Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 15/11/2019)
Reviews of Someone, Somewhere; Little Monsters; Man Made; and A Dog Called Money
Having captured the spirit of turn-of-the-century Paris in When the Cat's Away (1996), Cédric Klapisch confirmed the impression that he had a finger on the pulse of French twentysomethings with Pot Luck (2002), which introduced the characters that Romain Duris, Cécile de France and Audrey Tautou would continue to play in Russian Dolls (2005) and Chinese Puzzle (2013). In turning his focus on millennials in Someone, Somewhere, however, the 58 year-old director feels to have lost touch with the zeitgeist, as his observations on insularity in the age of social media feel about a decade out of date.
Despite living in adjoining buildings below Sacre Coeur in Paris, Rémy Pelletier (François Civil) and Mélanie Brunet (Ana Girardot) are blithely ignorant of each other's existence. He can't sleep, while she can't stay awake and they find themselves standing next to each other in their chemist's seeking suitable cures. Both have recently been promoted. But Mélanie is nervous at having to present her findings at a cancer research charity, while Rémy feels guilty because he kept his job while others were fired owing to increased mechanisation at their Amazon-style warehouse.
Having passed out on the Métro, Rémy is recommended to psychiatrist JB Meyer (François Berléand). However, he has no idea why he's there or how talking about things he doesn't regard as problems will help him sleep. Mélanie also starts seeing a therapist (Camille Cottin), who encourages her to cry about her father abandoning her when she was five and her boyfriend dumping her after three years. Friends Charlott (Brune Renault) and Chloé (Candice Bouchet) are convinced the solution to her problem lies on a dating site, while Rémy signs up to Facebook and has an awkward reunion with Mathieu (Pierre Niney), a classmate he barely remembers until the nickname `Hard Drive' reminds him that he was a nerd they all avoided.
While Rémy can barely think of anything to say to Meyer, Mélanie pours out her heart about her relationship with Guillaume (Quentin Faure) and how it had deteriorated after they moved in together. She also goes on a date with a good-looking hunk from the website, but they had nothing to say to one another. Sister Capucine (Rebecca Marder) urges her to come home for Christmas, but Mélanie would rather be miserable alone than in company, as Rémy finds himself when he travels to the snowy mountains for a stifling time with his parents and older siblings and their families.
Both Rémy and Mélanie frequent a grocery shop run by Mansour (Simon Abkarian), who always finds ways to sell them expensive items or things they don't need. He urges Mélanie to take up Haitian kompa dancing and, when Rémy is given a white kitten by a neighbouring family, Mansour tells him where to get cheap off-cuts of meat. As he plays with the cat, Rémy hears Gloria Lasso's `Histoire d'un amour' playing through the grating from Mélanie's bathroom, as she sings along while soaking. Taken by the music, he plays it back while Mélanie is drying herself and she is intrigued that someone should be playing the same song. When they head out of their respective front doors the next morning, however, they walk past each other without any recognition, even though their balconies abut behind a partition wall.
Shaken by a nightmare, in which he is packed into a box by robots and dispatched into the system, Rémy is transferred to the Farfast helpline, where he meets Djena (Eye Haidara), who is far more supportive than Mélanie's workmate, Lucie (Jeanne Arènes), when she gets stressed about having to present her findings to the laboratory board. She teases him about being a cheeseburger guy (which is better than being a hamburger or chicken nugget guy) and he names his kitten, Nugget. They watch a romantic ballet sequence on Rémy's laptop and play on the bed. But he dozes off with a window open and is convinced that the cat has been run over on the railway tracks because there's no sign of him in the garden below.
Meyer tells Rémy to stop seeking negative scenarios and his optimism is semi-justified when Mélanie finds Nugget mooching around the wheelie bins. She takes him in and Mansour is amused that so many customers have acquired cats. Acting on Meyer's suggestion, Rémy invites Djena to his bedsit. But he misreads the signs when she props herself up on his knees while he's mansplaining about combustion engines and she beats a hasty retreat because it's all become a bit too `burger' for her. Following a session with her shrink, Mélanie also has an odd experience, when she dreams that her mother visits just as all of her dating site beaux have turned up shirtless at the same time.
Panicking before giving an important lecture in front of a key donor, Mélanie gets insomnia and likes Steevy (Paul Hamy) on her dating site. As he is in the vicinity, he calls round and they have vigorous sex before the combination of medication and booze catches up with Mélanie and she vomits. Capucine comes to look after her and gets her to the lecture theatre in time, where Mélanie overcomes a shaky start to give a good account of herself. That same evening, Rémy had accepted a penitent Djena's invitation to meet her at a dance class, as he enjoys dancing, but has two left feet. He is so awed by her agility that he slinks away and consoles himself with amusing kitten clips on the Internet.
The following evening, Rémy smiles as he listens to Mansour advising Mélanie on the best rice to buy. He picks up a pack himself and is rewarded with a flyer about his brother-in-law's kompa classes. That night, there's a fire in the street and both are struck by the expression on a black girl's face, as she hugs her mother and watches her father being taken away on a stretcher. Mélanie tells her psychiatrist that she reminded her of herself on the day her father left and she admits that she has found it easier to forgive him for abandoning the family than she has her mother for moving to Amiens with her new boyfriend. By contrast, Rémy saw a smile that reminded him of the last time he saw the seven year-old sister who died of cancer when he was 10. Meyer asks if that is when he started to think of himself as bad luck to be around and he shrugs in recognition of a valid diagnosis.
As Meyer slips away from his retirement party and wonders whether he's done any good, Rémy visits his parents and cajoles them into going to the Alpine churchyard where his sister is buried. Mélanie's therapist reminds her that she will never find someone to love her unless she loves herself and she tells her to stop being her own worst critic. Meyer hands Rémy a card of a colleague he might like to consult if he wishes to continue with his therapy. But, from the moment he is paired with Mélanie at his first kompa lesson, Rémy has the feeling that things are going to change for the better - and that's before he's even reunited with Nugget.
Although Klapisch and co-scenarist Santiago Amigorena have little new to say about the alienating effects of urban living and how these have been exacerbated rather than ameliorated by new forms of instant communication, they still tell their tale with considerable charm and nuance. Whoever found the apartment buildings in the shadow of Sacre Couer deserves particular praise, as the notion that someone, somewhere is watching over us is deftly insinuated throughout. However, the presence of the railway lines proves equally significant, as they did in Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum (2008), which also focused on coping with being alone in the big city. No wonder shots of the church and the trains feature so heavily in the closing credits.
There's more than a hint of classical romcom about the way in which Rémy and Mélanie drift together, with the numerous non-meet-cutes feeling particularly Hollywoodesque. But, for all the universality of François Civil and Ana Girardot's hang-ups, this relies heavily on Paris for its je ne sais quoi, as Élodie Tahtane's camera keeps rooting the duo in the environs that gently keep nudging them together. Chloé Cambournac's interiors are equally astute (notably the contrasting consulting rooms), while Loïc Dury and Christophe Minck's score highlights the shifting tones with the lightest of touches.
The leads are admirable, as are supporting stalwarts François Berléand, Camille Cottin and Simon Abkarian, although the latter's remarks about the cosmopolitan nature of the arrondisement land perhaps a touch too directly on the nose (one subtitle will definitely cause the odd wince), especially as there isn't a great deal of inter-ethnic mingling in evidence. The dream sequences don't quite work, either, while Mélanie's cancer research feels a bit arbitrary. But, while one can also gripe about the use of therapy to introduce and resolve backstory issues, this is enjoyable enough and who could possibly resist a picture featuring such a playful kitten?
The zomcom has been shambling along nicely since it came into vogue following Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004). Among the better examples are Bruce LaBruce's Otto; Or, Up With the Dead People (2008), Reuben Fleischer's Zombieland (2009), Shinichiro Ueda's One Cut From the Dead and John McPhail's Anna and the Apocalypse (both 2017). Joining the ranks in theatres and on Sky Cinema this week is Australian actor-director Abe Forsythe's Little Monsters, which ghoulishly combines kidpic quaintness with the kind of schlocky comedy pioneered by New Zealander Peter Jackson in Braindead (1992).
In between endless rows with his girlfriend, Sara (Nadia Townsend), slacker Dave Anderson (Alexander England) busks on the streets of his Australian hometown with a Flying V electric guitar. When Sara throws him out because he refuses to consider having children, Dave crash on the couch at the home of his older sister, Tess (Kat Stewart), who had raised him since they lost their parents. Her five year-old son, Felix (Diesel La Torraca) disapproves of Dave's incessant swearing, complete ignorance about his various food allergies and sneering attitude to his favourite TV show, starring Teddy McGiggle.
But Felix also idolises Dave because he allows him to play violent zombie-shooting games on his Virtual Reality headset. Moreover, he is glad to have someone to share his fascination with tractors and is amused by the fact that Tess calls Dave by his childhood nickname of `Boo-Boo'. Consequently, when Dave wakes Felix in the middle of the night and asks him to dress as Darth Vader so he can propose to Sara, the test-tube tyke readily agrees and plays the part to perfection. Unfortunately, they walk in on Sara having sex with her workmate, Rory (Glenn Hazeldene), and not only does she order them to leave, but they also get a rollicking from Tess when they slink home in the wee small hours.
The following morning, when Tess asks Dave to walk his nephew to kindergarten, Felix points out the bullying Max (Charley Whitely), spina bifida sufferer Mickey (Mason Mansour) and Beth (Ava Caryofyllis), who is Felix's girlfriend. He also introduces him to his teacher, Miss Audrey Caroline (Lupito Nyong'o), and Dave gets such an instant crush that he volunteers to act as a chaperon on the next day's class trip. Tess is surprised by such selfless actions, but Dave's motive is made readily apparent when he masturbates over a photo of Miss Caroline standing beside her charges.
When the bus breaks down en route to Pleasant Valley Farm, Miss Caroline leads the kids in a ukulele rendition of Taylor Swift's `Shake It Off', while Dave plays a thrash rock track by his (ahem, Christian rock) band, God's Sledgehammer. But worse is to follow, as the petting zoo and mini golf course is next to a US Army testing facility that has just been overrun by zombies and they start chomping into farm animals and the helpless tourists, while Felix's class has a close encounter with Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), who just happens to be on tour Down Under with his puppeteer sidekick, Frogsie (Gareth Davies).
Indeed, they only realise something is wrong when their trailer tour of the park is interrupted by their driver being bitten and Felix has to give Dave a quick lesson in how to drive a tractor, while Miss Caroline pins a zombie against a tree with a pitchfork. Having formed a conga line across the concourse, the kids find sanctuary in the gift shop, where Dave has to give Teddy McGiggle a short, sharp lesson in the value of sharing, after he tries to lock them out. Sadly, in doling out snacks to the class, Dave triggers one of Felix's allergies and, when he breaks his Epipen, Miss Caroline has to weave her way through the revenants to retrieve the spare in the boy's Frogsie backpack from the trailer. Her bright yellow dress is coated with blood and she has to fib that it's strawberry jam when she returns in the nick of time to save Felix.
Miss Caroline convinces the kids that they are playing a surprise game like the one on Dave's VR headset and promises Max that they can play putt-putt golf as soon as it's safe. However, Teddy McGiggle keeps letting the side down by swearing and frightening the children and Dave has to rescue him when he falls off the roof in trying to signal to the helicopter passing overhead. He confesses that he is to blame for the calamity because he sleeps with the moms whose kids are obsessed with his show and (in revealing that his real name is Nathan Schneider) he laments that he is stuck playing a character he loathes after studying Sanford Meisner under Al Pacino at the Actors Studio.
Help is at hand, however, as an army general (Marshall Napier), has established a field base near the farm. Unfortunately, as Miss Caroline sings the Sesame Street ditty, `I Don't Want to Live on the Moon', he is being advised to blow the souvenir store to kingdom come, as it's presumed there are no survivors. Miss Caroline is touched by the way Dave uses the `Little Monsters' rhyme to help Felix and Beth fall asleep and they find out more about each other during an intimate chat. Dave reveals that he has a phobia about being a father because his walked out when he was a kid and caused his mother to have a breakdown, while Miss Caroline confesses that she followed Hanson to Australia and broke a collar bone in jumping from Taylor Hanson's hotel room. In order to pay her medical bills, she got a job at a kindergarten and hasn't looked back since.
As the general prepares to launch Operation Hailstorm, Dave and Teddy (who has been chugging back meths for Dutch courage) make a dash for the McGigglemobile after a rousing chorus of `Miss Caroline' after the Neil Diamond song. However, Teddy locks Dave out, only to be attacked by Frogsie. While sat on the roof, Dave gets a call from Tess saying that soldiers are on their way and he thanks her for bringing him up when she must have been having a hard time herself. Much to his relief, he is rescued by Felix driving the tractor train as Darth Vader (whose hand gesture he uses to save a stranded lamb) and Max finally gets to play mini golf by thwacking the undead with a putter, as they drive at a snail's pace away from the slow-moving zombies, who are trying to sing along to Miss Caroline's uke.
They reach safety, just as the general is about to press the button and are whisked off to quarantine after Miss Caroline gives Dave a kiss. Having gunned down the living dead (including one in a fluffy koala costume), the general addresses Tess and the other parents in the `good news' room and they get to see their kids singing `Shake It Up' in a transparent tent inside a giant hangar and hugging the cuddly lambs they have kept from the gift shop.
One can only presume that Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o signed up for this zombie romp because it looked like fun and that's exactly how it turned out. Yet, despite being written and directed with a dash of devilment by Abe Forsythe, this rather runs the risk of falling between two stools, as it's too violent for tweenage audiences and too knowingly debubking for fanboys. Nevertheless, this deserves to be seen, if only for the brilliant performances of Diesel La Torraca and his classmates, who deliver killer lines with a killer insouciance that makes them all the funnier.
Josh Gad isn't quite so on the money as the beloved children's entertainer with a heart of pure pitch. But his pantomimic turn takes the curse off the squirm-inducing failings of Alexander England's Uncle Dave, who ensures that no one will be able to look at a class photo in the same light ever again. Whether strumming her ukulele, uttering her catchphrase (`one, two, three - eyes on me') or beheading zombies with a sharp-edged spade, Nyong'o exudes such slapstick grace that we can even forgive Miss Caroline for falling for the sad sack man-child who shows a glimmer of adult responsibility in the face of danger.
The technical aspects are very much subordinated to the storyline (which was inspired by Forsythe's concerns for his young child), with Lachlan Milne clearly having been instructed to keep the camerawork simple. That said, the top shot down on to the leisurely chase between the tractor train with the shuffling zombies is admirable. Katherine Brown's make-up and Adam Johansen's prosthetic designs similarly get the job done, without causing too much nausea or sniggering, while costumier Leon Krasenstein merits mention for Nyong'o's primrose dress, Gad's green polka dotted-jacket and La Torraca's pint-sized Darth Vader outfit. Now all we need is for someone to release Forsythe's bleak political comedy, Down Under, on disc or download in Pommyland.
The presence of Caitlyn Jenner on I'm a Celebrity means that mainstream British audiences are about to become a lot more familiar with what it means to be transgender. Her inclusion comes at the end of what feels like a breakthrough year for the trans documentary, following the release of Jason Barker's A Deal With the Universe, Jeanie Finlay's Seahorse and Gina Hole Lazarowich's Krow's TRANSformation. While the latter pair highlight the importance of allyship, trans film-makers often provide a more authentic perspective, as T Cooper demonstrates with Man Made, a profile of four competitors preparing for the 2016 Trans FitCon Bodybuilding Competition in Atlanta, Georgia.
Trans FitCon is the world's only all-transgender bodybuilding contest and is open to anybody who self-identifies as a trans male, regardless of their physical presentation. Of the 12 entrants, Cooper alights upon four: 26 year-old Dominic Chilko, an aspiring rapper from St Paul, Minnesota; 40 year-old Cleveland mainstream competition veteran, Mason Caminiti; 23 year-old Baltimore-based civil rights activist Rese Weaver; and Kennie Story, a 34 year-old trainer from the small university town of Conway, Arkansas.
Since finishing third in 2015, Dominic has decided to undergo top surgery with Dr Marie Buckley. He's nervous that the operation will change his status within the hip hop community, as there are fewer female rappers. But partner Thea Rahkonen and adoptive parents Dwayne and Kathy are wholly supportive and Cooper admits to camera how emotional he felt while filming Dominic seeing a picture of his new chest for the first time and piping with surprised delight, `That's me!'
While Mason is debuting at Trans FitCon, he had competed in other contests before being barred from competing in his local area. He and wife Anne and live next door to her widowed mother, Jeanette, who adores Mason and is only critical of the strict diet to which he adheres religiously to ensure he remains in peak condition. Anne wishes she could see him fully naked, but accepts his boundaries, as she realised how much she needed him during a three-year hiatus in their relationship. Amusingly, Mason also needs Cooper, when he enters a competition in Columbus, Ohio and finds himself in a drying out room in a spray tanning salon (a sequence that includes the most amusing sock shot of the year thus far).
Shortly after failing to place at last year's Trans FitCon, Rese found himself homeless in Atlanta. Such was his mother's horror at his coming out as trans that she asked the pastor to perform what was tantamount to an exorcism at the local church before throwing Rese out of her house. As shelters have misgivings about placing him in male or female dormitories, he has slept rough and begged on the streets. However, his five year-old son, De'montae (who still calls him `mommy') lives with Rese's mother and enjoys visiting times, as it usually means a trip to McDonald's.
Returning to Trans FitCon under his chosen name for the first time, Kennie is encouraged by his partner of four years, DJ Reece, a lesbian who isn't sure how she will cope as Kennie embarks upon hormone treatment with Dr Mary Racher in Little Rock. He tells longtime client Marylynn (who keeps calling him Arian) and friend Mary-Ann about the process and they express concerned support, bur former roommate Jess is worried because Conway is not the most enlightened place and she recalls how badly beaten Kennie was for being gay. However, DJ throws an `It's a Boy' tea party to mark the event, but admits that she wonders whether she will remain attracted to Kennie once his body begins to change.
As Dominic has his stitches removed and removes the wrap bandages for the last time, Mason enters the NPC Ohio State Championships. Nobody knows he is trans and he comes third in the bantamweight class and fifth in the Masters category. Sister Scarlett is proud because it fulfils a dream he has had since he was four years old and she suggests that he revels in bodybuilding because it gives him control over the process of becoming his own man.
Rese has moved in with grandparents Julia and Charlie, who call him `she' out of habit and he lets it pass `because they're old' and they are right behind his bodybuilding ambitions. He also has a new partner, Tia, another single parent whom he met through a transgender group on Facebook. They marry and take care of Tia's daughter, Tamarrie, and note the irony that they have been allowed to wed because of legal gender anomalies that they can exploit to their own advantage. When they move to Baltimore, they take De'montae with them and become a very modern family.
Meanwhile, Dominic has decided to try and find his biological mother and the trails leads to Woburn, Massachusetts, where he meets Olga Lugo and his half-brother, Manny, for the first time. During the visit, he discovers he is Dominican, Puerto Rican and white and not African-American, Puerto Rican and white, as he had always supposed. He thanks his mother for keeping him when she could easily have taken another option and he feels more elated than he did after his top surgery.
With the deadline to showtime approaching, Kennie goes to visit his parents in Fort Worth, Texas for the first time since starting on testosterone. Religious mother Anita Quinones and twin brother Alejandro Story keep using the wrong pronouns and clearly feel conflicted about what's happening. But their love for Kennie is unconditional and that trumps any other emotions they might be feeling. However, DJ is also having problems, as she is becoming increasingly aware of a shift in her physical reaction to her lover. Despite her still loving Kennie, they break up because she has sacrificed a lot to come out as a lesbian and hopes that people don't think she's shallow for leaving because he now identifies as a straight male.
A graver tragedy hit Rese and Tia when their friend Crystal is shot in the back of the head on a Baltimore street after disclosing she was trans to a man who was flirting with her. She was the 21st reported trans murder victim in the United States in 2016 and Rese posts a message online calling for justice for his trans brothers and sisters. He also admits that it would be much easier for him to simply be a black woman, but he doesn't have that choice and doesn't see why his wishes should not be respected.
Dominic is also having to get used to changed circumstances, as Thea has broken off their engagement and he is packing up his stuff with just two weeks before Trans FitCon. He moves in with his sister, Amanda, and starts working on a song. He concedes he still has excess tummy weight, but is determined to compete because he needs to convey the message that no one should give up on their dream.
With so much happening to the other three, Cooper rather loses track of Mason. But atones by playing a clip from the 2000 HBO special in which Ellen DeGeneres mistook a pre-transitioning Mason for a man and invited them up to the stage to apologise and hug them. Mason returns to his college campus in Wooster, Ohio and reveals that he tried to commit suicide after dropping out and his mother had beaten him after bringing him round. The pain of the isolation he felt at this time still grips the pit of his stomach, but he is a fighter and he heads to Atlanta to do himself justice.
Dominic and Kennie also arrive (with DJ there to support him), but Hurricane Matthew delays Rese's flight and he has to withdraw. We are briefly introduced to Sabastian Caine Roy, Cody Harman. Rufio Bell, Hunter Wills, Preston Thomas and C. Michael Woodward before Head Judge Bucky Motter takes the contestants through the weigh-in procedure. Everyone is impressed by the bulk of 38 year-old Tommy Murrell and we detour to Miami, Florida to meet his parents, Jaime and Verna, who ignored the advice of their pastor to turf their son out of the house and talked him out of using the gun he had bought to end his life.
Three hours before Trans FitCon is due to start, several competitors attend the Atlanta Trans March and Cooper films some of the religious zealots denouncing them. Back at the hotel, two-time winner-turned-judge Shawn Stinson enthuses about the standard of the contest, while the talk backstage is about the objects people use to pack their trunks to complete their pose. There's plenty of friendly banter and mutual support, as the nine lightweights and two heavyweights strut their stuff. Tommy and Mason win their divisions, while the former takes the overall crown. Everyone bonds for photos and the sense of pride is overwhelming.
Over periodic reports on Kennie's progress, captions inform us that Dominic and Thea get back together, while Mason has bottom surgery prior to winning his class at the Ohio State Championship and Rese decides to return to Atlanta. One can only wish them all well, as Cooper makes it abundantly clear that life is rarely easy for a genial quartet, whose right to live as they wish should not be an issue in 2019. Sadly, the wider world is less accepting and it's to be hoped that films like this one (which has been executive produced by actress Téa Leoni) are broadcast on widely accessible television channels, as the human focus should make it impossible to retain any prejudice.
Occasionally popping up before his own camera. Cooper makes it clear that he is living every moment with his subjects. Indeed, his compassion prevents him from melodramatising the romantic travails of Kennie and Dominic or the latter's discovery of his birth mother. He also gives family members and loved ones plenty of space to air their views and their struggles to readjust may prove highly relatable to conflicted viewers. The last-reel focus on Tommy feels a little abrupt. But Cooper, co-writer wife Allison Glock-Cooper and editor Charlene Fisk otherwise tell their tale with a keen eye for its racial, geo-economic, social constructional and body imagist subtexts.
A DOG CALLED MONEY.
The recording studio documentary hasn't progressed much since Jean-Luc Godard filmed The Rolling Stones rehearsing `Sympathy For the Devil' at the Olympic Sound Studio in One Plus One (1968) and Michael Lindsay-Hogg transported The Beatles from Abbey Road to Twickenham Film Studios for Let It Be (1970). The standout among the more recent attempts is photographer and first-time film-maker Sam Jones's I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002), which captured the recording of Wilco's album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But Irish photojournalist Sean Murphy's A Dog Called Money falls a long way short of these standards, as he chronicles the journey taken by PJ Harvey in the writing and recording of her 2016 Grammy-nominated opus, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
Over an unspecified period, Polly Jean Harvey accompanied Sean Murphy on his trips to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, DC. She jotted her impressions into notebooks and worked them into lyrics for an album that was recorded behind one-way glass in a studio mocked-up in the basement of Somerset House as an art installation. The documentary cross-cuts between Harvey's perambulations and voiceovered musings and the sessions, in which she rehearses the unidentified songs with a group of unnamed musicians. No explanation is given as to why Harvey opted to seek such sources of inspiration or why she chose to record in such a public space. Similarly, nothing is said outside the opening captions about the decision to include footage that Murphy shot alone in Syria, Macedonia and the United States, which has nothing directly to do with Harvey's project.
Having been shown striding past an open sewer in Kabul wearing a makeshift burqa, Harvey pops up in Kosovo to base `Chain of Keys' on the woman she saw taking a daily walk while holding the keys to the houses that were destroyed during the civil war in the late 1990s. We jump back to the studio to witness Harvey laying down the track with her band before we cut back to her tip-toeing reverentially through an abandoned home and feeling guilty about trespassing in her expensive leather sandals.
Before the enormity of this cynical act of humblebraggadocio can sink in, Murphy whisks us off to DC so that Harvey can contrast the monumentality of the Capitol and the Washington Monument with the poverty she witnesses in the Anacostia neighbourhood. She marvels at the erudition of Paunie, an androgynous female gang leader whose dog is called Money and who raps with consummate ease between slugs of vodka. Yet, while she stands around admiringly, Harvey doesn't interact with the kids on camera. Instead, she drinks it all in to record the film's title song in front of privileged gallery tourists in the lap of London luxury.
Somewhat randomly, we cut back to Kabul, as Harvey meets some musicians in what she claims to be the Afghan capital's Tin Pan Alley. She attempts to play a tiny harmonica and a Jew's harp before listening to the locals playing a song. Another diversion to Somerset House is followed by an impromptu tea party in a humble Afghan home, as Harvey coos about the lack of affectation with which the children greet Murphy's camera. Back in London, some stills taken in Idlib Province in Syria are passed around the studio and Harvey wonders what happened to one of the lads calling for the end of the Assad regime. We briefly see footage of an even younger boy snatching the microphone on a demonstration. But it's seemingly more important to cut away to show Harvey singing `I'll Be Waiting', as privileged gallery tourists gawp reverentially through the tinted window.
The juxtaposition of these sanctum scenes with close-ups of the sombre faces of those trapped in a war zone feels gauchely trivialising, even though it's painfully clear that Harvey and Murphy's intentions couldn't be purer, as they take us to the Kabul Mines Museum and show how the lights of the US base dominate the nocturnal skyline. This leads into `The Ministry of Social Affairs', which includes sax riffs inspired by Jerry McCain's 1955 single, `That's What They Want'. Intercut with daily scenes of Afghan life and daily duty on the military base, it sounds amazing, as do the majority of the tracks on the album. But Harvey's distinctive sound and evident commitment only serve to make the documentary feel even more like a major miscalculation (which perhaps explains why it has only emerged now on limited release three years after the album).
Shuttling back to Washington, Harvey notes that Georgetown doesn't have a subway station and suggests it's because the City Fathers wanted to keep the blacks away from the centre of government. Following scenes of a immersion baptism, we return to the studio to see Harvey nurdling with a hurdy-gurdy before she performs the vocal track for `River Anacostia'. In the ensuing segment, we see a street parade, Harvey playing a zither and footage of Christian and Muslim prayer meetings. She borrows the chant from the latter for `The Ministry of Defence', which is illustrated with suitable images of Harvey taking notes inside the bombed-out shell.
Following a shot of a tree that resembles and elephant, we hear an insufferable anecdote about Harvey withholding the tapes for an earlier album and pottering in her Dorset garden while the corporate suits listened to them over a pot of tea. She then gets the giggles over a singer's stressing of the phrase `you can't' (oh, come on, really?) before Murphy cuts rather crudely to a Palm Sunday gospel service in Anacostia, which provided the inspiration for `The Community of Hope', whose recording is watched by mostly white bourgeois art thrill-seekers on the banks of the Thames, near the Mother of Parliaments that permitted the Slave Trade whose effects can still be felt across the Americas.
In Kosovo, Harvey attends an Orthodox service in a monastery and tags behind a Muslim circumcision procession. She opines that one of the elders has a face like a map that she needs to study. Following a brief interlude of three guitarists having a thrash jam and Harvey flattering one of her producers, we return to Washington, as Paunie describes how three members of her family died on the estate (two murders, one suicide) and how she managed to escape a fire fight. This leads into `Guilty' and some shots of Afghan shepherds being watched by a military patrol and some small girls learning by rote with a very young teacher.
The next cut takes us to the Idomeni camp on the Greek-Macedonian border before we launch into `The Age of the Dollar Bill', complete with footage of people dancing in the various places the film has visited. Suddenly, however, we pitch into a Trump-Pence election rally and hit the streets with some Hillary Clinton supporters being told they don't know anything about the realities of being African-American in the hood. Footage of what may well be Trump's Inauguration Day is lumped in for good measure, as we bid farewell to Harvey singing `Dollar, Dollar' in Somerset House and the picture fades to black through the shadow of a plane landing on an Afghan airstrip.
Having already spawned the album and a book of poetry and photographs entitled, The Hollow of the Hand, these excursions clearly made a deep impression on Harvey and Murphy. But, for all their good intentions, this feels like a vanity project that will surely only appeal to die-hard fans. Taken separately, the travelogue footage and the music are fine. But they simply don't hang together, with the lack of any sort of narrative cohesion or contextual information exposing both the preciousness of the conceit and the extent to which Murphy has pandered to Harvey's reticence.
Murphy and Harvey have collaborated before, as he took stills and directed promos for each track on Let England Shake (2011). But they seem reluctant to let anyone into the private bubble in which they created this meld of conscience-tugging reportage and achingly sincere soundbites. Consequently, it's not always easy to understand why certain visuals have been appended to particular songs, especially as Harvey's lyrics are not always easy to discern. Indeed, editor Sebastian Gollek's shot selection becomes even more idiosyncratic with the inclusion of the footage of the Idomeni refugees, Syrian protesters and Trump supporters, which have no bearing on the actual album.
Harvey clearly took risks to produce this work and her dedication can only be commended. The same goes for Murphy, whose eye for a telling shot is evident in the opening close-up of a child peering through a car window and the refugee girl stamping in flashing trainers at dusk. At times, however, the exercise does smack of liberal exploitation and the failure to explain the rationale and justify the methodology only makes it seem more detached from the people whose plight it was supposed to be highlighting.