The Devil You Know: I Am Never Going Back

It was Pip’s original intent to review two short films dealing with the subject of child abuse and neglect. The first by Belgian director Hilde van Mieghem, De suikerpot (The Sugarbowl, 1997), was reviewed earlier on Pigtails and effectively showed the psychological tension of surviving in a home with a mother who goes into an angry rage at the slightest provocation. It is remarkable how consistently young children internalize the conflicts in their world as though it were their fault. While The Sugarbowl might be described as a kind of suspense-thriller, Я сюда больше никогда не вернусь (I Am Never Going Back, 1990) is a grim tragedy with a documentary feel. The film, directed by Rolan Bykov (Ролан Быков, 1929–1998) was commissioned by UNESCO to expose the terrible conditions many children suffered in the Soviet Union. It was intended to be part of a series called Comment vont les enfants? (How Are the Kids?) The alternate title, Люба (Luba), is the main character’s name played by Nina Goncharova. Ironically, the name is the diminutive form of a girl’s name that also means “Love” in Russian.  Bykov’s choice for actress lay primarily in the believability of her performance; Goncharova was herself an orphan living in Tashkent at the time but is an ethnic Russian.

During the 10-minute film, Luba acts out the drama of her home life with a doll and stuffed animals she has hidden in the woods. In the beginning, she is seen running away after a severe screaming fit and beating by her mother played by Elena Sanaeva. Another key difference between the Belgian and Russian films is that this one illustrates the conditions of poverty while the girl in De suikerpot came from a well-off family that could afford to send her to boarding school. As a result, the use of language is much cruder here. Both mothers wail about how they are cursed with such a rotten and ungrateful child. There is a moment of tension in the beginning when we see Luba near a passing train while the mother yells out that she wishes the train would run her over.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (1)

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (2)

Observing Luba running into the wilds, there is a strong feeling of the stark contrast between the oppressive environment at home and the serenity of nature just a short distance away. The girl starts calling out that mommy is coming to take care of her sweethearts. We do not yet understand to whom she is speaking and, as if answering back to herself, she says that mother is a bitch and neglects her children, with mutual accusations about how the other hogs the food. These situations are full of ambivalence: alternating between hating the mother and then convincing her how much they love her. Perhaps more than the physical abuse, this kind of psychological stress takes the greater toll.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (3)

In 2010, Izvestia interviewed Goncharova and Sanaeva about their experiences. It appears that little had improved in the mean time with about a thousand children being killed by their parents every year. In 2002, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office reported about 44,000 crimes committed against minors and in 2007, there were 70,000. Under these conditions, it is no wonder that some survivors would find the idealism of fascism appealing as we seem to be observing with Katya Zashtopic.

Finally a small clearing is reached that serves as the scene for a makeshift home. We see the stuffed animals and doll for the first time. Shortly, mother and children get into an argument and she begins beating the bear all the while telling him that she is doing it because she cares about him and he really doesn’t understand. She scolds him for neglecting his school work. Because of the phonetic resemblance, the name “Misha” used in this scene is both the diminutive for Mikhail and the nickname for a bear. Luba beats him up and tells him how empty-headed he is but after his studies, she will have him and the doll get married. Misha retorts that he does not need schooling because he is going into the army anyway. Another interesting difference between poor and middle-class households is, due to the lack of privacy, poor children are usually privy to the specifics of sexual intercourse taking place in their home. Luba positions the bear behind the doll as though he were mounting her.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (4)

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (5)

As with all rages and tantrums, there is the period of sincere remorse afterward accompanied by promises not to do it again. The stuffing has come out of Misha and she tries to fix him by filling him up with dirt and material on hand, nice and fat, just like an army general—a Russian cliché is that army generals are fat and so the implication is that in such a condition, they would be eager to admit him to military school right away.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (6)

Now Luba frets that mother is going to kill her now that her dress has gotten soiled. She takes off her panties and dress and washes them in the stream. She uses her dress as a blanket under which the the bear can recuperate. All the while she is consoling them that at least they are not in an orphanage where they beat children’s heads against the wall—like the fate of many ethnic minorities, presumably. She scolds the monkeys for spying on her while undressed and tells them they are too young to look and tells them to take a walk.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (7)

While lifting the bear, her makeshift stuffing comes out and she scolds him for crapping himself. Without stuffing, the bear dies and she crosses its arms and has the doll close her eyes in grief. Once again, this is followed by apologies and wails over what will happen to the family next.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (8)

Luba walks over to a cliff overlooking a river. There is an ominous gust of wind and then she hears her mother calling out again asking her darling for forgiveness. But the apologetic tone quickly turns to impatience and the mother begins to scream for her good-for-nothing daughter to get home. Luba looks back and calls out that she is never coming home. As if driven by her mother’s voice, she shrieks one final desperate exclamation of terror and jumps off the cliff.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (9)

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (10)

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (11)

Bykov had a lot of experience dealing with actors having been a film and theater actor, director, writer and teacher. He was even given the designation of People’s Artist of the USSR. His favorite writer is Gogol and likes his use of surrealism. Art refracts life but can give it a magical quality and so Luba is made to transcend the ordinary in a final scene where she appears to be levitating—perhaps a hopeful expression of release and redemption.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (12)

Bykov discovered Goncharova when she was featured in a telethon. She was born cross-eyed and suffered a tragic family life before being placed in an orphanage. Her father had beat her mother and when the grandmother tried to intervene on her daughter’s behalf, she was imprisoned. The father abandoned the mother leaving her with four kids and died later in prison. Because she was so young at the time of filming, the director did not bother to explain the plot to Goncharova and knew the actress would draw on her own experiences to create a convincing performance.

Rolan Bykov – I Am Never Going Back (1990) (13)

For a while, Gonchorova lived at Bykovs’ home and Sanaeva took her to have her eyes surgically corrected, convincing the medical authorities that she was the girl’s mother. Then she was sent to a boarding school and majored in typography. She was never officially married but did have an Islamic ceremony with the father of her first child, a girl. Disappointed at this outcome, her ersatz husband abandoned them. She did later have a son with another man. She could never make use of her education because of the demands of motherhood so she started living with a good friend who could earn money while she took care of their home.

It could be said that the film was also a victim of neglect. The money originally promised to distribute the film never came through and so the final print of the film was passed from hand to hand until its value was finally recognized, transferred into other video formats and released on the internet.

There are many people behind the scenes that make Pigtails in Paint work and some posts are strong reminders of these contributions. Therefore, this post is dedicated to someone who goes by the handle “B.O.” who not only created the English transcription for this film but was also responsible for rescuing the original content of Pigtails when it was suddenly shut down by WordPress. In other words, he is one of our guardian angels and his efforts are greatly appreciated. -Ron

Wikipedia Entry (in Russian)

Child Emancipation

*** Spoiler Alert ***

With our recent troubles, my thoughts have been occupied with those guardian angels who have helped us in the past and those who continue to do so today. Therefore this post is dedicated to “Liquid” who handled the technical end of getting our site up and running again after first being shut down by WordPress. In one of our few communications, he mentioned one of his favorite films starring a sweet little girl called Maisie. What Maisie Knew (2012) is the latest remake of a story based on a novel by Henry James. It is about a neglected girl who bonds with her nannies and, in the end, exerts her independence by expressing her wish to stay with them. The theme of the story reminded me of a film years ago called Irreconcilable Differences (1984) starring Drew Barrymore. This inferior film starred Shelley Long and Ryan O’Neal as Casey’s parents. It had a clever hook; at the time, there was a California law that allowed for minors to “divorce” their parents and take adult responsibilities for themselves. The intent of this law was for older teens—who were close to legal adulthood anyway—to escape the abuses of the foster care system or neglectful parents. The unusual thing in this story was that the girl suing for emancipation was 9 years old. Her wish was to live with the housekeeper and her children. It is an intriguing idea but the fact of the matter is that this movie was guilty of child neglect itself. Instead of telling the story from Casey’s point of view, her testimony was simply used to showcase the retelling of the drama of her parents’ relationship working in the brutal world of Hollywood film production.

Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers – Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

On the other hand, the latest incarnation of Maisie directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, screenplay by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, was a delight. Six-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) gave a skilled and convincing performance. Her mother Susanna (Julianne Moore) is in an updated role as a music diva engrossed in her career. It was decided that the early scenes should reflect her parents’ more nurturing sides. Although Moore is a performer, this was the first time she was recorded as a singer—singing a bedtime lullaby.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (1)

Maisie’s father Beale (Steve Coogan) was a high-stakes business man travelling all the time. One of the motifs of the film was that Maisie should be surrounded in animal imagery to accentuate the difference between her world and that of the grownups.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (2)

Aprile was a remarkably disciplined actress for her age. She had barely turned six when she was cast. Her mother Valentine Aprile dedicatedly ran lines with her and was present on the set during shooting. Valentine played a small role in the film as one of the mothers of Maisie’s classmates.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (3)

The only time Onata’s discipline would be broken was when food was present. Good directors of children know how to make use of these foibles and there were a number of ad libs that made it into the final cut—usually the girl’s idle but effective manipulation of the various props—making her performance that much more real. For example, while assembling a peanut butter sandwich, Aprile could not help licking her fingers.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (4)

We are introduced to Margo (Joanna Vanderham) in the first scene.as Maisie’s nanny. At first she is working for the mother but, as an added bit of turmoil in Maisie’s life, she falls in love with and marries Beale and thereafter is only present in the father’s household. Instead of the girl’s father properly explaining the situation, Margo is left to look after Maisie’s well-being by explaining things the best she could.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (5)

With Margo living with the father, one of Susanna’s groupies Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård) was abruptly tasked with running domestic errands including shuttling Maisie around. The first time he did this, no one was informed so Margo and the school personnel were quite nervous about turning over custody without some verbal confirmation from Susanna. These days, we are so conditioned to expect the worst since the decision to send Lincoln was made in haste and we did not really know him yet. There are two amusing details about the Aprile-Skarsgård relationship. For some reason Aprile really took to Skarsgård and loved spending time with him on and off the set. One of the demonstrations of her skill as an actress was persuading us that she was actually nervous about being passed off to Lincoln. The other thing was that Skarsgård was quite tall and getting the two of them together in the same shot was a continuous logistical challenge.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (6)

During the course of the film, Maisie is seen spending a lot of quality time with her nannies—sometimes at the same time. In these scenes, she is actively involved with the adults. In contrast, except in those cases when the parents are lavishing her with compensatory attention, whenever Maisie is observing the adults, the directors established the convention of shooting her behind some kind of obstacle or barrier to help convey this alienation.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (7)

The neglect becomes progressively more horrific as Susanna goes on tour and Beale travels overseas. The situation reaches a climax when Maisie’s mother leaves her unattended at the bar where Lincoln works because she neglected to confirm the arrangements. Beale’s neglect takes its most severe form when Margo is locked out of their apartment and cannot get in because he did not bother to put his own wife’s name on the lease. Aprile really enjoyed those scenes with the young couple and movie-goers begin to realize that they had fallen in love during the course of this drama. By all accounts, this is when Aprile gets to display her real personality. She was reported saying that she hoped her next film would be a happier one because she dislikes having to be “so sad” all the time in this one. While both parents were away, Margo took Maisie away on a kind of retreat to a beach house on Long Island owned by her uncle; they are shortly joined by Lincoln.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (8)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (9)

When Susanna arrives later in her tour bus, assuming that Maisie would be delighted at the prospect of joining her, she is surprised to learn that she would rather stay with Margo and Lincoln. In a frank and heartfelt moment, Susanna finally realized how unhappy Maisie had been and in a selfless act of love, allowed her to stay with them.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (10)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (11)

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (12)

The point of James’ novel was to show an uncharacteristically self-possessed little girl take a hand in her own happiness. Although her future was far from certain, she at least had some say in shaping it. At the end of the pier was docked a boat and in the last shot, she is shown running toward it in anticipation of another outing, another adventure.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel et al – What Maisie Knew (2012) (13)

Bonds of Blood: Two Adaptations of a Vampire Story

* * * Spoiler Alert * * *

For some reason, one of our readers took me to task for reviewing the film, Le tout nouveau testament. One of the titles he suggested I review instead was Let Me In (2010), a British-American film directed by Matt Reeves. In the mean time, a good friend of mine told me about a film he had just watched called Let the Right One In (2008), a Swedish film written and directed by John Ajvide Lundqvist. When Pip informed me they were based on the same story, I was curious why there were two similar films produced in such close succession.

I had hoped to find a clue in some interview, but Matt Reeves’ explanation was not forthcoming. He knew that the Swedish film was about to be released. Did he not think there would be a dubbed English version in due course? The main motivation of the story revolves around a 12-year-old boy being bullied and hoping—but being too afraid—to get his revenge. In a roundtable interview, Reeves explains:

Sure. Well, I was bullied. And I grew up at that time, and my parents went through a very painful divorce. And I identified with that sense of being incredibly confused and the sense of humiliation and the sense of isolation. There’s tremendous shame with being bullied. I think there’s a level at which you think that there’s a reason that you’re being singled out, that you’re being chosen. As a kid, I was always mistaken for a girl. -Reprinted by Michael Leader, November 4, 2010

A telling difference in the two versions of the film was that Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) was called “piggy” (such an insult does not suggest fatness as it does in America) while Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) was called a “little girl” and in the latter film the violence of the bullying was more explicitly violent and humiliating.

Apart from a teaser in Reeves’ version which the filmmaker must have felt was necessary to interest an American audience in the movie, the two films follow the story almost word for word. The story begins in the early 1980s with an older man and a young girl—also appearing to be 12 years old—moving in next door to a boy who lives with his divorcing mother. In Reeves’ version, the mother is especially religious. Those observing this scene are supposed to assume the man is her father with the peculiar fact that the girl is walking around with bare feet even though it is outside.

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (1)

In Lundqvist’s novel and film, the girl is called Eli (pronounced “Ellie” and played by Lina Leandersson) and in Reeves’, it is Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz). They first meet when the boy is sitting in the courtyard. She appears behind him and immediately tells him that they cannot be friends. He is playing with a Rubik’s Cube and invites her to try it. He comments that she smells funny, apparently a trait of vampires who need to feed. Due to some bad luck, her caregiver was not able to secure her some blood and she has to fend for herself this night. He gives her the puzzle to play with and later finds it sitting in the courtyard, mystified that she solved it so easily.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (1)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (2)

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (2)

Despite the girl’s admonition, a bond does seem to form. Her caregiver has noticed this and strenuously advises her not to see the boy anymore.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (3)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (3)

Since the two live next door to each other, a kind of Morse Code is created so they can communicate through the wall. Still unaware of the girl’s true nature, the boy offers her some candy. At first, she declines, but she wants the boy to like her and tries one piece. It does not agree with her and she is momentarily sick.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (4)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (4)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (5)

The Swedish film is more subtle in its presentation which is why I favor it slightly. In fact, the revelation of what is happening is all implied and depends on our own understanding of vampire lore. Lundqvist’s version does not even mention the word vampire throughout the film. No stranger to violence, the girl advises the boy that he needs to hit back hard, even though he is outnumbered. All the while, he fantasizes in the privacy of his bedroom that he confronts his aggressors with a knife.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (5)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (6)

On a field trip, the bullies once again threaten him and tell him he will end up in the frozen pond. To defend himself, he finds a stick. When confronted, he explains that it he will use it to hit back. Given his track record, the other boys do not believe him and he suddenly lashes out and strikes the leader on the side of his head, giving him a serious injury. The adults unaware of the context of this attack come very close to suspending him. Upon his return home, he explains to Eli/Abby what he has done and she says she is proud of him. After another night of feeding, the girl appears on Oskar/Owen’s windowsill and asks to be let in. The boy is half asleep, but she explains that she must be invited in—another vampire trait which the boy does not immediately catch on to. She disrobes and gets into bed with him. She still has blood on her face so she tells him not to look. He comments that she is ice cold and wonders why she is naked. She asks if he finds that gross but he does not object. He decides to ask if she wants to go steady but she does not really understand. She finally agrees based on the promise that there will be no basic change in their relationship and it is a way to get him to like her.

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (7)

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (6)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (8)

In the Reeves interview, it was explained that the decision to change the title in the English version of Lundqvists’ novel was because the publisher though the American audience would not be sophisticated enough to understand the metaphor of the original title. New editions have since changed the title back to Let the Right One In. Of course, the correct title offers a greater depth of meaning. Not only does it refer to the requirement that vampires be invited in, but also refers to the risks of inviting a new person into one’s intimate personal life.

Meanwhile, the caregiver has made a serious mistake and his capture is imminent. To avoid being identified, he spills acid all over his face, a shocking clue to the his devotion to the vampire girl. Was his advice to the girl more about keeping her out of trouble or was it a form of jealousy? Eli/Abby learns he is in the hospital under top security. She finds out his room location and visits him from the windowsill. Because of his injuries, he cannot speak and invite her in. In one last act of love, he extends his own neck out the window so he may offer her one last meal.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (7)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (9)

This turn of events has brought her closer to the boy and she decides she must risk revealing what she is. He hesitantly accepts her but not until she makes a most extraordinary leap of faith. She visits his home and asks to be invited in. He teases her about this ritual and asks if there is some barrier preventing her from entering. She walks in without the invitation and shortly begins convulsing in pain, blood seeping out. The boy rushes over and urgently tells her she is welcome to come in.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (8)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (10)

He lets her take a shower to get cleaned up and offers her one of his mother’s dresses. Now Oskar/Owen begins to assume the role of helping the girl get food. In both films, a man investigating the peculiar happenings of the town is lured into the girl’s home and ambushed. The boy is shocked by the viciousness of the attack and walks out in distress. She comes out afterward and tries to show her gratitude with a little affection.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (9)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (11)

Eli/Abby, not being able to stay in any one place too long, informs the boy that she must leave soon. In the mean time, the older brother of the lead bully is planning revenge and manages to draw the coach away from the swimming pool where Oskar/Owen is working out. He is told that if he can stay underwater for three minutes, he will be spared, if not, he will have his eyes gouged out. We then see him underwater with the brother’s hand firmly grasping his hair while he does his best. Suddenly, there is a lot of commotion and we see bloody severed body parts. The boy emerges to see that he has been rescued by the vampire girl.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (10)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (12)

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (11)

In the final scene, the boy is sitting on a train accompanied by a large trunk on the way to a new hunting ground, the two communicating with each other with the knocks and scratches established earlier in the film.

John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let the Right One In (2008) (12)

Matt Reeves and John Ajvide Lundqvist – Let Me In (2010) (13)

I know I am not the first to make this observation, but the whole development of the vampire idea had as much to do with the terrors of sexuality as with that of violent murder and the metaphor of consumption. This plays very well in this film since there is ongoing tension about the ambiguity of the relationship. Presumably when one is infected, one keeps one’s appearance forever thus Eli/Abby is both a little girl and yet very old. But despite her long life, she still has some naivete regarding matters of love since she would not have had much occasion to practice and learn. There is also a strong accent on the morality of a vampire’s violent lifestyle versus the hateful bullying that children can inflict. A society might frown on a vampire feeding on its citizens, but is it really any worse than the psychological trauma and humiliation that bullied young people suffer? So it is ironic that Oskar/Owen should find affection not from the warm-blooded denizens of his neighborhood, but from the icy embrace of a vampire who understands and appreciates him.

Cool Fascination: The Spy Who Caught a Cold

The charming thing about short films is that they allow the filmmaker to put forth an idea that would not yield enough plot for a feature. The title of this short piece is a take-off on the film, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). However, beyond the wordplay, there is no similarity between the films. The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) is a light-hearted—one might say almost frivolous—British piece. It was written by Lucy Ellmann and directed by Philippa Lowthorpe and was produced by Channel 4 (not to be confused with BBC4, see comment below). The premise is that a single mother (Lesley Nightingale) has decided to spend a few days at a nudist beach along with her daughter, Clozzy (Isabella Nightingale Marsh). Being a 10-year-old girl, Clozzy pretends to be embarrassed by her mother’s interest in this excursion. But her actions throughout speak of a secret fascination. Instead of participating with the others, she prefers to study the goings on with amusement.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (1)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (1)

Early in the film, Clozzy gets into the spirit of things and has a moment of joyful abandon, doing cartwheels along the water’s edge.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (2)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (2)

Her mood is quickly deflated when she observes her mother being friendly with a man.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (3)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (3)

This is the only time Clozzy is seen naked in the film. She and her mother dine out to find the man, a fishmonger, entertaining everyone with his accordion. Mother decides to get his attention and does a kind of seductive dance, again to the dismay of Clozzy. The couple leave together. Cozzy had teased her mother about spending time with a fishmonger—that his clothes probably reek of fish. But when no one is looking, she stops to smell the coat he was wearing

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (4)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (4)

At this point, the girl wears an interesting shirt spangled with stars which serves as a reminder of the symbolic connection between women and nature. The next day Clozzy has a cold, but not being life-threatening, mum decides to leave her to recuperate and rejoins the others in their activities.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (5)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (5)

Clozzy sneaks off to continue her spying, sneezing along the way.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (6)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (6)

When she returns, she finds her mother and the fishmonger making love. She watches quietly.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (7)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (7)

After mum leaves, Clozzy investigates further. She enters the tent where the man is sleeping and waves her hand over his body as though she were stroking him. Then as she leans over to kiss him, mum walks in.

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (8)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (8)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (9)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (9)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann - The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (10)

Philippa Lowthorpe and Lucy Ellmann – The Spy Who Caught a Cold (1995) (10)

After the trip and in a predictably duplicitous manner, Clozzy is heard telling her friends what a silly waste of time it had all been.

This film is currently viewable on YouTube. [I have learned that it was removed and no other copies appear available online.  Copies of this film have been the most requested so far and so this is a test case for a new video service by Pigtails in Paint.  Details about the terms of this service will appear in the August 2017 ‘Maiden Voyages’. Thank you and enjoy, -Ron]

The Way to a Man’s Heart: Du Sel sur la Peau

The problem with tracking down obscure films is that they are often neglected. In this case, those who run the company (Belga Films) that owns the rights to Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (Belgian-French, Salt on the Skin), know nothing about it. If a master of the film does exist in a vault somewhere, it will probably stay there deteriorating. Even the director, Jean-Marie Degèsves, cannot be appealed to because he died in 1999. In 1986, the movie was released in VHS (with hard-coded French subtitles) and that is the only version available. A reader in France graciously summarized the plot since there are no English subtitles available.

The story revolves around three characters. Julien (Richard Bohringer) is a well-to-do bachelor with a number of expensive hobbies like photography and collecting and building model trains, helicopters and boats. His mother seems to have the run of the house—cooking and doing the laundry for him—and eager for him to settle down and have a family. Charlotte (Catherine Frot) and her 9-year-old daughter Juliette (Anne Clignet) break down near his house. Being free-spirited individuals, they decide to cool off in Julien’s above ground pool.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (1)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (1)

He is irritated by this and confronts them. But despite this, he invites them in to dry off and make arrangements to repair their vehicle.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (2)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (2)

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (3)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (3)

Juliette has a refreshing childlike frankness and Julien seems quite charmed by her. So even though it has been an imposition, he decides to lend them 3000 Belgian francs to pay the repair bill. That night he gets a call from Charlotte telling him that Juliette is upset because she left her teddy bear in the car and could he retrieve it for her. Finding the bear, he looks at the ratty old thing with disdain and tosses it into the trash. The next day, he purchases a brand new one and goes to give it to her. At first she is upset with him because that bear had sentimental value but she forgives him.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (4)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (4)

Juliette invites him inside and he learns that she is often left alone in the house when her mother works. She takes him to her room to reveal a cache of stuffed animals.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (5)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (5)

Charlotte works at a hospital that gives long-term care to the elderly and is dating the doctor. One of her co-workers, Mireille,‭ ‬has been posing nude to make extra money on the side. Julien belongs to a photo club for which Mireille has posed and the members admire the photos. The club wants to plan an exhibition and probably at Julien’s prompting, they decide to go with the theme ‭”childhood”.

‭One night, ‬Juliette is left at her grandparents and we see that stuffed animals are regularly given as presents.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (6)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (6)

‭Mother and daughter find ‬Julien in his garden playing with one of his remote control helicopters. He shows Juliette his other models and gives her a ship as a gift. She also learns that he has a photography studio. He asks if he may take photos of Juliette, perhaps as compensation for the outstanding debt. The girl is very excited by the idea and they go into his studio to do the shoot.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (7)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (7)

He promises to send copies. Since they had been planning a trip to the beach, he is given the address of the hotel where they would be staying. Instead of mailing the photos, he checks into the hotel himself. Next we see him taking surreptitious shots of Juliette at the beach with some of her friends.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (8)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (8)

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (9)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (9)

Noticing that there is no postage on the envelope, Charlotte realizes that Julien has checked in and the pair go to the room to thank him for the photos.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (10)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (10)

Charlotte and Juliette are taking a bath together,‭ ‬but they can’t get the tap to turn off.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (11)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (11)

The girl is told to ask the reception desk for help but, instead, Juliette runs naked down to Julien’s room to get his help.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (12)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (12)

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (13)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (13)

Later at the hotel bar, Charlotte is unhappy because the doctor she was seeing did not show up as planned. She complains about how men only do things when they want something, not really respecting women for who they are. They only like women when they are in photos. This was meant to imply that Julien’s motives are far from noble.

When Julien returns home, he find his mother worried about where he has been and had invited one of his old friends by for a visit. Though Julien finds her plain and dull, his mother insists they are a perfect astrological match. To get his mother off his back, he tells her rather facetiously that there is already a new girl in his life and she is 9‭ ‬years old!

Julien has bought ice cream for Juliette‭ ‬and, to better display her books and other treasures, some shelves which he installs in her bedroom. It is not clear when Julien revealed the beach shots, but he must have at this point because one of them can be seen posted on the wall.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (14)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (14)

Charlotte’s doctor friend tries to make amends for his oversight, but she snubs him. Returning home, she confronts Julien about why he is lavishing so much attention on Juliette, assuming it is some kind of statement about her poor parenting. Julien simply evades the issue telling her it is his way of paying for the pictures—perhaps referring to the ones he took secretly.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (15)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (15)

Charlotte’s estranged husband—and Juliette’s father—suddenly shows up in Brussels to visit and tries to convince them to live in Nice with him. While her parents are talking, Juliette sneaks off to pay a call on Julien. On her way, she explains to a bemused woman on the bus that she is visiting her boyfriend. Upon her arrival, she finds him playing with his helicopter.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (16)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (16)

He is startled when she creeps up on him and tickles him and he crashes his helicopter in the pool. Impulsively, he slaps her and she cries that “N‬obody loves me‭!” She ‬jumps into the pool to retrieve his model and he jumps in after her.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (17)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (17)

Julien then brings her into the house to dry her off. His mother arrives just as Juliette emerges with a towel wrapped around her. She starts to think that maybe her son really is having an affair with a 9-year-old. When Juliette explains that he had only been taking pictures of her, the mother storms out telling him he should have his head examined.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (18)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (18)

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (19)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (19)

Juliette calls her mother to come pick her up in the evening. The two spend time together and horse around the house until bedtime.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (20)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (20)

Julien prepares the guest room for her but she wants to sleep with him. He explains that such things are not done. She explains that this is how it is done in the movies and that they must first make love. She pushes him onto the bed and kisses him on the forehead before jumping up to go to bed. At this time he presents her with a large brown teddy bear.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (21)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (21)

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (22)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (22)

Charlotte is confused and upset by the latest developments. When she comes to pick up Juliette, she tries to talk with Julien about it, but he doesn’t really want to. It is 2 a.m. and Juliette is fast asleep. Charlotte agrees to stay the night and Julien sleeps on the sofa. By the time he wakes up in the morning, the two of them are gone. They arrive later in the morning to have breakfast with him. It is clear that Julien and Charlotte are really starting to bond.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (23)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (23)

That day at work, one of Juliette’s photos drops out of a folder.‭ To cover up, he tells h‬is coworkers that it is his daughter. They tease him a bit about having secret affairs and he adds that he is a single father. Returning home, he finds Juliette,‭ ‬Charlotte and his mother together at the door. His mother looks very pleased and says she knows everything now. She adds that the astrological signs are quite auspicious.

Jean-Marie Degèsves - Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (24)

Jean-Marie Degèsves – Du Sel sur la Peau (1984) (24)

Certainly this is no blockbuster; the plot is confused and the whole point seems to be to show how a little girl’s charm can open doors and give us hope for a happy ending. The Juliette character—apart from serving as a sort of anima figure—was an important catalyst, able to say and do things the rules of polite adult society would not allow.

Return of the Goddess: Le Tout Nouveau Testament

* * * Spoiler Alert * * *

It is a relief to know that imaginative cinema is still being produced. This review has been delayed again and again because I wanted it to make a great presentation. But when all is said and done, this film speaks for itself.

Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament, 2015) takes a comical and disarmingly irreverent look at the effects that a male deity, namely God, has had on humanity. For those paying close attention, this film is a statement for the need to transform Western society into one that embraces a more feminine concept of deity.

Much has been said about the Son of God—referred to as J.C. in this film—but not the Daughter, who serves as the narrator. Her name is Ea (Pili Groyne) and has suffered under the tyranny of her father’s house for 10 years.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (1)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (1)

She tells us that God lives in Brussels and that he is an asshole—lavishing abuse on his wife, “Goddess”, and Ea. He doesn’t seem to respect her space and just barges in on her whenever he pleases.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (2)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (2)

The family lives in a house with no entrance or exit. Goddess dares not speak out of turn and does nothing but embroidery and collect baseball cards (totaling 18). Even though J.C. has not returned home since his execution on Earth, Goddess sets a place for him at the dinner table—at God’s right hand, of course.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (3)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (3)

Everyone in the family has supernatural powers except for God and Ea annoys her father with a little telekinesis at the table. God controls his creation through a computer terminal from his office, forbidding entry by anyone else. Being an impotent figure, he takes delight in causing the beings made in his own image to suffer. He creates a set of rules that seem to conform to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The “laws” appear throughout the film as running gags, for example: when a person gets in the tub, the phone will ring; the other line is always faster; a dropped piece of toast always falls buttered side down; a piece of pottery will break only after it has just been cleaned.

Ea sneaks into her father’s office to see what he has been up to. She is horrified to see how cruel he is to human beings.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (4)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (4)

When she confronts him about this, he realizes she has been in his office and he beats her. She vows revenge and escape and consults her brother about what to do. Unbeknownst to the others, there is a figurine of J.C. that can come to life so Ea can converse with him.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (5)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (5)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (6)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (6)

He explains that the idea for the 12 Apostles was father’s simply because he liked hockey. It turned out to be a real mess and so perhaps it would be better to add 6 more to make it 18, Goddess’ favorite number. J.C. tells her how she can escape to Earth, but before she departs, she sneaks into the office again and instructs the computer to give human beings knowledge of the exact time they are going to die and then lock her father out of the system so he can’t change it back. The premise is that God’s only power over people is through their ignorance. If they know too much, they may take matters into their own hands and live the lives they want. And thus Ea has her exodus, tunneling her way to Earth.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (7)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (7)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (8)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (8)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (9)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (9)

Another one of the problems J.C. and Ea wanted to avoid was the way people tend to misrepresent the message thus causing endless disputes. Ea decides this new testament will not mention her at all, but document the wisdom of the 6 apostles she chooses. Ea never learned to write, so the first person she runs into, a dyslexic bum called Victor, is recruited as her scribe.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (10)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (10)

There are a few amusing scenes showing how this knowledge has wracked havoc on people’s lives. For example, there is the daredevil Kevin, who broadcasts the craziest stunts that manage miraculously not to kill him since he is supposed to live another 62 years. Other scenes show the resentment of children dying before their parents, one spouse before the other or caregivers before their bedridden charges.

Ea’s first disciple is Aurélie, a beautiful woman who never seems to connect with any of the men around her. When she was 7, she had a freak accident in a subway and lost her left arm. She now wears a prosthesis made of silicone. As she tells her story, Ea collects her tears in a vial and explains that she does this in part because she is unable to cry herself. She also informs each of them that they have a special music associated with them and she is able to hear it. Aurélie’s is a piece by Händel and, parenthetically, the musical score throughout the film is quite stunning.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (11)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (11)

The second is Jean-Claude, an adventurer in his youth who has since squandered his time climbing the corporate ladder. Upon learning his death date, he quit his job and became lured into one last adventure northward by a flock of birds. His music is by Rameau. He is the only one who does not stay with the group but wanders off right away after telling his story.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (12)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (12)

By this time, God realizes what Ea has done and, not being competent enough to solve the computer problem, decides to follow her to Earth to get her to fix what she did. His emergence out of a wet and soapy washing machine is very suggestive of a birth scene. Forgetting that he has no powers, he has a miserable time. People beat him up and in his cranky arrogance, he continues making things worse for himself.

The third apostle is Marc who considers himself a sex maniac. His most vivid erotic memory took place when he was 9. He was digging at a beach and this amazing German girl appeared in a turquoise bikini. He never forgot the look she gave him, a combination of interest and disgust. His music is from Purcell and when he learned his death date, he decided to take all his money and spend it all by the time he died. However, he miscalculated and ran out a bit early. Ea tells him he has a beautiful voice and he decides to earn some money by doing voice overs for adult films. Next to him playing the female role is that same German girl, all grown up and they are reunited.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (13)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (13)

In the deities’ home is the famous da Vinci painting The Last Supper and Goddess begins to notice new figures appearing every time Ea recruits someone new.

The next disciple is François whose calling was to be an assassin. He has killed countless insects and a number of small pets belonging to his cousin. He is married with a son but there is no love there. When he learns his death date, he decides to buy a rifle and start shooting at people. The rationale is that if he misses, it was not their time, if not, he was simply doing God’s will. François’ music is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden—what else?—and Ea comments that this music goes well with the Händel. She does a little matchmaking and tells him to shoot the next girl that comes along.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (14)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (14)

It turns out to be Aurélie, who is hit in her fake arm and does not even notice that anything has happened. Fascinated by this miracle, François follows her and finds himself falling in love. She eventually accepts him and gets him to give up his murderous ways.

Martine is a woman with a romantic disposition who has been married to a well-to-do man who seems unmoved by her short life expectancy. He leaves on a business trip, letting her deal with this crisis on her own. When she tells her story to Ea, she is told that her music is circus music. They visit the circus and come upon a gorilla in a cage. Martine and the beast form a mysterious emotional connection and she pays for “his” release, allowing him to live in her house.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (15)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (15)

When God finally tracks down Ea, he demands that she set things right, but she is not intimidated by him anymore. She and Victor escape by walking on the water to cross a canal. Her father is dismayed to learn that he cannot do the same. He is rescued from drowning, but because he has no papers, he is housed with Uzbeki refugees and eventually deported.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (16)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (16)

The last apostle is a boy named Willy (Romain Gelin). His mother, sensing that he was a sickly boy, gave him injections which severely damaged his liver. By the time Ea meets him, he has only one week left. Out of guilt, his parents tell him they will let him do whatever he wants and he decides he wants to be a girl—perhaps an homage to Ma Vie en Rose. Willy’s music is La Mer by Charles Trenet.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (17)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (17)

This meeting is a personal revelation for Ea and she explains to Willy how her father made everything miserable for people and that she wants to fix it. The youngsters have a kind of whirlwind romance, sharing fine meals together, dancing etc. Given the few days left to Willy, they decide to treat each day as though it were a month—calling the days of the week January, February, March, etc.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (18)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (18)

Willy decides he wants to spend his last day at the seaside and is joined by the other characters who show their support by waiting with him.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (19)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (19)

Meanwhile, with the absence of her husband, Goddess begins to get control over the house again, cleaning and fixing up the place. Going into her husband’s office to vacuum, she unplugs the computer so that when it is plugged in again, the system reboots. She begins to make changes to Earth to suit her taste and Willy is saved from death that day. Ea, observing the various and sudden changes, realizes they are her mother’s doing and looks up in gratitude.

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig - Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (20)

Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig – Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) (20)

This whole business of adding apostles is symbolic of the main theme of the film: that a corrupt male-dominated world will change or should change into a happier and compassionate female one.

 

Flashbacks within Flashbacks: Körkarlen

Körkarlen (1921) is a Swedish silent film which has gone by the names The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! and The Stroke of Midnight. Pip came across this when reviewing a series of silent films and brought it to my attention. The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Nobel Prize-winning author Selma Lagerlöf in 1912. The reason I am mentioning this film here is that it has a scene of an older man bathing a little girl and it got us to wondering if this is the oldest extant appearance of a nude little girl in cinema. It would be fascinating to learn if any of our readers can come up with any older examples.

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf - Körkarlen (1921)

Victor Sjöström and Selma Lagerlöf – Körkarlen (1921)

The story itself makes use of an intriguing Swedish folk tale that states that the last sinner to die before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is doomed to drive the Phantom Carriage the following year, collecting all of the souls of the dead. One of the protagonists turns out to be that man and reviews the selfish life he led and its impact on others. Besides being an award-winning film, the movie distinguishes itself as a key work in the history of Swedish cinema. It was notable for its special effects, which were advanced for the time, and a narrative structure that made use of flashbacks within flashbacks. It was also a major influence on filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. You can view it online here.

When Innocence Has No Voice: Munted

A film like this makes me think that there is no such thing as fiction. To make a compelling story, to get the audience to really care about the characters, it is more effective when it is taken from one’s real experiences. Munted (2011) is a remarkable short film produced by Welby Ings and based on an incident that occurred in 1961 in King Country on the North Island, New Zealand. The filmmaker recalls that a man was badly beaten and hounded out of the district without being able to comprehend what he had been accused of. He decided to tell this story showing how innocence can be brutalized whenever sanctioned rumor is pitted against a truth that can’t defend itself.

The word munted is slang meaning both damaged or worthless and drunk. The word obviously applies ironically to the main character but also to most of the other characters, though in a different sense.

The film is narrated by a 10-year-old girl called Katrina (Ella Edward) who lives with her Aunt Kath. This adds a layer of reality as the story is told by a child with its naivete and misconceptions about the adult world.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (1)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (1)

She introduces us to Don (Phil Peleton), an artist who lives in a building near Katrina. He draws sketch after sketch of flowers—a symbol of female innocence and played to great effect in the opening of the film—and sometimes sketches Katrina as well. The two have an emotional attachment and Katrina tells Don she wants to be an artist. The drawings shown in the film’s opening were actually drawn by Ings himself.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (2)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (2)

We get a sense of Don’s backstory from a combination of exposition and narration throughout the film. Apparently, while drunk, he got into an auto accident, killing his wife. He was subsequently unable to save his daughters from drowning because of his own fear of the water. In his art, water is always portrayed as darkness and associated with death. As a result of the crash, he suffered some kind of mental debilitation with both physical and psychological components.

Katrina comments that Don’s drawings are all covered in writing which seems to spoil the images, but it is clearly meant to reflect the artist’s mental state. The integration of text into an artwork is personally significant to the filmmaker who did not learn to read and write until he was fifteen. Therefore, Ings’ childhood memories of written text is as a kind of textural art suggesting labyrinthine forms. The film itself is also covered in text seemingly serving the superfluous function of English subtitles.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (3)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (3)

One day, Katrina’s biological mother, Brooke, appears with a new beau and is intent on taking the girl back. Aunt Kath resists this idea. She was unable to have children herself and her sister seemed incapable of taking care of a child so the arrangement worked out well for a while. It is clear from Brooke’s behavior that her desire to get Katrina is motivated by a selfish desire to restore her respectability as a mother. The two women look for Katrina by going to Don’s place. There, Brooke finds a folder with photographs of little girls.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (4)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (4)

Brooke begins applying pressure by making incessant phone calls to her sister. Finally, she does some digging, perhaps into the newspaper archives, and finds misleading clues to Don’s past. The impression is that Don is a pedophile who murdered two girls. Brooke makes the case that this proves that Don is a dangerous influence.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (5)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (5)

The situation is exacerbated one day when Katrina swims too far out and gets caught in an undertow.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (6)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (6)

In a startling act of heroism, Don overcomes his fear and manages to save the girl. However, when the others arrive on the scene they interpret it as an attempt by Don to harm her.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (7)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (7)

Brooke finally appeals to the egos of her beau and some of the local ruffians suggesting that they should really do something about Don. While in his tub—another drowning reference—the men come by, beat him, murder him and then set his place on fire. The dual purpose of fire here, destroying both the art and the man is an intentional reference to the famous quote: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.” (“Where one burns books, one will also finally burn people.”) (Heinrich Heine, Almansor, 1820/21). This outcome is a vivid statement about the nature of the moral panic surrounding pedophilia and sexual abuse.

Throughout the murder scene, the song Farther Along is sung.

Farther Along

Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all day long
While there are others living about us
Never molested though in the wrong

When death has come and taken our loved ones
It leaves our home so lonely and drear
Then do we wonder why others prosper
Living so wicked year after year

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all, by and by

Faithful ’til death, said our loving Master
A few more days to labor and wait
Toils of the road will then seem as nothing
As we sweep through the beautiful gates

Farther along we’ll know all about it
Farther along we’ll understand why
Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine
We’ll understand it all, by and by

After the funeral, Katrina packs and shares her concluding thoughts:

Things can happen like that, if you’re alone and don’t have any friends to look after you. You’ve got to be really careful. You’ve got to fit in. That’s just the way it is.

Welby Ings - Munted (2011) (8)

Welby Ings – Munted (2011) (8)

Welby Ings is an associate professor of graphic design at Auckland University of Technology, a storyteller and makes short films in his spare time. He is fascinated by how people think and has concluded that the act of creativity is really a form of “disobedient thinking”. He is a captivating public speaker and shares important lessons taken from his own upbringing. Munted won the 2012 Leeds International Film Festival Award in the short film category and was an official selection for several other festivals as well. His first film Boy (2005) was shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2006.

Six Weeks of Boyhood

“Six weeks of boyhood, six weeks of bliss,” is the parting sentiment in the short film No Bikini directed by Claudia Morgado Escanilla and based on a short story of the same name by Ivan Coyote. A reader made a comment about this film in a recent post so I decided it was time to do a quick review of this piece. The premise of the story is that a 7-year-old tomboy named Robin (Matreya Fedor), finding her bikini top too constricting, decides to pretend to be a boy and go topless in swim class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (1)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (1)

We are introduced to the instructor, who has a driving personality and is prominently displaying a swim medal throughout the film. As she inspects her new students, there is some tension as we wonder if Robin will pull off this ruse. Instead of being outed, she is sharply advised to “straighten up”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (2)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (2)

Apart from the usual trials and tribulations of swim class, Robin has a male rival, also hoping to win top honors in the class.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (3)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (3)

The conclusion is amusing as the mother reads the report stating how Robin—now proudly wearing the medal—should enroll in the advanced class with superlatives loaded with the conspicuous pronoun “he”.

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote - No Bikini (2007) (4)

Claudia Morgado Escanilla and Ivan Coyote – No Bikini (2007) (4)

To further accentuate the innocence of the girl, we are reminded that she did not actually lie to anyone. Everyone just made an assumption and she allowed them to believe it—also having the good fortune of an ambiguous name. The choice of casting Fedor is interesting. She is 7 years old instead of six as in Coyote’s story. I imagine the director had to find someone who would not be self-conscious about acting without a top and could not find a suitable six-year-old. As a result, the illusion of a gender neutral character is not particularly convincing.

Ivan E. Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. He is an award-winning author of eight collections of short stories, a novel, three CDs, four short films and is a renowned performer. Coyote’s first love is live storytelling and he is an audience favorite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer’s festivals around the world. Coyote began performing in 1992 and in 1996 co-founded Taste This, a four person performance troupe that combined live music, storytelling and performance poetry to create a genre-busting collaboration. Taste This toured North America extensively and in 1998 published Boys Like Her, considered a substantive contribution in the dialogue about gender identity and sexuality. Coyote is fascinated by the intersection of storytelling and music and works with a number of well-established Canadian musicians. He is interested in collaborations where the text and the score are equal players, not just storytelling with musical accompaniment. In 2001, he landed a gig teaching short fiction at Capilano University in North Vancouver and discovered that he loves teaching creative writing. It was while teaching seniors that Coyote recognized their true calling; he strongly believes in listening to the stories of our elders and encouraging them to write about their lives. He continues to tour extensively throughout North America and Europe, telling stories not only to festival audiences, but to high school students, social justice activists, adult literacy students and senior citizens. Coyote believes in the transformative power of storytelling, and that collecting and remembering oral history not only preserves a vital part of our humanity, but that a good story can help inspire us to invent a better future.

A Gaze, a Glimpse from a Girl on Horseback

A gaze on horseback

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (1)

Close-up (1)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (closeup)

Where a trailer would want to be an introduction or characterization or an appetizer to the movie, can a film still from a movie or trailer be a characterization of the movie? And, secondly, can it stand on itself as a picture, without having watched the movie? Or even can one recognize it was from a movie? Did you realize, at first glance that the picture above was from a movie? And furthermore, can a picture taken from a movie stand on its own merit and characterize the movie? Can a “snapshot” produced by one of the several video players become a kind of artistic photography?

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human (2015) (2)

The two stills come from the documentary Human (2015) by the French photographer, reporter, film director and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand. In 1991 Bertrand founded the Altitude Agency, the first press agency specializing in aerial photography. The film is composed repeatedly of aerial footage interspersed with first person stories told directly into the camera, and close-ups of other people during the telling of the story, giving the impression that they were listening. So this is a movie about humankind, with landscape scenes recorded at high speed to produce the effect of slowed down live action. That is the story and rhythm of a long and rather slow movie about humankind—its pains and joys: love, children, work, dreams and expectations, disappointments, death, the day to day mysteries of life. And about how we use the Earth, but also about—as in a line of poetry by Emily Brontë—“How beautiful the Earth is still”.

Maybe the slower landscape shot and aerial scene suddenly brought to my eyes a girl, gazing for a glimpse and then riding away. I saw her for the first time in the trailer. Maybe it was the briefness of the scene that made her gaze especially startling. I recommend both the trailer and, of course, the whole documentary (188 minutes long). And I wish to recommend these chosen film stills; first the gaze at first glance and, second, a logical end of the short scene. These pictures are not characteristic of the film in the sense that the film is not only about this girl. I do not even know her name, but she can stand for the title of the film. And I would like to add, she herself can stand for a kind of freedom—not merely a child riding her or his first bike, but on a horseback on the plains of her homeland. In this context, this behavior is probably quite usual for children, even girls. Nevertheless, in this brief passing by, there is a glimpse of freedom and a gaze of mutual understanding held in the eye of the everlasting beholder.

Returning to the questions asked in the beginning, it is by chance whether one first sees the full movie, a trailer or just a single image. In my case, it was the trailer with the sudden appearance of the girl on horseback and that gaze. In that instant it became a film still in my memory, long before the use of technology allowed me to express it. From now on, I can choose to look at every film still as a picture and every picture as a film still from a movie. However, it is the eye that judges the picture’s quality and decides whether it represents the tone of the movie. This way of watching is helpful when writing about movies where the focus is on a specific girl or girls—or about the “girl” archetype—here derived as a kind of subtopic, not from a typical coming-of-age movie, but from a beautiful movie about humankind in general.

Yann Arthus Bertrand - Human Official Poster (2015)

Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Human Official Poster (2015)

Human by Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Official Trailer on YouTube

Human (Extended version, Vol. 3) on YouTube