- David Parkinson
Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 29/11/2019)
Reviews of Atlantics; The Nightingale; Greener Grass; Bangla; The Street; and The Dirty War on the National Health Service
In her 2009 documentary short, Atlantiques, Mati Diop followed a group of young Senegalese boys preparing to embark upon a voyage into the unknown. A decade later, the actor-director best known in this country for her performances in Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum (2008) and Antonio Campos's Simon Killer (2012) returns to West Africa to tell the same story from the viewpoint of the women left behind to wait and worry. Having become the first picture directed by a woman of African descent to screen in competition at Cannes, Atlantics won the prestigious Sutherland Trophy for Best First Feature at the London Film Festival and it arrives in cinemas before taking up a berth on Netflix.
With the new high-rises seeming alien and forbidding through the Dakar haze, construction workers Souleiman (Ibrahima Traore) and Cheikh (Abdou Balde) protest to the foreman that property developer Ndiaye (Diankou Sembene) hasn't paid them for three months. So in debt that he has taken to returning home after dark, Souleiman remains silent while his workmates sing on their way to outskirts in the back of an open truck. However, his mood brightens when he spots Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) through the trucks of a passing goods train.
They find a quiet place by the sea to be alone. She laughs when he tells her she has never looked so beautiful and kisses him. However, they are interrupted by a man who accuses them of trespassing and Souleiman gives Ada his silver chain before letting her go home. Her hijab-wearing friend Mariama (Mariama Gassana) chides Ada for flirting with Souleiman when she is going to marry Omar (Babacar Sylla) in 10 days and urges her not to sleep with him because God is testing her. Ada confesses to loving Souleiman, but knows that it makes financial sense to commit to Omar, as he is from a wealthy family. Returning home, she shows her wedding dress to her mother (Arame Fall Faye) and grandmother (Ye Arame Mousse Sene), who warn her that she needs to show Omar more respect or he will take a second wife before she gets pregnant.
Sneaking out after dark, Ada joins her friends at the beachside bar owned by Dior (Nicole Sougou). However, she learns that Souleiman and Cheikh have set sail for Europe and there is consternation among the girls in the bar because they know how perilous such crossings can be. A lunar eclipse adds to the sense of unease and flecks of green light pass over Ada, as she tries to come to terms with the realisation that she may never see her beloved again. As she walks home along the beach, we cut away to shots of empty beds and Ada climbs in through her window with a rising sense of despair.
Over the next few days, she mopes on her bed and, as storms blow in from the ocean, she dreams that a fisherman catches Souleiman's lifeless body in his net. Omar returns from a trip abroad and gives her the latest model of mobile phone, but she's too worried about Souleiman to take any interest. Her wedding day arrives and the womenfolk chant and sway, as the veiled Ada arrives at the venue. She is welcomed into Omar's family and her friend Fanta (Aminata Kane) is so wowed by her vulgarly ornate double bed that she jokingly asks Ada to put in a good word so that she can become Omar's second wife. But Dior realises that Ada's mind is elsewhere and she is reminding her what she stands to lose by spurning Omar (who spends nine months of the year in Italy) when Mariama bursts in to inform her that she has seen Souleiman.
At that moment, someone discovers that the bridal bed has caught fire and Omar joins the men in dousing the flames. Detective Issa (Amadou Mbow) arrives to investigate and Ada shoots Mariama a look to caution her to say nothing about Souleiman to the police. However. she gives her testimony and Issa searches Souleiman's mother's house before accusing Ada of being his accomplice in setting light to the bed. Scepticl about the fire brigade's claim that the mattress spontaneously combusted, Issa tries to browbeat Ada into admitting her complicity. But she insists that Souleiman left for Spain a week ago and couldn't have caused the fire. Feeling unwell, Issa sends Ada home, but remains convinced of her guilt.
Mariama and Fanta are similarly stricken with a fever and, when night falls, they join several other women in walking through the streets to the home of Ndiaye, who is aghast to see them when he returns from an evening out with his wife. With their eyes glazed over, the women demand the money that he owes them from Building 13 at the tower site and he orders them to leave. However, he stops his wife from calling the cops, as he suspects that the women have been possessed by spirits of the workers he cheated before they perished on the Atlantic.
The next day, Omar's parents order Ada to take a virginity test and she is furious with her mother for subjecting her to such a humiliation. She demands the return of the phone confiscated by her father and finds a text from Souleiman asking her to meet at Dior's bar. Leaving Fanta's bedside, Dior meets with Ada at a café and calls the text number to speak to a man who claims that he sent the message on behalf of a stranger who appeared to be blind. As Ada insists on keeping the rendezvous, Dior gives her the keys to the bar. But their meeting has been spied upon by Issa, who is still convinced that Ada is up to no good.
He confronts her on the street and locks her in a cell, while he takes a call from the coastguard about a smashed boat being found by some fishermen. However, the commissioner (Ibrahima Mbaye) tears him off a strip for upsetting Omar and orders him to follow up the reports of the women who descended upon Ndiaye. Refusing to go with her husband, Ada sells her phone to a street trader and heads for Dior's club. Meanwhile, the marabout tells Mariama's mother that she needs to dunk passages from the Qu'ran into a dish and pour the holy water over herself to drive out the evil spirits. He also suggests wearing their veil to protect her against their return.
As dusk falls, Fanta returns to Ndiaye's house and warns him that they will torch the tower unless he brings the money he owes to the cemetery the next day. Ada waits for Souleiman at the club and is frightened when Issa knocks on the door. His eyes are milky and she calls to Souleiman to flee. But, when she goes to see Dior, she discovers that Fanta and the other women are inside in their tranced state and she listens in silence, as Fanta describes how a huge wave capsized the boat at 5am and they were swept away. For a brief moment, we see the lost men instead of the women they have possessed before Fanta completes her story.
The commissioner is livid with Issa for missing calls during the night, as he wanted him to investigate the fire on Ndiaye's property. He promises to sort out the case of the burning bed and goes over some footage filmed at the wedding reception. Much to his horror, he sees himself in zombified state and is so panicked that he drives home and handcuffs himself to a radiator before the sun goes down to prevent his body being used by the spirits. However, as Fanta orders Ndiaye to dig their graves after handing over the wage arrears, Issa arrives as the club to find Ada waiting for him. She has had her hair braided and she sees Souleiman instead of Issa and embraces him. They sleep together and he whispers that he could see her as the wave engulfed them and that it was the tears in her eyes that guided him back to shore.
Waking next morning, Issa leaves Ada sleeping. Realising that he set light to the bed while under Souleiman's influence, he tells the chief that the case is closed. When Ada wakes, she looks at herself in the mirror and knows that she will never forget what happened the previous night. But she now has to look to the future and is proud to have finally discovered her true self.
Film-making is in Mati Diop's blood, as she is the niece of the pioneering Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, whose landmark feature, Touki Bouki (1973), inspired his niece's 2013 featurette, A Thousand Suns. She has certainly inherited his visual sense, as the views of the Atlantic Ocean in its many moods set the tone for this hypnotic drama, while also commenting like an aquatic chorus on the actions of the characters. Equally impressive is the way in which Diop and editor Aël Dallier Vega slip between the intimate close-ups and ethereal long shots (which cleverly incorporate the CGI skyline that turns the Dakar waterfront into a globalised anywhere) fashioned by cinematographer Claire Mathon to reinforce the narrative shifts between social realism and supernatural fantasy.
It's this tension rooted in Diop's contention that `nothing is true and nothing is false' that binds together the grim need for the `atlantiques' to leave home and seek gainful employment elsewhere and the disconcerting djinn-inspired consequences of their demise. Furthermore, it forces the audience to venture beyond the frame to speculate upon the fate of Souleiman's body while his spirit is wandering abroad.
In conjunction with production designer Toma Banqueni and Oumar Sall and costumiers Salimata Ndiaye and Rachel Raoult, Diop is able to contrast the social status of Souleiman and Ada with that of Ndiaye and Omar without undue emphasis. She makes deft use of Wolof and French in a similar vein and it's worth noting that the largely non-professional cast helped translate their own dialogue. Some of the supporting players are shakier than others, but Mame Bineta Sane excels as the innocent, if wilful Ada, as she draws strength from the independent women around her, who practice what Diop calls `Afro capitalist neo-feminism'.
While flipping the scenario depicted in migrant sagas like Moussa Touré's La Pirogue (2012), Diop and co-scenarist Olivier Demangel examine the role of women across the class strata. They might have shown us more of Ada, Fanta and Mariama's daily lives before the tragedy strikes, while they never quite explain why someone as privileged as Omar and his parents would have contracted an engagement to someone from a much lower rung who is clearly not romantically interested in him. But the delicate way in which Diop conveys the depth of feeling between Ada and Souleiman is charming and makes the fact that neither could be entirely honest about what else is going on in their lives all the more poignant.
Such emotional nuances are adeptly complemented by Fatima Al Qadiri's score, which mixes sub-Saharan and Maghrebi influences with some pulsating and occasionally discordant electronica. These unexpected juxtapositions typify Diop's eagerness to explore the class, gender and cultural disparities at play in what might loosely be called her social realist ghost story. That said, she also flecks the action with satirical snipes at Omar's expense that bring to mind Ousmane Sembene's Xala (1975). If this was a Hollywood picture, one might expect a sequel to see what Ada does next. But, if Diop is tempted to return to this scenario, it's likely that she would do so in a markedly less conventional manner.
Jennifer Kent carved a niche in horror history with her debut feature, The Babadook (2014). She returns to focus on the more tangible evils of toxic masculinity and the enduring legacy of colonialism in her sophomore outing, The Nightingale. Combining elements of films as different as Rolf de Heer's The Tracker (2002), Warwick Thornton's Sweet Country, Coralie Fargeat's Revenge (both 2017) and Lance Daly's Black `47 (2018), this revenge odyssey has caused considerable controversy with its depiction of acts of barbaric violence. But, while this can be justified by the need to emphasise the ingrained inhumanity of a bygone era, Kent's reliance on cliché and caricature does much more to enervate the potency of an otherwise compelling picture.
In 1825, at the height of the so-called Black War between the British occupiers and the Aboriginal population of Van Diemen's Land, Irish thief Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) is wheeled out by Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) to sing after supper to impress his superior officer, Goodwin (Ewen Leslie). While he is taken by Clare's sweet voice, Goodwin is less impressed by the control that Hawkins, Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Ensign Jago (Harry Greenwood) have over their drunken subordinates.
As he has been promised promotion to captain and a new posting to Launceston, Hawkins is frustrated by the reprimand and takes it out on Clare when she asks about an overdue letter of recommendation that would grant her freedom after a seven-year sentence and allow her to start a new life with blacksmith husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and their newborn daughter. Goodwin bursts in on Hawkins and suspects that he has abused Clare and orders him to his office the next morning. Clare says nothing about the rape to Aidan and claims she bruised her face in a fall. She also hides the cameo ring that Hawkins had given her as a reward for her singing. But Aidan insists on seeing Hawkins to plead with him for his wife's release.
Refusing to be brushed aside, Aidan barges into the officer's mess and demands that Hawkins does the decent thing. A fight breaks out and Goodwin is so appalled that he informs Hawkins that he cannot possibly recommend him for promotion. Furious at being snubbed, Hawkins demands the opportunity to prove himself by traversing the treacherous bush en route to Launceston in order to appeal to the area commander. Granted the chance to leave, Hawkins orders Ruse and Jago to organise supplies. But he also takes them to the Carrolls' cottage to teach them a lesson.
He catches them packing to flee and has Ruse and Jago hold Aidan while he taunts him about the number of times he has had sex with his wife. Clare pleads with Aidan not to listen, but he is so incensed by the sight of Hawkins raping his wife that he leaps upon him and is shot dead by the lieutenant. While Ruse forces himself upon Clare, Jago becomes so desperate in his attempts to stop the baby crying that he dashes her against the wall. He is less successful in his bid to kill Clare, however, as he only knocks her unconscious with the butt of his rifle.
When the settlement magistrate (Huw Higginson) refuses to take Clare's word that Hawkins has murdered her husband and child, she vows to exact her own revenge. In hiring Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), however, she tells him that she is riding north to meet up with her soldier husband. Embittered by the eradication of his tribe, Billy is reluctant to help a white woman, especially when she holds him at gunpoint and treats him with scarcely concealed contempt. But she pays well and he is impressed with her spirit when she faces down a sheep farmer (Sam Smith) who has strung up a couple of Aboriginal men for killing his sheep and setting fire to his dwelling. Clare is angered by Billy's failure to protect her, but he reminds her that she hired him as a guide not a guardian.
Meanwhile, Hawkins has set out for the north, with Charlie (Charlie Jampijinpa Brown) as his tracker. Ruse has also recruited a couple of convicts (James Edmanson and Ben McIvor) and a young boy named Eddie (Charlie Shotwell) to pull the supply cart. Hawkins is taken with the youth and offers to teach him how to write his own name and fire a gun. However, he quickly loses patience with Jago's remorse for killing Clare's infant and orders him never to mention the episode again.
Ignoring Billy's advice to abandon Aidan's horse, Becky, Clare slogs on through the mud and dense foliage. She charges past chain gang supervisor, Stoakes (Nathaniel Dean) when he confronts her, but has to rely on Billy's help when she insists on crossing a raging river and has to be rescued from the fast-flowing torrent. They steal supplies from a remote settlers' shack and, over a campfire supper, they get to know one another better. She convinces him that the Irish have suffered just as grievously at the hands of the English as the Indigenous Australians, while he explains that his real name is Mangana, which translates from Palawi kani as `blackbird', and that he hopes to be reunited with the womenfolk who managed to escape when the rest of his family were slaughtered.
While Clare has a nightmare about her ordeal, Ruse prises Lowanna (Magnolia Maymuru) away from her young son and persuades Hawkins to keep her as a sex slave. Her husband tracks her down, however, and attacks the party in the forest. One of the convicts is killed, as is Lowanna, while Jago is so badly wounded by a spear to the thigh that Hawkins abandons him to his fate. When Clare and Billy catch up with him, he thinks the redcoat must be her husband. But she stalks him and stabs him repeatedly in the chest after shooting him in his other leg. She finishes him off by bludgeoning him in the face with the rifle butt and Billy is so shocked by her frenzy that he terminates their arrangement. Rushing after him in desperation, Clare tells him the real reason for her pursuit of Hawkins and, because they have a common enemy, he agrees to continue.
After witnessing the cruel treatment of Lowanna, Charlie decides to punish Hawkins by taking him on a detour. By contrast, Billy prepares a salve to stop Clare from lactating and performs a ceremony over her from his Milaythina Kanamaluka homeland. She has a dream in which Aidan assures her that he and the baby are fine, but it turns into a nightmare when Jago turns up and she is relieved to wake and find Billy watching over her. Despite being unable to eat the animal he catches, she sleeps close to him that night and feels his pain when he finds Charlie's body after Ruse shoots him for leading them up a mountain. Clare watches as Billy lays the old man's body in the hollow of a tree trunk and performs a funeral rite, in the knowledge that he also wants revenge on Hawkins.
Having berated Ruse for killing the guide, Hawkins makes him lead the way and puts the fear of God into him by threatening to shoot him. He also wings Clare when he spots her lining up a shot from the high ground. But he feels he's got the upper hand after he captures Billy and forces him to show them the way out of the woods. Left to her own devices, Clare has another nightmare that culminates in her floating face down in a lake. While she suffers, Billy manages to reach the road to Launceston and is rewarded by Hawkins ordering Eddie to shoot him, as he no longer serves any purpose. Despite all of his perky bluster, however, the boy proves unable to pull the trigger and pays with his life when Hawkins grows tired of his whining apologies.
Billy escapes in the chaos and reunites with Clare after she has been guided through the trees by a black bird and picked up by a passing carriage whose female occupant had taken pity on her. Preferring to walk with Billy, Clare jumps down and they find some supplies in a homestead whose owners have been murdered in their bed. They have not gone much further before they run into some bounty hunters, who are escorting three Aboriginal prisoners. Clare pretends she is holding Billy at gunpoint and declines the leader's offer to dispose of him for her. One of the captives informs Billy that his Letteremairrener clan has been completely wiped out and he is gunned down for talking out of turn. His companions are also shot and Clare realises the extent of the prejudice that Billy has to endure when the leader gives one of his underlings permission to sever a head as a souvenir.
Further along the road, Clare and Billy are picked up by an elderly couple (Alan Faulkner and Maggie Blinco), who offer them shelter for the night. Billy is deeply touched when the husband invites him to sit at the table. However, he is also sufficiently proud to remind them that they are on land belonging to his people and Clare feels huge sympathy for him. They next day, they are driven into Launceston, where Clare spots Becky tethered to a post after having failed to sell her jewellery to a shopkeeper who accuses her of being a thief. She is confronted by Hawkins in his dress uniform on his way to have a drink with his commanding officer, Major Bexley (Christopher Stollery). He sends Ruse to fetch a constable, but Clare has come too far to be frightened off.
She follows Hawkins into the tavern and charges him with the murder of her family. Hawkins sneers at her and reassures his puzzled superior that she's delusional Irish scum. Everyone turns to watch as he slaps her across the face and Clare responds with a song of patriotic defiance. Overcome with emotion, she faints in the street and is swept on to Becky's back by Billy before she can be arrested. They camp out in the woods and Clare clutches Billy's hand as they sleep.
Before first light, however, he rises and applies tribal warpaint. Grabbing his spears, he rides back into town and finds Hawkins with a prostitute in his lodgings. He skewers Hawkins in the chest, only to be shot by Ruse before he can drive a spear through his throat. Staggering outside, he clambers on to Becky and they ride to the coast. Dancing on the sand, Billy proclaims himself home and vows that his people will never leave their land. As the sun comes up, Clare sings in Gaelic before catching her breath at the beauty of the dawn and the promise of a new day.
Although it reiterates The Babadook's assertion of the ferocity that a protective mother can summon in extremis, this is not really a horror film. It contains its share of atrocities and Kent is determined to confront the audience with the savagery practiced by the subjugating forces representing the crown in establishing the British Empire. But she is more intent on rousing than shocking, as she wants viewers to recognise that the intolerable attitudes to race and gender that existed in the 1820s are very much still prevalent in post-millennial society.
Kent sets the tone for what is to come by showing Clare walking through the bush with her baby in one hand and a knife in the other. But nothing can prepare us for the grotesque nature of the crimes committed by those who have supposedly brought civilisation to what is now Tasmania. In truth, Kent doesn't provide us with enough background on the Anglo-Aboriginal conflict that many consider to have been a genocide, as the island's indigenous population was almost entirely wiped out between 1825-32.
Instead, she relies on stereotypical monsters in scarlet tunics to emphasise the decency of the wronged Irish woman and the dignity of the Aboriginal trackers. Hawkins is a misogynist bigot whose actions are utterly reprehensible. But Kent makes his villainy seem banal and hissably Rickmanesque by giving him a sneeringly throwaway rejoinder after he murders Eddie in a fit of pique.
Only Jago is permitted a conscience among those in uniform, as Kent ducks the issue of religion among the soldiers and settlers, who are as sketchily drawn as the arrow and/or gunshot fodder lined up in a traditional Hollywood Western. She also blurs the lines between the injustices suffered by the Irish and the First Australians without wholly resolving Clare's complicity in Billy's exploitation.
However, both Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr (a dancer acting for the first time) contribute outstanding performances, with the former's seething sense of grief and grievance being tempered by her vulnerable slightness and the latter's bristling resentment being undercut by his non-status. Despite the commitment of Sam Claflin and Damon Herriman, they are ill-served by a screenplay that occasionally overplays the ornithological symbolism and rather dawdles through the final reel to its striking, but implausible tavern showdown. Nevertheless, Radek Ladczuk's earthy Academy ratio photography imposes a claustrophobic intensity that reinforces the gravity of the situation and captures the strain it etches on the faces of those caught up in it.
Alex Holmes's production design, Margot Wilson's costumes and Jed Kurzel's score are also noteworthy. As for Kent, having missed out on she bolsters her reputation for being an innovative and courageous film-makers, but it will be interesting to see what she does with the mooted adaptation of Alexis Coe's Alice + Freda Forever (2014), an account of the 1892 Memphis murder of 17 year-old Freda Ward by her 19 year-old lover, Alice Mitchell, which sparked a national debate about the nature of lesbianism.
Having formed a partnership with the Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe, Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe have been quietlt honing their cinematic skills on a trio of shorts: Greener Grass (2015), Buzz (2016) and The Arrival (2017). Each has centred on a seemingly idyllic domestic situation that is thrown into chaos by an unexpected intrusion and DeBoer and Luebbe continue to explore this theme as the writers, directors and stars of a feature version of Greener Grass. Falling somewhere between Jim Cummings's Thunder Road (2018) and Dolly Wells's Good Posture (2019), this Stepford satire may be something of an acquired taste, but it skewers the haute bourgeois version of the American Dream with absurdist acuity.
Soccer moms Jill Davies (Jocelyn DeBoer) and Lisa Wetbottom (Dawn Luebbe) are watching their sons play Little League. Jill's boy, Julian (Julian Hilliard), wears glasses on the pitch and falls down at the slightest contact, despite not getting involved in the game. His mother and Lisa are discussing the murder of a yoga teacher when Lisa suddenly notices that Jill has a new baby daughter. Jill is so touched by her interest in Madison that she offers her to Lisa for keeps and tells Julian not to say a word about it to his father, Nick (Beck Bennett).
The baby's name has changed to Paige by the time Jill and Lisa meet up at the birthday party that Marriott (Janicza Bravo) is throwing for her daughter. As they chat about the bagger from the supermarket who is being sought for the yoga murder, Nick and Dennis (Neil Casey) get their wives mixed up during a smooching session by the barbecue that cross-cuts between sizzling meat and four mouths with teeth braces exchanging saliva in extreme close-up. They laugh at the silly mistake, but Lisa is taken by the fact that Nick thinks she kisses like a Frenchwoman.
Everyone drives around in golf carts and Jill is appalled to see that Julian has left a damp patch on the seat. Lisa is equally disapproving of Bob (Asher Miles Fallica), who makes a corn dolly out of the vegetable peelings his father has left while making dinner. Meanwhile, Kim Ann (Mary Holland) has announced her divorce from Buck (Mike Scollins) and she chides Jill for not giving Madison/Paige to her. Lisa is also nettled by the fact that Julian has been enrolled in a `rocket maths' class for smart kids and takes little pleasure in the fact that Bob is trying hard to play the saxophone.
Having dined off the floor when the waiters at a French restaurant drop the plates, the four friends attend a class concert, where Julian refuses to play `Yankee Doodle Dandy' on the piano and embarrasses Jill by banging on the keys. She is even more aghast when Miss Human (D'Arcy Carden) informs her that Julian has soiled the beanbag chair that her mother had made before killing her father. When his mother forces him to use the loo during Nick's 40th birthday party to prevent him having an accident, Julian reaches the end of his tether and falls into the swimming pool, where he turns into a Golden Labrador and Jill isn't sure whether to be proud or humiliated.
Feeling bereft, Jill asks Lisa if she will return her baby, but she refuses and is peeved that she even asked. Miss Human tolerates having a dog in class, but Julian is thrown off the football team and Lisa takes the opportunity to stuff the ball up her dress and announce she's pregnant. Everyone is thrilled for her and attend her baby shower. They also go to a memorial service for Cheryl the yoga teacher and her ex-boyfriend, Rob (Jim Cummings), is coerced into speaking about their romance by her sister, Erika (Lauren Adams). However, he would rather speak about his new girlfriend and upsets everyone when he declares that he loves her more than his mom.
Nick is excited by the new Julian, as he can play fetch when the old version used to burst into tears if the ball hit his hand while doing catching practice. He takes down all the photographs of Julian as a boy and tells Jill that she shouldn't keep reminding him of his past. Bob is also going through a change, as he caught a glimpse of a TV show called Kids With Knives and is now a snarling problem child. Lisa is too preoccupied to notice, however, as she has just given birth (by lifting up her dress and letting it bounce out) to a new baby. Nick suggests calling it Twilson to avoid confusion with Tom Hanks's ball in Robert Zemeckis's Cast Away (2000).
While at a tenpin bowling party, Lisa, Marriott and Kim Ann persuade Jill to get a divorce. They break the news to Julian and he goes to live with Nick after he finds him running around the yard without any clothes on. Lisa also declines to return Paige and Jill goes into a downward spiral, without knowing that she is being followed by the stalker whose heavy breathing has been heard at regular intervals throughout the picture. They turn out to be Little Helen (Dot-Marie Jones), who is arrested at Jill's house after having insisted that she no longer lives there.
Confused, Jill speeds off in her buggy and nearly has a collision with a forklift truck. She crosses the tracks and visits the house where she had grown up and appropriates one of the current occupant's daughters. While at a diner, Jill sees Lisa explaining on the news how she had captured Little Helen. When they meet up at soccer the next day, Lisa reveals that she has moved into Jill's house because it suits her and offers her Bob as a replacement for Paige. Suddenly, Jill realises that the pitch has been marked out in a cemetery and goes into a panic. Rising from the bleachers, she whispers that she needs to get out of here. But the referee declares her `out of bounds' and she sits back down with a bump.
It has always seemed odd that trailers contain so many of a film's highlights. The problem DeBoer and Luebbe have here is that all of the best jokes in their debut feature were in the 2015 short and the majority of them occur in the early scenes. That's not to say there isn't plenty to smile at for the remainder, but the last reel meanders somewhat and the punchline is hardly a doozy. Set-pieces involving Miss Human singing a song about her psychopathic mother, Rob's vigil eulogy and the Wetbottoms having to incorporate a wheelchair into a family snapshot fall flat, while Jill's long dark night of the soul lacks the subversive edge of comic desperation.
Nevertheless, DeBoer is splendidly quirky during her fall from grace, as she strives to keep her insecurities in check while seeming not to notice her snobbish foibles. As the competitive, but more reactive Lisa, Luebbe has less to do. But she carries off the football pregnancy business with great aplomb and reveals an unsuspected den maternal tenacity in clinging to Paige and taking over Jill's home. As practiced sketch comedians, Beck Bennett and Neil Casey make the most of their moments as the white bread spouses, with the former becoming addicted to drinking the pool water. Similarly, Asher Miles Fallica and Julian Hilliard show well as the changeling sons, although the latter has some of his thunder stolen by Icee, the pup who replaces him.
Cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer deftly picks up the pastel colours in Leigh Poindexter's production design and Lauren Oppelt's similarly retro kitschy costumes, while Samuel Nobles wittily counterpoints the resolutely upbeat passages in the score with brooding synthesised riffs that hint at darker deeds beneath the picture perfect surface that is epitomised by the motorists waiting politely at a crossroads for someone else to make the first move. This and the sly digs at political correctness and self-improvement suggest that such preoccupations have taken the upper-middle-class eye of the ball and allowed elitism and populism to thrive in America. But this is more an exercise in suburban surrealism than social critique.
CinemaItaliaUK has two films left in 2019, with the first showing at the Regent Street Cinema in London on 1 December. Described in some quarters as `the Italian Big Sick', Phaim Bhuiyan's Bangla draws on the actor-writer-director's experience of being one of the 39,000 Bangladeshis living in Rome. Given that Bhuiyan is only 24, this represents quite an achievement and proves a sizeable step up from making a single episode for the TV series, Yoroi (2017).
Waking from a dream in which his pizza delivery boy is paid in kind by a pole dancer, Phaim (Phaim Bhuiyan) describes himself as 50% Bengali, 50% Italian and 100% Torpignattara. The latter is his neighbourhood in Rome, which is divided into three tribes: the Foreigners, the Hipsters and the Elders. While he admits to being part of the first (despite having been born in Italy a few months after his parents arrived from Bangladesh), he has sympathy with the natives who have seen their patch change beyond all recognition and nothing in common with the imports who have gentrified the area.
Phaim works as a gallery invigilator at a museum alongside Fede (Davide Fornaro), who shares his obsession with girls. He also spends quiet moments hanging in the park with taciturn drug dealer, Matteo (Simone Liberati), and playing in a band named The Moon Star Studio with Tangir (Tangir Ahammed Miah), Fayruj (Fabian Durrani) and Shoshi (Sanija Shoshi Haque). At home, father Shipon (Rishad Noorani) and mother Nasima (Nasima Akhter) are forever having to referee arguments between Phaim and his sister, Navila (Sahila Mohiuddin). But Phaim likes his life and would be happier to be a Muslim if the rules about sex before marriage weren't so strict.
At a battle of the bands, Phaim falls for Asia (Carlotta Antonelli), a statistics student with blue streaks in her black hair. and risks alienating his family by going on a date with her. She takes him back to the flat she shares with her father, Olmo (Pietro Sermonti) and they watch a horror movie in her room. However, Phaim feels guilty about being out during Ramadan and makes an excuse to leave after Asia compliments him on the scar he got during a rumble with a Romanian gang.
He can't wait to see her again, however, and they go to a bijou Bob Corn concert at a café, where she puts her head on his shoulder and teases him about the fact that they can't sleep together because of his faith. As they are saying goodnight, Phaim impulsively kisses Asia, who is amused by his timidity. However, he rushes straight to the mosque to confess to Rifat (Raja Sethi), who runs the nearby mosque. He tells him it would be better if he never sees her again. But Phaim is in love and begs his bandmates to keep his secret, including Tangir, whose family has moved to London.
Asia invites Phaim to lunch at Olmo's flat and he meets her mother, Carla (Alessia Giuliani), and her lesbian lover, Marzia (Milena Mancini), as well as Asia's younger brother, Ivan (Damian Ghimp). He gets on well with them, but makes a fool of himself when he gets drunk with two of her friends, Lavinia (Nina Pons) and Flaminia (Lavinia Andolina), and Asia ticks him off for not being himself. But she breaks off with him when he ducks behind a car in case Fayruj's mother spots them while closing up her clothing store. When he protests that it's not easy coming from a conservative family with strict social expectations, Asia slaps his face and tells him to grow up and take some responsibility for his life.
As he's in the dump, Shoshi arranges a date with a Bangladeshi girl, Mala (Naya Manson), but she is also on the rebound and they console each other over ice creams. On getting home, his parents spring the news they are moving to London to work in a family restaurant and Tangir pleads with him to stay in Rome because he hates Britain and can't wait to get back to Italy. But Phaim helps pack up the apartment and plays at Navila's wedding before bidding his farewell to Rifat. He confesses that he has also been seeing an Italian girl in secret and has been dumped because things became too complicated.
Realising that he can't leave without seeing Asia again, Phaim dashes across the city and finds her in bed with a cold. She tries to be cross with him, but he spoons with her and they kiss. As he shrugs in voiceover that life is a mess, but never dull, we see Matteo catching Mala's eye as she jogs past him in the park and they connect to prove just how random things can be.
Perhaps because we've been spoilt with so much excellent British Asian cinema, there's a familiar feel to Phaim Bhuiyan's first foray into features. It starts well, with the brisk opening monologue laying down the rules of the game in a melting pot district like Torpignattara. But, having told us all about the Hipsters and the Elders, Bhuiyan ignores them completely and, consequently, misses out on any cross-cultural and age-gap complications that they might have imparted to a scenario that might have been a bit twistier and turnier.
At least there's a decent spark between Bhuiyan and Carlotta Antonelli, who is not only more socio-sexually liberated than her beau, but also far more mature. This, of course, is a key ingredient of the millennial romcom, but Bhuiyan might have done more to emphasise the tensions between his desires and his beliefs, as the religious aspect seems more of a convenient contrivance than a genuine crisis of conscience. The sketchiness of the domestic situation also makes the pressure Bhuiyan feels from home feel tokenistic, while Antonelli's parents (a lesbian and an actor-musician with a back problem) are a touch too outré by comparison. Even the sole example of racial antagonism turns out to be a fib, when Bhuiyan reveals that the scar on his cheek was the result of emergency dental work rather than a race-hate assault.
Cinematographer Simone D'Onofrio snags some local colour, but Bhuiyan doesn't make enough of Torpignattara and its distinctiveness. Otherwise, he directs steadily enough for one so young and with plenty else on his plate. It will be fascinating to see how he handles a tougher topic and one hopes that CinemaItaliaUK will be waiting when he does.
It's hard to banish thoughts of Agnès Varda's Daguerréotypes (1976), Marc Isaacs's All White in Barking (2007) and Shola Amoo's study of the gentrification of Brixton, A Moving Image (2016), while watching Zed Nelson's The Street. But that's hardly a bad thing. Produced over four years by a celebrated photographer making his first feature, this snapshot of Hoxton Street in Hackney astutely avoids taking sides, as it recognises that this is a study in shaded greys rather than white or black extremes. It also questions whether the character of an area is determined by its bricks and mortar or the people who live and work there. Ultimately, Nelson reaches few unexpected conclusions. But, unlike many docu-odysseys, the fascination here lies with both the journey and the destination.
Opening captions explain that Hoxton Street lies in one of London's poorest boroughs. Yet, as property prices rise, austerity cuts remove £30 billion from social service funding across the UK from 2010. At this moment of increasing polarisation and growing mistrust in the political establishment, David Cameron decided to hold the EU referendum.
As a horse-drawn hearse leaves Hayes & English, the morning bake is starting in F. Cooke's famous pie and mash shop. Joe is proud that his great-grandfather Robert was the first to plate up pie, mash and parsley sauce and he is askance, even in a changing neighbourhood, that a craft beer shop has opened opposite, near to a French handmade bicycle shop. He laments that the close-knit community has been fragmented and that house prices are making it impossible for the younger generation to remain. While it's possible to feel his pain, the shrugging attitude the incomers is rather revealing.
Outside, 82 year-old Colleen remembers the Blitz and refuses to budge from a place with an enduring sense of community. In short order, we also meet Fr Christopher from St Anne's Catholic Church; Jimmy, a white goods merchant. Bill, a carpet fitter; Ingrid the owner of the Peer Gallery; Linda from Anderson's bakery; and Atheer, a pawnbroker. Stefan, the German owner of the 7 Seasons beer shop feels they are living in a protected village bubble, but fears that the City will eventually swallow them up.
A female customer in the pie shop blames the influx of foreigners for changing the tone of the area, as they don't speak English and it's impossible to stop and have a chat. But Linda is happy to provide a service and some solace to anyone who needs it and is pleased her bakery feels like family to some of the lonelier residents with no one else to care about them. An estate agent named Salim boasts that he shifted a one bedroom property a £1650 a month in a day, while Errol the mechanic regrets that his garage is the last building standing amidst redevelopment projects that will inevitably bring in more outsiders, like those attending an event at the Well Hung gallery, which is opposite a fish and chip shop full of old-timers reminiscing about lost pubs like The Green Man, which is now the Buzz Bar media agency.
As another day dawns, Kieran the milkman wonder who will do the menial jobs when Hoxton Street is taken over by the yuppies. He feels it's like cutting off one's nose to spite one's face, but the Icelands and Poundlands probably won't survive the exodus, anyway. At the St Anne's soup kitchen, Colin blames austerity on an élite that doesn't feel the effects of their policies, while Serge, a Russian who sleeps rough under a bridge, admits that he has had to wear gloves for the first time in his life because it's so cold.
Sadly, Anderon's bakery is forced to close after 150 years and workmen move in to refit it as a delicatessen. The regulars know there's no point crying over spilt milk and realise that the passing of each familiar landmark brings their own departure closer. But there is dismay when the carpet shop and Errol's garage go. However, they have other things to think about when Cameron announces the date of the EU referendum as 23 June 2016. Reverend Paul, the vicar of St Leonard's who is approaching compulsory Church of England retirement at 70, confides that he will have to move away, as he can't afford to stay. While not condoning bigotry, he can understand the resentment those born and bred in the district feel when they lose out on council housing to immigrants and interlopers. But it's hard to turn a blind eye to the ignorance displayed by Colleen and her friends while pondering whether Pakistanis come from Greece and grumbling about Poles and Romanians having their pensions sent to Africa.
A bulldog pants on the pavement, as young and old alike complain about the yuppies making them feel inadequate on their own turf. Following a clip from Cameron's post-Brexit speech, Joe and Stefan chat about the result. Joe insists that there's no point in having a front door unless you say when it closes, while Stefan wonders about where Britain will find the trading partners to make up for losing the easy access to European markets. Joe admits he has no idea, but he knows that too many people have their fingers in too many pies and can't shake the suspicion that decimalisation was a massive con trick on the British people.
At the Bethel Tabernacle Church, Reverend Gloria suggests that things are not as bad as they were in the heyday of the National Front, when they premises were forever being vandalised. Salim the estate agent concurs, as he was frequently threatened by gangs when he first arrived so he knew who was boss. Colleen explains that her father was German and was known as `Georgie German' and suggests there was no malice in the nickname. However, she recognises that there was a lot of anti-Jewish feeling because they were jealous of their wealth when times were hard. She has often wondered if she had Jewish ancestry because of her maternal grandmother, but the camera picks out lots of Catholic knick-knackery dotted around her flat.
On the day of the Grenfell Tower fire (14 June 2017), Nelson accompanies Joe to Smithfield Market. The sombre mood doesn't last once we're back in the kitchen, however, as Kim lays into her staff about their slack standards and she tuts to camera about today's youth not respecting their heritage. Meanwhile, Eduardo, a former City trader who has been buying buildings as an investment, shows Nelson around an art studio in an old warehouse. He looks across the skyline and doesn't seem too concerned that the neighbourhood is changing, as he thinks that's part and parcel of life. His blasé attitude compares to that of Colin, an aspiring rapper who lives in the smallest room of a tripartite compartmentalisation of a council flat and admits that he wouldn't be able to live there (at £235 a week) if he got a job and had to lose his housing benefit. At night, he pops along to the food kitchen in the street outside the gallery and it amuses him that two different worlds exist cheek by jowl.
Following a long shot of Grenfell, we learn that one of the gallery workers was killed in the fire and Ingrid reveals that they have named their garden after Khadija Saye (who had appeared on camera earlier in the project). The dedication ceremony proves highly emotional and Nelson cannily contrasts it with a smarmy estate agent named Oliver showing him around new high-rise apartments costing over £1 million. Salim agrees that he has profited from gentrification, but he wonders why there is no government policy to control it, as there will come a point where the market for condominiums with their own cinemas and gyms peaks and all of the traditional dwellers will have been driven away, including Peggy, Elisabeth and Violet, a trio of bingo-playing old ladies who visit the church mission that has been converted into a burger bar. They recalls getting Christmas toys there as girls and Jessica the barmaid promises to give them an apple, an orange and a shiny penny if they come back in December.
Outside Parliament, boisterous Brexiteers demand the return of their country, but none of the older residents of Hoxton Street will be able to turn back the clock. Outside a café, an elderly couple named Harry and Linda regret being duped into voting Leave, as they would go Remain if given a second chance. Serge quotes Stendhal's line about beauty being the promise of happiness and wonders if ugliness is the expectation of death. A pompous poet called Douglas reads at a gallery gathering and Ingrid laments the descent of monoculture in an area that had long been known for its diversity. She might have been referring to the haughtily genial Sue from Aviva, who glibly lists the buildings that the insurance giant has acquired and converted into workspaces. Among them appears to be Errol's garage and she hopes people's minds will be focused in what was once a hub of artisanal activity.
Serge shows Nelson the charred remains of his few belongings, after someone sets fire to his bridge hideaway. He doesn't know if it was arson or not, but his despair is tangible. There's little Nelson can say and the vicar prepares for his final service by admitting that his ministry has often been driven more by social anger than faith or love. At the pie shop, a vegan option has appeared on the menu. But Colleen would rather talk about the past. She jokes about losing Terry, the love of her life, because she wouldn't let him get fresh. When Nelson pays a return visit, however, she is tucked up in bed and a bit disorientated until he makes her a cup of tea. Pointing out a photo her parents, George and Nora, she confides that she will be joining them soon. Elsewhere, life goes on, with the river continuing to flow under Serge's new bridge.
Having honed his film-making skills with Shelter in Place (2009) and Gun Nation (2016), Zed Nelson proves to have a receptive ear, as well as a discerning eye in this touching, but acute survey of Hoxton Street's passing scene. Edited by Julian Rodd with a measured rhythm that reinforces the notion that we have stepped out of the hurly-burly into a village within the metropolis, the film mourns the loss of the area's distinctive character. But Nelson is well aware that not everything is jolly jellied eels and foaming pints of Truman's best. Thus, while it's easy to hiss the braying corporates, grasping speculators and preening artists, even cherishable individuals like Colleen betray how ingrained certain attitudes remain within a community whose `look after our own' mentality has long been tainted by insularity.
What is notable is that, during his four-year sojourn, Nelson didn't encounter any local politicians, or else he consciously chose to omit them from the final cut. It might have been interesting, however, to have canvassed their opinions to gauge how the various party lines differ over the transformation of this part of N1. There's also a dismaying absence of homegrown youth, as we only get to see a couple of teenage girls named Laura and Evangeline gazing at their phones in Cooke's, while Jeyda and Lily-Rose later complain that they feel like outsiders whenever they go into one of the nearby bars. Obviously, this has to do with their parents having been driven into Essex and beyond, but it might have been intriguing to hear a bit more from them, as well as from some BAME kids.
Nevertheless, with its jaunty Rachel Portman theme, this is a thoughtful treatise on the vestiges of Dickensian London that have lingered into the first fifth of the 21st century. Such a situation should shame us all and be a hot topic in the ongoing election debate. But the masters of smoke and mirrors have already diverted the attention of the masses elsewhere and the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots will continue to widen until the resulting subsidence begins to weaken the very structures on which our society is precariously balanced.
THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE.
Since he started making cinema documentaries 12 years ago, John Pilger has done a fair bit of globe trotting. Rooted in the ethos of the golden age of television reportage, The War on Democracy (2007), The War You Don't See (2010), Utopia (2013) and The Coming War On China (2016) has covered US interference in Latin American politics, government propaganda, Australian apartheid and the burgeoning rivalry between the world's last two superpowers. However, he's back in Britain for his latest investigation, The Dirty War on the National Health Service, a timely tract that revisits some of the issues previously explored by Michael Moore in Sicko (2007).
In 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the National Health Service was safe in his hands. Four years earlier, however, adviser Mark Britnell had stated, `The NHS will be shown no mercy.' With the shameful practice of `patient dumping' having already arrived in this country from the United States, John Pilger has no doubt about which statement to believe and this film examines how US healthcare practices will become the norm in Britain if Donald Trump makes good on his promise to put the NHS on the table in any trade deal negotiations.
Doctors Bob Gill and Youssef el-Gingihy, Tamasin Cave from Spinwatch and Paul Evans of the NHS Support Foundation suggest that the slow creep towards a two-tier system has already started and the case of 66 year-old Trevor Moncrieff provides some evidence. He died from a heart attack after an ambulance from a private firm arrived with a malfunctioning defibrillator. The crew wasted valuable time trying to find a replacement and then seemed unsure where to take the patient and son Michael blames his father's death on cost-cutting and profit-seeking.
Pilger warns that the use of private ambulances puts people at risk, as does the outsourcing of operations to private hospitals, whose slick advertising belies the fact that they often don't have the resources or the expertise of their NHS counterparts. He cites the case of Keith Salt, whose routine gall bladder operation went badly wrong in a facility in Solihull that looked professional, but has yet to apologise for jeopardising a trusting patient.
Launched by Labour Minister for Health, Aneurin Bevan, the NHS has long been envied worldwide for providing free healthcare at the point of delivery for the entire population. It was proposed by William Beveridge in 1942, as part of a wider welfare state. But Winston Churchill's Conservatives opposed the plan and it was only enacted when Clement Attlee won a landslide in 1945. As Newcastle University historian Allyson Pollock notes, the NHS offered the public a `freedom from fear' of healthcare bills they simply couldn't afford and Lord David Owen recalls his GP father being relieved that he no longer had to ask for fees at the end of a consultation.
Professor Danny Dorling from St Peter's College, Oxford states that Britain led the world in healthcare when he was born in the 1960s. But Pilger reveals plans to privatise by stealth were proposed by Nicholas Ridley before Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979 and Oliver Letwin and John Redwood built on this proposal with Britain's Biggest Enterprise (1988), which put forward a `radical reform' plan. Yet it was Tony Blair's use of private finance initiatives that burdened new hospitals with huge debts that Dr Gill insists were part of the scheme to divert funding away from health provision so that accusations could later be made that the system was no longer fit for purpose.
Dr John Lister, the founder of Save Our NHS, avers that many of these deals were secretive and Pilger points our that Blair's former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, and Health adviser Simon Stevens went on to land lucrative posts with Bridgepoint (the owners of Care UK) and UnitedHealth. The latter US company became caught up in a share scandal under CEO William McGuire (aka `Dollar Bill') and Pilger is aghast that the Coalition Governemt brought Stevens back to Britain to head the NHS, as its annual budget increase was cut from four to one percent. He links this in to the departure of thousands of doctors and nurses from the NHS, which now has one of the lowest bed capacities in Europe.
Pilger also exposes the part played by McKinsey & Company in the planned restructuring of the NHS, with Cave and Lister lamenting the fact that spending on management consultancy within the health service ran to £640 million in 2014. Cave takes Pilger on a tour of pressure groups in Westminster, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, Reform and the NHS Partners Network and she challenges the honest broker stance and highlights the close bonds they have with key media outlets.
In seeking some balance, Pilger meets former Reform director, Andrew Haldenby, who claims that private investment has been part of the NHS since its inception. He reveals that the idea for a monthly membership fee was proposed by Labour peer Norman Warner and suggests that such initiatives will be vital if the NHS is to benefit from technological advances. However, he admits that the choice of IT system was regrettable.
According to Pilger, such behind closed doors collusion fed into the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which Pollock and Owen label a charter for privatisation and Gill says that this path leads to conflict of interest and waste rather than improved practices and efficiency. El-Gingihy goes further and claims that the siphoning off of resources to pay PFI debts, outsourcing profits and consultancy fees make it look as though the NHS model is failing, when it is fighting an uphill battle to function in the face of government-imposed impediments.
To back up these claims, Pilger reflects on the case of Hinchinbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. which became the first NHS hospital to be sold off when Ali Parsa's Circle Health company won the contract to run it. Former Lead Nurse Patricia Flanagan describes how it was branded a failed body and Parsa dared the staff to `dream the impossible'. She was nettled when Health Secretary Vince Cable kept referring to the hospital as `a business' during one visit and she resented the 49% staff share scheme and the stress placed on increasing the speed of patient turnover. After 10 months, Parsa stepped down and a Care Quality Commission report criticised Circle's handling of the hospital. Eventually, the company withdrew three years into a 10-year contract and Flanagan cries at the memory of the debacle that cost her a job and placed the hospital and its community under unnecessary strain.
Parsa refused an interview and Pilger sneers at the `GP At Hand' app he is currently peddling for a Babylon Health company that is seemingly so popular with Health Secretary Matt Hancock that he appeared in an Evening Standard advertorial it had paid for, a decision whose wisdom is questioned by Dr Phil Whitaker. When Pilger challenges Babylon's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Mobasher Butt, he hesitantly defends the advances made in Artificial Intelligence helping patients. But Whitaker highlights the human factor in consultations and worries that robot diagnosis is part of a drift towards a US model of healthcare.
In crossing to Chicago, Pilger asserts that the American healthcare system breaches Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as up to 87 million Americans can't afford health insurance or have it rendered worthless by excess charges known as `deductables'. As a result, 20 million die each year because they can't get treatment and Pilger despairs that this is the system that is inspiring the proposed reform of the NHS. He also returns to the theme of patient dumping and Pastor Phil Kwaitowski from the Pacific Garden Mission that takes in those left on the streets in their scrubs in the middle of the night. Robert Jaskula from Franciscan House on Skid Row is equally condemnatory of the callousness of the US hospital system.
A caption reveals that medical bills are the most common cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Pilger meets former Cigna health insurance company spin doctor-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter, who gives details of how 17 year-old Nataline Sarkisyan died in 2007 after Cigna disagreed with doctors recommending a liver transplant. He also interviews Dr Linda Peeno, who told a Congressional hearing in 1996 that she had cost a heart transplant patient his life in 1987 in saving $500,000 for the Humana insurance firm for which she then worked. She bitterly regrets her decision, but Pilger says nothing about any consequences faced for her disclosure and this tabloid level of detail keeps undermining what are undoubtedly important points.
Moving on to Wise, Virginia, Pilger assesses the impact of Remote Area Medical (RAM), a body founded by Londoner Stan Brock that annually provides free healthcare to the residents of a former mining town with high rates of unemployment and illness. Low income hopefuls park at the open-air showground and sleep in their cars to get seen and the medics and patients interviewed lament the fact that care and pharmaceuticals are so expensive that lives are either being put on hold or at risk.
Returning to Britain, Pilger questions why a third of children are living in poverty in the world's fifth richest nation. Professor Dorling denounces the cuts made to the NHS and social care in the name of Austerity and he also worries that privatisation is turning patients into customers and a vocation into business. Ben Davies from the Glass Door homeless charity on Clapham Common claims that an increasing number of people they are helping are victims of a British form of patient dumping. He also reveals that they have often provided shelter to NHS staff members who have nowhere to live.
Pilger also catches up with David Combe, who operates the Street Souls charity from St Stephen's Church near the Houses of Parliament. He reveals the life expectancy among London's homeless is now 47 and Pilger is shocked by what he sees when he accompanies John Watts on his rounds to check up on rough sleepers in freezing conditions. He names and shames six individuals who refused to speak to him, including Cameron, Milburn, Stevens and Hancock. But he does get an assurance from Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth that Labour will strive to undo the 2012 changes and return to the core values of 1948. It's an easy promise to make, but it remains to be seen whether they will get the chance to govern, let alone whether they will be true to their word.
John Pilger is one of the titans of tele-reportage, but this isn't one of his more convincing assignments. He has a strong thesis, which he backs up with some poignant case studies. But there isn't a compelling narrative to bind things together. Part of the problem lies with the tone, which is a touch tabloid and soundbitey, with no real depth of evidence or analysis, as if Pilger wants to make his hard-hitting headline points without overtaxing the audience with swathes of social, economic or political detail. However, he doesn't help himself by omitting to provide background information on the talking head doctors, as we don't know how well placed they are to make what are largely damning comments.
Of course, the companies and government agencies that Pilger is taking to task shoot themselves in the foot by refusing to refute his arguments. But their absence presents the film with a golden opportunity, which it doesn't really exploit with the expected potency. An enervating factor is Joe Frost's jittery cutting, which makes the picture look tatty and suggests that a frustrating number of the comments made by the contributors have been editorialised. But, for all his sincerity and commitment, Pilger seems content to present his revelations without driving home the gravity of the existing situation or the dangers that might lie ahead. This could and should have been dynamite at election time, but it's likely to cause little more than a ripple.