with him before listening, over a post-coital cigarette, to his confession about killing women and children in liquidating some quislings in Occupied France. The next morning, however, Sara is shot by Irena, who fails to understand that she is holding a pistol to her father's head to force Petrov's cadre into releasing Kaminski after they had taken him by surprise while he was fetching firewood from an outhouse. Her sacrifice enables the others to steal the Soviet vehicle and make a dash for the rendezvous site. They are spotted by a Nazi patrol, however, and reinforcements close in to prevent them from driving on. Davidson and Kaminski stop to fight a rearguard and get unexpected help from Petrov, who would rather see Fabien work for the Americans than the Germans. Bondarenko (Kirill Pletnyov) gives his life for the cause, as do Davidson and Waites, who provide cover while Kaminski makes a dash for the airstrip with Fabien and Irena. They make it in the nick of time and McCloud thanks Kaminski at an RAF hospital somewhere in Blighty. McCloud reveals he is a tough street fighter from the south side of Chicago and reminds Kaminski that the war will be won by the side that brings a surprise to the party. As we see Fabien lunching with Irena in the canteen at the top secret Stateside facility where the atom bomb is being developed, a caption explains that several similar raids were undertaken during the classified Alsos Mission to secure boffins and intel for the Manhattan Project. Pole Joseph Rotblat refused to co-operate on moral grounds and his opposition to nuclear weapons later led to him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Falling into line behind Harald Zwart's 12th Man, Robert Schwentke's The Captain (both 2017) and Ross Clarke's The Birdcatcher (2019) in terms of both authenticity and engagement, this is a competent, if bluntly formulaic combat adventure. The narrative unfolds strictly by numbers, although the Soviet subplot adds intrigue and the combat sequences are capably staged, with plenty of old-fashioned stuntwork choreographed by Roman Korolev. Claudio Ahlers's sound design is also commendable, although it consistently has to compete with the emotional promptings of Philippe Jakko's boomingly melodic orchestral score. Cinematographer Chris Maris makes decent use of the Belarusian locations, but he's unable to disguise the Airfix nature of the SFX employed for the sequences involving the trawler and in-flight rescue plane. That said, the actors aren't always that more convincingly animated. Sporting a floppy top and shaved sides barnet that makes him look like a Premiership footballer or the moodily maverick member of a boy band rather than a 1940s US Army major, Ed Westwick proves a charmless lead. But he has to work with zero character definition, while Michael Wright's dialogue requires him to be little more than a talking Action Man. The Brits are no more three-dimensional, despite the clumsy attempt to give Tom Wisdom's sergeant a post-traumatic backstory that makes him seem more sensitive after his risibly implausible tumble with plucky partisanette, Ekaterina Vladimirova. Her patronising depiction contrasts with the greater complexity afforded Maria Bondareva's frightened adolescent, as she continues to view her deliverers with suspicion after the death of her mother. Even the resort to the Chekhov gun gambit comes somewhat out of the blue. But the most interesting thing about her father is confined to a closing caption, although, even then, there's no guarantee that Pawel Delag's sulky physicist is intended to be a variation on Professor Rotblat. Most sympathy, however, should be extended to the ever-dependable John Hannah, who could hardly have imagined while cresting the post-Four Weddings wave that he would be reduced to taking clichéd cameos in third-rate Euro-pudding war movies that don't even have the gumption to avoid superimposing white subtitles over patches of snow.

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