top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (9/6/2023)

(Reviews of War Pony; Reality; Carmen; Love Without Walls; and Una Squadra)


WAR PONY.


The harshness of life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota has already been explored in features like Chris Eyre's Skins (2002), Jack Riccobono's The Seventh Fire, and Chloé Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me (both 2015). Now, first-time directors Gina Gammell and Riley Keough consider the lot of the Oglala Lakota residents in War Pony, which won the Camera d'or at the Cannes Film Festival.


Blasting hip hop in his car, as he drives around Pine Ridge, Bill (Jojo Bapteise Whiting) is overtaken by a couple of men on horseback. Arriving home, he finds a poodle in the front yard and walks it back to its owner. She is prepared to sell the animal for $1000 and Bill is tempted, as he can breed puppies and make a fortune. Forever on the make, whether siphoning petrol or fencing stolen games consoles, Bill is aware that he has two children to provide for, even though Carly (Anjeliq Aurora) is behind bars and Echo (Jesse Schmockel) wants nothing to do with him.


Bill bumps into Matho (Ladainian Crazy Thunder) at the convenience store, where the 12 year-old has been buying sweets and sodas after duping a sucker into buying some addled meth. However, he has stolen his supplies from his father's stash and he warns him that he's on thin ice.


Having picked up stranded motorist, Tim (Sprague Hollander), Bill negotiates payment to drive him home, replace a burst tyre, and take his female passenger home so that Tim's wife, Allison (Ashley Shelton), doesn't find out. As he has a turkey processing plant in Fall River, Bill wangles himself a job. He uses the cash from his day's work to buy the dog (whom he names Beast) and shows her to Echo, who thinks he's a dreamer.


Meanwhile, Matho gets beaten up for selling drugs cut with baking powder and makes light of his black eye with the classmate he has a crush on. However, his father (Franklin Sioux Bob) is furious with him for ruining his reputation as a dealer and throws him out. Fortunately, he's taken in by a neighbour and helps with their pill business to the extent that he falls asleep at school.


Bill also works long hours at the turkey facility and keeps ferrying Tim's mistress back to the reservation. However, Alisson takes a shine to him and gives him some earrings to gift to Echo. His situation becomes complicated when Carly gets out of jail and steals Beast because she claims Bill owes her money. When she's arrested the next day, Bill takes his son from Carly's family home and recovers Beast (who has had puppies) from its new owner.


Meanwhile, Matho's father is dumped in the creek and he feels lost at the funeral. He starts dealing at school, but gets caught and is suspended. His girlfriend's mother bars her from seeing him, while the neighbour orders him to leave for breaking her house rules and Matho has to stay at his father's boarded-up property.


Bill falls foul of Echo, who thinks he's dating Tim's mistress because she's always in his car. She refuses an invitation to attend Tim's Halloween party, where one of the white guests has come as a Native American, complete with headdress and war paint. Allison tells Bill that she knows about Tim's lovers and warns him that by driving them home he's technically guilty of sex trafficking. As he couldn't get a babysitter, Bill has left his sons in the back of his car with Beast and her puppies. However, she gets out and is shot for raiding the turkey run. Bill is distraught and drives home in his Joker make-up.


Matho has also been having an eventful night. Having got drunk and high with his pals, they break into a house and steal a car. Partying as they drive along, they have a crash and abandon the vehicle. Unable to go home, Matho breaks into Bill's place and he lets him stay. When Tim refuses to pay his wages, Bill assembles a crew to steal all of his live and frozen turkeys and he lets them loose on the reservation. As he looks out of window on a snowy morning, a bison ambles past.


Gina Gammell and Riley Keough had to overcome many obstacles in order to complete their debut. As they were committed to telling the stories in Franklin Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy's screenplay, they refused to make compromises with the backers who felt the material was unrelatable. It certainly feels familiar, as elements of Bill and Matho's experiences can be found in the films mentioned in the opening paragraph. But this only affirms the authenticity of the depiction of reservation life, as the everyday grind is relieved by moments of bleak humour.


Matho and his friends are forever chuckling and there's a joyous innocence to the scene of them riding their bikes on a dusty road. Bill also enjoys the odd escape from the exhausting toil of hustling to survive. But the real fascination lies in their relationship to the Oglala Lakota customs that are slowly receding into history, as consumerism takes a greater grip. Neither youth speaks the language, while they take little notice of the tribal rituals still being performed by their elders. Rap means more to Bill than ancient chants, although he's still affronted by the party guest in fancy dress. Yet the bookending visions of a bison suggest that Bill is still conscious of his heritage.


Non-actors Jojo Bapteise Whiting and LaDainian Crazy Thunder impress as Bill and Matho, as David Gallego's camera relentlessly pursues them both to capture their energy and place them in the context of a space that, in spite of its vastness, is designed to enclose and subdue them. Editors Affonso Gonçalves and Eduardo Serrano reinforce the Res rhythms, while also creating a spiritual and spatial connection between the 23 year-old and the tweenager.


Having met her co-writers while shooting Andrea Arnold's American Honey (2016), Keough (who has Creek and Cherokee blood through her grandfather, Elvis Presley) adopts a social realist tone that would be familiar to Gemmell (whose father works for the British Council). Their appreciation of the mutuality of Pine Ridge life is the result of genuine commitment and collaboration on the part of the co-directors and it feels as admirable as the refusal to judge that is an essential attribute of residents of all ages. But surely they could have set the turkey robbery to something less obvious than Redbone's `Come and Get Your Love'?


REALITY.


Tina Satter's play, Is This a Room?, used verbatim passages from the FBI interrogation of Reality Winner, the 26 year-old US intelligence officer and translator leaked to The Intercept secret government document about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In making her directorial debut, Reality, Satter draws on the same material and keeps finding innovative ways of making it unexpectedly and often disconcertingly cinematic.


On 3 June 2007, Reality Winner (Sydney Sweeney) leaves her office in Augusta, Georgia and drives home after picking up some groceries. She is greeted on the drive by Justin Garrick (Josh Hamilton) and Wally Taylor (Marchánt Davis), who identify themselves as FBI agents. They inform Winner that they have a warrant to search her property and inquire about any co-residents before their colleagues enter the property.


Surprised, but maintaining her composure on being informed that the agents would like to ask her some questions, Winner gets permission to put her rescue dog, Mickey, in an outdoor pen. She assures Garrick that her cat, Mina, will probably remain on the bed, but she is anxious that the search team led by Joe (Benny Elledge) don't let her out.


As Winner and Garrick chat in the front garden about pets, Taylor and Joe have trouble accessing Winner's phone. While they secure the premises, Garrick asks about Winner's time in the USAF and notes her frustration that she didn't get a significant posting because she is fluent in Farsi, Pashto, and Dari. He jokes that he can barely speak English, but Winner agrees it's a difficult language, as she notices the trusting look in Mickey's eyes and the gentleness of the breeze in the trees.


The conversation passes from the weapons she possesses to her CrossFit regimen, with Taylor and Joe being impressed that a petite woman could lift such heavy weights. They ask about a private room in which they could continue the discussion and Winner apologises about the fact that there's no furniture in the back bedroom. Nevertheless, this is where they repair, after Winner retrieves Mina from under the bed.


Once inside the bedroom, the door is closed and Taylor shows Winner the warrant. She flips through the pages, as Garrick reminds her that the questioning is voluntary and that she doesn't have to answer. They inquire about her recent trip to Belize and she goes into detail about her itinerary. But the tone darkens when Taylor reminds her that lying to an FBI agent is an offence and suggests that she starts taking things seriously.


At this point, Garrick asks about any material that Winner might have printed off at her desk at Pluribus International. She admits to keeping the odd item of general interest, but swears that she always put it in the burn bag and never smuggled anything out of the office. However, Garrick becomes more insistent and pounces when mentions folding a document pertaining to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Watching a snail on her windowsill, Winner stumbles for the first time, as she protests that she wasn't `trying to be a Snowden or anything' before confessing to having folded the printout and hidden it in her tights in order to post it to the Intercept website.


Taylor reassures Winner that he doesn't think she's a bad person and accepts that she probably messed up. But he is curious about her motives for leaking such sensitive information and she complains about having grown tired of hearing Fox News blaring on the office TV set after President Trump had sacked FBI Director James Comey.


Garrick pauses proceedings to fetch Winner a glass of water and Taylor and Joe joke with Winner about how tubby Mina is. Having confessed, Winner explains that she felt people were entitled to hear the truth about a conspiracy that was being covered up. However, she's more concerned about who will take care of Mickey and Mina after she is arrested.


Led into the yard, in full view of her neighbours, Winner is patted down and cuffed by a female agent. As she is driven away, the film ends with the media debates that ensued, which invariably concluded that the leak was much more heinous than any of its revelations.


It emerged during Reality Winner's trial that she had not been read her Miranda Rights and this oversight (whether it was deliberate or unconscious) says much about the power and gender dynamics that were established by agents Garrick and Taylor, as they sought to coax Winner into confessing what they already knew she had done. The fact that Winner was not informed of her right to silence gives the normalcy of the more banal passages of badinage all the more chilling, as the inquisitors exploit the unsettling nature of the situation to catch Winner off her guard.


As brilliantly played by Sydney Sweeney, Winner tries to conduct the interview on her own terms. She gives the impression of compliance, while trying to deflect questions and using her genuine concern for her pets to keep Garrick and Taylor at a distance. Having acted out of conscience rather than any desire for celebrity, Winner is presented as sincere and naive rather than heroic. Similarly, Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis are given a human side, even though they are clearly seeking to kill by kindness and lure their quarry into self-betrayal. The sheer relatability of the exchanges makes them all the more discomfiting.


The excellence of the performances is matched by the insouciant alertness of Paul Yee's camerawork, as he hones in on faces, while also picking out telling details in both the garden and in the empty room. Jennifer Vecchiarello and Ron Dulin's editing is also disarming, as it passes from restrained rhythms to skittish shifts (although these can be over-emphasised by Nathan Micay's intrusively tense score). Notably, the pair also include shots of the printed transcript and the frequency line on the recording console to reinforce both the naturalism and the artificiality of the reconstruction.


Further adding to this sense of dislocation are the jump cuts and buzzes on the soundtrack that signify redacted lines. These force viewers to reassess the essential relationship between narrative film and the truth it seeks to purvey. However, Satter is also keen to remind the audience that everything we watch on our screens is an amalgam of distortions and manipulations that has been constructed for a specific purpose, whether it's a Fox News report or a verbatim movie. Jean Renoir used to claim that everyone has their reasons. Tina Satter has updated the maxim for our poisonous times: everyone has an agenda.


CARMEN.


Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novella has inspired dozens of film adaptations since Stanner E.V. Taylor made Carmen in 1913. Directors of the calibre of Cecil B. DeMille (1915), Ernst Lubisch (1918), Jacques Feyder (1926), Christian-Jaque (1942), Francesco Rosi (1984), and Vicente Aranda (2003) have all used the same title, while Dutch pioneer, Maurits Binger, opted for Carmen of the North (1919). Four years previously, Charlie Chaplin had spoofed the storyline in A Burlesque on Carmen (1915), while Tom & Jerry went on to introduce a socko element in Gene Deitch's Carmen Get It! (1962).


The same year saw Carmine Gallone draw on both Mérimée and Georges Bizet's 1875 opera for Carmen di Trastavere, a loose retelling that echoed Tulio Demicheli's 1959 outing, Carmen la de Ronda. Bizet was the primary inspiration for Nights in Andalusia (1938), which starred Imperio Argentina and was filmed in both Spanish and German by Florian Rey and Herbert Maisch. These came seven years after British director Cecil Lewis had made the first sound version with Carmen (1931), which was followed by musical variations by Argentine Luis César Amadori (1943) and Italian Giuseppe Maria Scotese (1953).


Other departures include Wong Tin-Lam's Hong Kong saga, The Wild, Wild Rose (1960); Radley Metzger's erotic teaser, Carmen, Baby; Luigi Bazzoni's Spaghetti Western, Man, Pride and Vengeance (both 1967); Román Chalbaud's Venezuela-set Carmen, la que contaba 16 años (1978); Horant H. Hohlfeld's Carmen on Ice (1990); and David Fairman's British thriller, Carmen's Kiss (2008). But the most widely seen intepretation was Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1954), which featured and Oscar-nominated performance by Dorothy Dandridge and exhilarating lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Equally bold were Jean-Luc Godard's Beethoven-driven Prénom Carmen (1983), Robert Townsend's Beyoncé-starring Carmen: A Hip-Hopera (2001), and Mark Dornford-May's South African opera, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005).


Raoul Walsh was so keen on the story, he followed Carmen (1915) with The Loves of Carmen (1927). This was also the name of Charles Vidor's dance variation, starring Rita Hayworth. Together with Carlos Saura's flamenco Carmen (1983), it proves the most apt comparison for Benjamin Millepied's Carmen, a terpsichorean retelling that shifts the action to the US-Mexican border and incorporates aspects of Alexander Pushkin's poem, `The Gypsies'.


After her mother, Zilah (Marina Tamayo), is gunned down during a defiant flamenco by what seem to be strongarms from a drug cartel, Carmen (Melissa Barrera) torches the family home in the Chihuahuan desert and heads for the border. Aidan (Paul Mescal) is working there as a guard, having been traumatised while serving in Afghanistan with the US Marines. He would rather strum folk songs by the abandoned quarry, but sister Julieanne (Nicole da Silva) insists he helps her pay the rent.


Paired with Mike (Benedict Hardie), Aidan goes on night patrol. However, when Mike pulls a gun on Carmen, Aidan shoots him and jumps into the back of his speeding truck, as Carmen drives away. He guides her to a motel, where they plan their next move. Zilah had urged Carmen to seek sanctuary with her godmother, Masilda (Rossy de Palma), in Los Angeles, so they ride in a taxi with Angel.


On seeing spinning Catherine Wheels beside a fairground, they pull over and Carmen dashes off to dance with some women, leaving Aidan to look on stolidly. Pablo (Richard Brancatisano) offers to take them t LA and Angel warns Carmen, `Remember that the thing you're running from is almost always the thing you're running towards.' When Aidan looks back to thank Angel, however, he has vanished.


Pablo tries to flirt with Carment during a comfort break, but she warns him Aidan is a jealous boyfriend. He drops them at La Sombra Pederosa where Masilda is performing and she welcomes them tearfully, as Zilah had been like a sister. She teases Carmen that quiet, polite boys like Aidan are invariably well hung. But he doesn't speak enough Spanish o understand and goes in search of a pay phone to reassure Julieanne that he's okay.


While Masilda watches Carmen dance in the deserted club and urges her to channel her mother's zest into her steps, Aidan goes in search of old comrade, Jimmy (Ryan Oliver Gilbert), who tells him about a bare-knuckle bout with a $10,000 prize. He returns to find her partying with Masilda's friends, who lip sync to records and make Carmen feel at home. However, when Aidan suggests that she stays here, she informs him that she will go where her heart leads. He is worried that they will be caught, but they become lovers anyway and dance a pas de deux beneath a.


Convinced the law is closing in, Aidan has bad dreams and walks out on Carmen's performance at the club in order to take his chances in the ring. She follows him and is spotted by the cops. A gravel-voiced MC (Tracy `The D.O.C.' Curry) raps during the bout, which sees Aidan win after being headbutted. Carmen rushes to kiss him, but the cops raid the building and Aidan is shot as they run away. She kisses him and reassures him it will be okay. But it isn't and a furious dances in a barren wilderness is followed by a slo-mo shot of Carmen at the beach with the wind in her hair.


Co-scripted by Millepied, Loïc Barrère, and Alexander Dinelaris, this adds little to the Carmen canon. The dances are drab and awkwardly integrated into the action, while Nicholas Britell's score booms and soars with an intensity and frenzy that is entirely missing from the direction and the mannered performances of Barrera and Mescal.


He tries hard in the dance sequences, but his muscularity lacks fluidity. She has one exhilarating moment in dancing to a chamber orchestra in the nightclub. But she generates little passion with Mescal, who acts like he's got Marlon Brando on the brain (which is probably apt, as he was about to play Stanley Kowalski in a West End revival of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire).


Rossy de Palma steals scenes, as she always does. But the close up of her running her fingers over her anguished face typifies the preciousness of an enterprise that is too concerned with being great art to be half-decent cinema. The settings and the scenario lack authenticity, with the border sequences being particularly crass. Moreover, we never discover the reasons for Zilah's death or Carmen's flight, while Aidan's PTSD is reduced to being a character quirk rather than a topic (like migration and misogyny) worthy of serious consideration.


Jörg Widmer's camerawork has a kineticism that is absent from much of the choreography. But too many images feel self-consciously stylised, especially within the confines of the club. The majority of the secondary characters are little more than ciphers, with the consequence that Millepied wastes the talent of Tara Morice, the star of Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom (1992).


LOVE WITHOUT WALLS.


Having made such a fine start with My Feral Heart (2016), British writer-director Jane Gull takes a decided backward step with her sophomore feature, Love Without Walls. This is a shame, as there is much to admire about a study of poverty that Gull first conceived 12 years ago while working with homeless people.


Sophie Kelly (Shana Swash) takes pictures as husband Paul (Niall McNamee) performs a pub gig. They're miffed when the owner pays them by cheque, as money is tight. She's about to finish a photography course, while he is studying the Knowledge to become a London cabby. But their lives are turned upside down when the landlord evicts them and Sophie hides their troubles from her beloved nan, Jeanie (Sheila Reid).


They stay with Paul's sister, Debbie (Amy Malloy), even though husband John (Ricci Harnett) is a baiting grouch. But Sophie can't get Paul any gigs and his fortunes take another downturn when his scooter is stolen while on a street recce. Tired of John's whining, they load up the 2CV and head to Southend, but they wind up sleeping in the car, as the wife of Paul's mate, Rob (Theo Ogundipe), refuses to let them stay.


Although Sophie gets a hotel maid job (interviewing in a top that a woman had left behind after having a cry in a public lavatory), Paul has his phone stolen by a café waitress who had offered to charge it for him. Moreover, the car breaks down and the neighbours complain about them sleeping there and it's towed away. As this was her mother's car, Sophie is crushed and they have to sleep rough in a churchyard.


Someone steals Paul's boots in the night and Spaceman (Paul Barber) takes the pair that had been left in their place after Sophie goes for a wee after he had bought her a cup of tea, while she was minding their belongings and Paul was looking for a safe place to stash them. He finds a basement in a locked-off building and they begin to make progress, as he starts working in a local park and does some busking between gigs. Sophie showers secretly at the hotel and nearly gets rumbled when she smuggles Paul into a room for a quickie.


However, Sophie gets fired after she's caught napping and Paul is chiselled out of £600 when Keith (Steve Meo) disappears without paying him. Seeing an old lady at the soup kitchen, Sophie calls Jeanie's home, only to discover she'd died and nobody had bothered to contact her. She buys a bottle of wine and insults Paul after getting drunk and staggers off by herself in the night. He finds her in the churchyard and takes her to hospital in a discarded shopping trolley.


While Sophie tells a social worker she's pregnant (even though she knows she can't have kids), Paul gets back to the basement to find their stuff being thrown into a skip by builders who have no sympathy with him because he's been trespassing. He steals clothes from a washing line and reluctantly leaves Sophie at a women only hostel. She has three months to find a new place, while he has to sleep rough and steal some new shoes from a charity shop. They kill time in an art gallery, but are forever being stared at as troublemakers. Using a purloined piece of chalk, they draw out the plan of their ideal home and dance to the radio that Sophie had pocketed from the charity shop.


Fed up with drudgery, Paul decides to get a day on a building site (despite having a bad back) to pay for tickets back to London. They part on the steps of the hostel, dreaming of a kebab supper. However, the boss he hooks up with runs a forced labour gang and Paul is beaten when he tries to escape. With Sophie searching Southend, Paul finds himself being driven to jobs and watched like a hawk to ensure he puts in a shift. He's even forced into a bare-knuckle boxing bout against Spaceman and recognises his boots. Meanwhile, Sophie sells her camera to survive and shows Paul's photo to everyone she meets. When she tries to buy a glass of wine, she's told it's a cashless bar.


Having somehow survived for a couple of months (judging by the length of his beard), Paul spots his chance when a co-worker collapses in the garden of a suburban home. He runs to a shop and asks to make a phone call. Debbie comes to collect him and he finds Sophie singing in a church choir. As they embrace with relief, the voices soar and light floods in through the stained glass windows.


Shana Swash and Niall McNamee couldn't be better as the couple clinging together, as they come under relentless attack from life's slings arrows. But their misfortune is outrageous, as Gull piles miseries upon them until the action comes to resemble a Ken Loach greatest pits compilation. This would still be a harrowing snapshot of post-Covid Britain if Sophie and Paul had to cope with only half of their travails. But the incremental descent into ever lower depths smacks of miserabilism, which is doubly frustrating, as Gull clearly knows what she's talking about and depicts a number of situations with a humanist compassion that is much more poignant than the unabated melodramatics to which she so often resorts.


Moments like the chalking out of the ground plan are superbly judged, as is Sophie's drunken outburst. Less successful are the initial flat eviction (which comes from nowhere), the clichéd brother-in-law feud, the fake pregnancy, and the demise of a nan who was only included to be bumped off when Sophie was at a suitably low ebb. The skip incident also feels far-fetched, while the bare-knuckle episode tips the already strained the labour gang segment into soap opera. Once again, this is a shame, as Paul Barber's cameo was cannily done, as was the moonwalking bit with Steve Meo. But the fact that he also turns out to be a wrong `un and the mate who introduced them doesn't give a toss smacks of contrivance. No wonder Paul's samey songs are so grinding.


Susanne Salavati's photography is gritty and dogged without being over-insistent, as she contrasts the expansive seascapes with the corners into which Sophie and Paul are forever being edged. Gull also captures the coldness that has become such a part of our shamefully self-serving society. But she doesn't really capture the atmosphere of Southend and the extent to which the Kellys have been swept up in a wave of neglected humanity. It would be intriguing to see how they get back on their feet, but this isn't the kind of film that generates sequels. Besides, there's no such genre as `muddling along porn'.


UNA SQUADRA.


Scheduled to screen on the day of the French Open Final, CinemaItaliaUK's presentation of Domenico Procacci's tennis documentary, Una Squadra, will get viewers in the mood for the grass court season. Moreover, along with the BBC's current Gods of Tennis series, it should keep nostalgics happy by harking back to the golden age when Italy's Davis Cup team reached four finals in five years between 1976-80.


There was much controversy in 1976, when Chile hosted the final of the Davis Cup. The Soviet Union had already refused to play a semi-final because President Salvador Allende had been murdered during the coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power three years earlier. As Chile was considered a fascist country in Italy, there was pressure on the team to boycott the final after beating Australia.


However, Nicola Pietrangeli was determined to go and shame the regime with a defeat on their own doorstep. Team members Paolo Bertolucci, Adriano Panatta, Tonino Zugarelli, and Corrado Barazzutti. But demonstrations were held against the trip, even though the squad pointed out that Italy maintained diplomatic relations with Chile and that Fiat continued to export cars. Playwright Dario Fo criticised them, while Domenico Modugno wrote a protest song. But the Andreotti government sanctioned the departure, as intelligence came from inside Chile that a humiliation could weaken Pinochet.


Pietrangeli would later reveal that there was something of a schism within the team, with Panatta and Pietrangeli on one side and Zugarelli and Barazzutti on the other. The first two were footloose and fancy free and thought nothing of Concorde jaunts to Rio just to get a tan. By contrast, the latter pair were family men, who preferred the quiet life. Consequently, the quartet barely spoke to each other in the locker room.


There was also a bit of needle between Zugarelli and Barazzutti, as the former was chosen to play in the European final at Wimbledon, as he was better on grass. He proved his worth by beating Roger Taylor and the Italians took a 2-0 lead into the doubles. However, Panatta had a dislike of David Lloyd and insisted on serving to his forehand in order `to teach him a lesson' and Bertolucci still despairs that they lost having had five match points.


Unconcerned, Panatta promised to defeat Taylor and duly did so, with Zugarelli beating John Lloyd to send Italy into the zonal semi-final against Australia.


Rather than cover this, however, Procacci leaps forward to the match against Spain in Barcelona in 1977. A hostile crowd had bayed at the Italians from the first service, but they had prevailed. When Zugarelli refused to play the dead rubber (claiming to have left his kit at the hotel), Panatta went through the motions in losing 6-1, 6-0. Tired of the incessant booing and having cushions thrown at him, he jumped into the crowd to remonstrate and wound up punching just about the only Italian supported in the bleachers. In a rare display of camaraderie, Zugarelli insulted the consul who came into the locker room to reprimand them and all now recall the episode with a shrug and a smile.


The next anecdote concerns Bertolucci sustaining a back injury playing football-tennis in the warm up before a match against Poland. Panatta is amused by the side effects that a painkilling injection had on his friend's genitals and by the fact that he chose to play doubles with Barazzutti, whom he actively disliked. However, he enjoyed his childish prank of hiding Zugarelli's socks and he recalls that they made an effective team in winning the match.


Finally, we head to Santiago for the 1976 final. We meet Chilean players Patricio Cornejo and Jaime Fillol Durán, while the Italians recall how hard the Pinochet authorities strove to showcase life under the regime. However, Panatta remembers thinking how sad and subdued everyone looked. He had arrived from an exhibition match in Las Vegas and was suffering from food poisoning. However, sports manager Mario Belardinelli (himself once a notable player) read him the riot act and Panatta passed himself fit.


The tennis arena was next door to the National Stadium, which had been used to detain and execute dissidents in 1973. FIFA had sent inspectors to verify that the venue was suitable for a World Cup qualifier. But they had been kept away from the prisoners and the match against the USSR was given the go ahead. When the Kremlin refused to send a team, Chile took to the pitch to score a ceremonial goal and claim their place in West Germany in 1974.


Two years later, Italy arrived to end a 76-year wait for the Davis Cup. Preparations went well and Captain Pietrangeli was happy with the opening draw of Barazzutti against Fillol, as this gave them the chance to take a decisive lead in the tie, as Panatta was firm favourite to beat Cornejo. However, Belardinelli couldn't believe that Pietrangeli was so relaxed and launched such a tirade at supper the night before the first match that he had to be hospitalised.


Ultimately, Barazzutti prevailed. But he was so stricken by nerves that he was two sets down before he recovered his composure. With Panatta winning easily, attention turned to the doubles. Bertolucci was taken aback when Panatta suggested the wore red shirts for the occasion to rub Pinochet's nose in the clay. But Pietrangeli, Zugarelli, and Barazzutti claim not to have known about a conscious plan and insist the choice was coincidental.


As the TV coverage was in monochrome, nobody outside the arena was any the wiser and no one knew that Bertolucci asked if they could play the final set in blue. Having lost three match points, Panatta served for victory and the film ends with shots of the players showing the famous silver salad bowl to the thinning crowd.


Making canny use of archive footage, photos, and newspaper cuttings and offering a hugely entertaining insight into the dynamics of an iconic Italian quintet, this is also a thoughtful treatise on the ongoing debate about the relationship between politics and sport. Even though the mission to bloody Pinochet's nose was a success, its morality is still hotly disputed, especially by those on the left. But Procacci airs these concerns, while concentrating on the clashing personalities of the squad members, who have clearly not let any bygones rest after all this time.


It's wonderful to see Pietrangeli, Bertolucci, Panatta, Zugarelli, and Barazzutti on such fine form and willing to speak openly about the tension that somehow made them such an effective team. As one might expect, Panatta is as charismatic as ever, but Zugarelli is splendidly grouchy and unrepentant over the bizarre Barcelona incident. Indeed, seeing Panatta wading into the crowd prompts one to wonder why Procacci opted not to refer to the infamous `Battle of Santiago', when the hosts kicked lumps out of the Azzurri in winning a group game 2-0 at the 1962 World Cup.


Mimmo Calopresti covered the controversy over the doubles attire in La maglietta rossa (2009), but Procacci gets to the bottom of the affair. He doesn't, however, mention that Italy lost their crown to Australia the following year and failed to regain it against the United States in 1979 and Czechoslovakia in 1980. But this is a must for all sports fans, if only to see Panatta's Brut 33 commercial.


25 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (19/4/2024)

(Reviews of Jeanne Du Barry; If Only I Could Hibernate; Grace; All You Need Is Death; Swede Caroline; and Beyond the Raging Sea) JEANNE DU BARRY. There has been a frustrating similarity about the scre

Parky At the Pictures (15/4/2024)

(Review of John Singer Sargent: Fashion & Swagger) JOHN SINGER SARGENT: FASHION & SWAGGER. Approaching 30 feature documentaries since its inception in 2011, Exhibition on Screen continues to offer sch

Parky At the Pictures (12/4/2024)

(Reviews of Close Your Eyes; Bleeding Love; Drift; Unsinkable; and Atirkül in the Land of Real Men) CLOSE YOUR EYES. Spanish director Victor Erice is often dubbed the most feted director with the smal

תגובות


bottom of page