Reflections On My Father: A Repost

When I wrote one of my ‘Short Thoughts’ about my dad this week, it reminded me that I am now the same age that he was when he died. In 2014, I wrote a blog post about him, and the difficult relationship I had with him. Very few of you have seen it, so I am reposting it in full today.

His name was Arthur, and he was born in Bermondsey, South London, in 1920. As a young man, he joined the army, and was posted to Woolwich Barracks, home of the Royal Artillery. When he was still just in his teens, the Second World War broke out, and he went to the Kent coast, to operate anti-aircraft guns near Dover. After Japan entered the war in 1941, he volunteered for service in the far east, and was posted to India. Promoted to sergeant, and eventually to Regimental Sergeant Major, he enjoyed a relatively comfortable war. He lived in his own bungalow, and even had servants, who lived under the porch. He went big-game hunting, and played both cricket and football for army teams. He was in charge of Indian troops, and he came to have a great respect for them as soldiers.

During this time, my mother, like many young women during the war, was writing to soldiers overseas. He received one of her letters, and met up with her after the war. At the end of hostilities, he stayed on in India for some time. On the voyage home, he stopped in Durban, and developed a great fondness for the life in South Africa. Arriving back in England, he told how he wanted to join the police force there, and start a new life in the sun. My Mum was having none of it, and refused to consider such a wrench from her family. I don’t think he ever forgave her, but he stayed in London, and they married in 1947.

He found work as a maker of tea-chests and boxes. He was always good with tools, and the work was regular, and reasonably well-paid. He was popular with almost everyone, and had a wide circle of friends, as well as a large extended family. At weekends, they would all meet in local pubs, where he would sing on stage, often accompanied by my uncle. My first memories of him are of a man smelling of hair oil and tobacco, with jet black wavy hair, and an olive complexion.

I didn’t take after him, looking like my Mum’s side of the family. He was dark, and looked continental, easily passing as Jewish, or perhaps of some foreign extraction. There was talk of a Spanish connection way back in the family, but I never could confirm that. He was always smartly dressed, and as far as I was aware then, a good provider. But he wasn’t a settled man. He longed for something more, a better life somewhere.

From early on, I was a great disappointment to him. Somewhat spoilt by my Mum, I did not display the aptitude for sports that he would have liked. I didn’t seem to be able to learn to swim, no matter how hard he tried to teach me, and my abilities at football, or any sport, did not reach his standards. I didn’t ever run fast enough, or act tough enough, for his liking.

My white-blond curly hair and blue-green eyes marked me as one of my Mum’s family, not his. I didn’t realise this of course, and as a child, I thought he was amazing. I watched him work on his car, and studied how he drove it too. He dressed me in suits and ties, and I accompanied him on visits to relatives and friends. When he took us on our annual seaside holidays, he played for hours on the beach, constructing ‘cars’ from sand for me to sit in, or helping me build ambitious castles. Yet still, something inside me always sensed his overriding displeasure with me, and I wanted him to like me more.

As I got older, our relationship grew steadily worse. He often argued with Mum, and I only found out decades later, that she had discovered he was having various affairs with other women. I spent a lot of time in my room, reading books and comics, and writing on an old typewriter. In an effort to get me out of the house, he bought me a bike, and taught me how to ride it. As he did so, he hurt his back, slipping a disc. This was to cause him great pain, and necessitate operations later on. He never let me forget that he did that teaching me how to cycle.

By the time I reached my teens, he tried to get me interested in car mechanics, and various jobs around the house. When I showed little aptitude or interest in such things, he became angry, regularly declaring that I was ‘useless’ and that I always would be. There was some redemption when I did well at school, and he seemed genuinely proud of my exam results. I got the feeling that he resented my academic leanings, and comparative success, but he never let on, if he did.

He would get his own back, by making me help him do jobs and chores. Hard manual labour in the garden, or hours spent in a freezing garage, holding tools or torches as he worked on cars. At some stage, I would invariably do something wrong, or with insufficient enthusiasm, giving him the opportunity to once again exclaim that I was useless, and I might as well leave him to do it alone. One particular evening, he added the words ‘I never wanted kids anyway, you were a mistake I was tricked into.’ I let that go at the time, but it always returned in my thoughts.

By this time, he had changed jobs, and had spent many years working in the record industry. This gave him a boost in social status, and the chance to work away from home a great deal. On his return, he would present me with dozens of records, all the latest hits. But this was more about showing his ability to source this bounty, rather than the genuine desire to give me gifts. Once I was in my twenties, we hardly spoke at all. He was always out, often staying away overnight, and his relationship with Mum had deteriorated noticeably.

When I was nearly 24 years old, Mum told me that she had seen our house up for sale in the local estate agent. She thought it must be a mistake, and confronted him when he got home. He told her that he was moving in with a male colleague, and could no longer live with us. As his was the only name on the deeds of the house, he was entitled to sell it, and would give her half the proceeds. Mum asked me not to get involved. She was so shocked by it all, she didn’t even bother to fight him, and awaited her fate once he left.

Despite the disruption to our life at the time, I was actually pleased to see the back of him. As we suspected, the ‘male colleague’ turned out to be female, and he had rather boringly just left my Mum for another woman, without having the courage to tell her the truth.

A few weeks later, he was returning to collect some things, and his car broke down. He phoned the house, and Mum asked me to collect him from Sidcup, where he had left his car. I didn’t speak to him as I drove him home, and he got a taxi back to his car later, when I was out. I never saw him again, and never spoke to him again, after that day.

In 1989, I received a call from his cousin. He told me that my father was dying in a hospital in Northampton. He had Motor Neurone Disease, and was not expected to last the week. ‘You ought to go and see him’, the cousin suggested. ‘Did he ask me to come?’, I replied. ‘Not as such, but I am sure that he would want to see you’, he insisted.

‘I don’t think so Roy’, was my reply.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Another film I came to late, and one that has inspired sequels since.

 

Sometimesyou have to sit back and let a film wash over you, and this is one of those times. Extremely violent, and rather pointless, this is a relentless revenge-thriller about a retired hit man who returns to take on his former employers and colleagues.

Following the death of his wife from a terminal illness, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is bereft and depressed. He has a luxurious house and a fantastic classic car, but he is lonely and sad. Then one evening a parcel arrives, and it is a puppy, sent by his wife as her last wish. Something for him to love, and to give him a reason to carry on.

One day when he is filling up his car with petrol, a group of Russian gangsters appear, and ask to buy his beloved Mustang. He refuses to sell, and drives off. But that night they break into his home, beat him up badly, and kill the little puppy. Unknown to them, he is a retired hit man with a terrifying reputation. One of them is the son of the local Russian mafia kingpin, and when his father discovers he has upset the legendary John Wick, he knows bad things are going to happen.

And they do. Lots of them.

I lost count of how many people got killed, and how many times Wick was injured. He goes on a rampage, assisted by his old hit man friend, played by Willem Dafoe. On the way he has to deal with contract killers, and the legions of russian gangsters employed by the big boss. Ultimately, he tracks down the repulsive son (Alfie Allen) and finishes the job.

Reeves is ideal in the role of the effcient and emotionless killer, and the rest of the cast do their jobs well-enough. The pace of the film rarely slows, and the action sequences are beautifully choreographed, even when it seems unlikely that Wick could possibly be THAT good!

I actually enjoyed it, maybe because I am still ill.

This is my first post using the Block Editor. I clicked on the + sign, chose Classic, and carried on typing ignoring everything that popped up. If it looks any different, that’s why.

Just Been Watching… (120)

Nightcrawler (2014)

Six years after its release, I finally got to see this American drama starring Jake Gyllenhall. And I am glad I did.

Set in Los Angeles, the film reeks of sleaze, and feels like a modern ‘noir’ in every way possible. Filmed mostly at night, as you would expect from the title, it is about the cutthroat world of sensational TV news, and how the different News channels compete to buy the most disturbing and graphic film clips from the teams of cameramen who roam the streets listening to police scanner radios. The clips are then shown on the morning news, in the hope of grabbing the biggest slice of the early ratings.

We start by seeing that Louis Bloom (Gyllenhall) is little more than a petty criminal. He drives a nondescript car, and makes a living stealing things like wire fencing and manhole covers, which he then sells to scrap dealers for cash. He lives in a seedy apartment, and is very much a loner. So the scene is set for what follows.

On his way home one night, Lou happens across a serious car accident, with a woman trapped in a burning car. A news crew arrives, but they do not help the woman. Instead, they film the drama as police arrive to render aid. An interested Lou asks the camerman, Joe Loder, (the reliable Bill Paxton) for a job, but is laughed at. Undaunted, he steals an expensive cycle the next day, and exchanges it for a video camera and police scanner in a pawn shop. That night, he sets out with the intention of being a news cameraman, learning the hard way that he has to get in first, to get the best shots.

Lou is not a likeable man. He is obsessive, intense, driven, and quite scary too. Gyllenhall captures him perfectly, with that sense of something smouldering away under the surface that might explode into violence at any time. He is calculating, cunning, and as I mentioned above, sleazy.

After bending the rules to get a couple of scoops, he comes to the attention of harassed News Team manager Nina, at a second rate, struggling TV station. (The perfect casting of Rene Russo, on top form) She is clinging on to her job, just, and needs gory news reports to show management that she can deliver. Very soon, she has a relationship with Lou that is as worrying as it is successful. Lou hires an assistant, buys a professional camera, and gets a better car. He is on the up, and negotiating hard for the first-on-scene footage that only he can supply. He has more run-ins with Joe Loder, and deals with him in a very unconventional manner.

As the ratings war intensifies, Lou no longer bends rules, he breaks them. With the TV station now more or less totally dependent on him, he exceeds all boundaries of decency, and manages to even get involved in the events themselves. He is now creating news, as well as reporting on it. Nina is trapped in circle of being disgusted by him, yet addicted to the success their association can bring.

This is a film with no real winners or losers. Despite some car-chase sequences, and the occasional burst of action, it is a film about how low someone will go in search of success, and how they will drag the others down with them. Russo and Gyllenhall are just wonderful to watch on screen, and every supporting actor steps up in even the smallest role.

I thought it was excellent, as you can tell.

Here’s a trailer.

Just Been Watching…(104)

A Most Violent Year (2014)
***No spoilers***

I was late to this film, as usual. I watched it on Netflix, but it is widely available, including on DVD.

In my opinion, Oscar Isaac is one of the finest modern actors. He seems to me to have inherited the mantle of the younger Pacino and De Niro. Yet he doesn’t appear to be a ‘big league’ star, something that continues to surprise me. He takes the lead in this crime thriller, set in 1981, in New York. Perfectly cast as shady businessman, Abel Morales, who is not averse to bending the rules or going along with some corruption, in an effort to expand his oil delivery business.

After negotiating a deal to buy some riverside land containing an old oil depot, he must come up with a small fortune within a few days. It’s a gamble, but one that can make him very rich, by allowing him to dominate the oil delivery market in and around New York City. He is helped by his loyal and devoted wife, Anna, (Jessica Chastain) and his world-weary lawyer, Andrew. (Albert Brooks)

But things start badly. Someone is hijacking his trucks as they make deliveries in the city. Expensive oil is going missing, and Morales suspects his competitors are behind the thefts. He is also being hounded by an ambitious District Attorney (David Oyelowo) who is threatening him with charges of fraud, and tax evasion. Life is far from easy for Abel, and he has just moved into a new luxury house too.

Ably supported by his wife, Morales determines to find out what is going on. One by one, he investigates the dealings of his competitors, and has a lucky break when he is able to stop one of his trucks being hijacked. With less than three days to complete the biggest deal of his life, he throws everything into solving the problem of coming up with the money needed.

Despite not relying on set-piece action, this film manages to keep a tension and edginess throughout. Chastain doesn’t have too much to do as the wife, but when she is involved, she acts with her usual accomplished style. A remarkably restrained Albert Brooks impresses as the lawyer close to the edge of legality, and smaller parts are all very convincing, from a believable cast.

But yet again, this is Isaac’s film. He dominates it from start to finish, and I found myself watching his every expression and nuance throughout. This is an intelligent film, with a great script, and one that never relies on flashy scenes or shoot-outs to drive the plot.

This is what good crime thrillers should be like.

Just Been Watching…(90)

Hyena (2014)

Cold weather has kept me in, so I am watching some more films lately.

This modern British film is a gritty look at police corruption, and pulls no punches. It contains drug use, occasional graphic violence, people trafficking, and a huge amount of bad language.

The film-makers assembled a group of very British talent for the cast, including Peter Ferdinando, MyAnna Buring, Stephen Graham, and the always excellent Neil Maskell. The story revolves around the corrupt practices of a detective task force in London, headed by Michael Logan. (Ferdinando) They work hard, and play hard too. Heavy drinking, recreational drugs, and no hesitation in framing the criminals they arrest, while they also steal the drugs and money that are seized on their raids. We are not supposed to sympathise with any of the characters, that’s for sure.

The sudden appearance of Internal Affairs alerts Logan to the fact that he and his colleagues are under investigation. Meanwhile, they are attempting to do a deal with some vicious Albanian gangsters who are trying to take over territory in London. Fuelled by cocaine, Logan puts himself about all over the city, avoiding contact with his own boss, and the police investigators following closely behind. He counts on the loyalty of his small team, as well as his girlfriend, Lisa. (Buring) As all this is going on, he is surprised to be seconded to a new special group, formed to combat people trafficking for prostitution. Once working there, he is dismayed to find out that they are closely investigating the same Albanians he is protecting.

Life begins to unravel for Michael, as he is forced to work with a former colleague who is now heading this new group. Pressure from above leads him to betray his Albanian associates, and his absence from his regular team encourages the members of that to take chances when he is not around. Hoping to get real evidence, he rescues a young Albanian woman who has been trafficked, and hides her at his girlfriend’s house. But he is unaware of the antics of his three friends, and also blind to the fact that the secondment to the new team is a set up by the equally corrupt Internal Affairs officers. It is soon apparent that nothing is going to end well for anyone concerned.

Despite everything I mentioned, I really liked this film. It is not just ‘British’, it is very ‘English’. And more than that, very ‘London’. Authentic locations (that I know very well) add to the appeal for me, and the rise of Eastern European gangsters over here is reflected well. Performances are totally convincing, from a very experienced cast of actors that know how it works in the real world. And seem to be living in just that, throughout the film. Other than the distraught young Albanian woman, there is nobody to root for, or to side with. They all get what they deserve, and reap what they have sown.
That was satisfying indeed.

This is a British crime thriller very much in the ‘old school’, and all the better for that.

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Film Review: The Duke OF Burgundy (2014)

***No spoilers***

This is a review of a film that has stayed in my brain ever since I watched it a couple of years ago. It is a striking film, but has a theme that will not appeal to everyone, and may be of more interest to people generally referred to as ‘film buffs’. I am posting this review to make the real film fans out there aware of it, as they may not have heard of this British film, with an international cast. Despite using foreign actors, there are no subtitles, and the film is in English. I was drawn to watch it because of the star, Sidse Babett Knudsen. This Danish actress is outstanding, and was the lead in the gripping Danish TV series, ‘Borgen’. The film received great critical acclaim, and won two awards.

Cynthia (Knudsen) is a distinguished lepidopterist. An expert on butterflies and moths (including the Duke of Burgundy butterfly of the title) she gives lectures on the subject, and also has a devoted student, Evelyn, (Italian actress Chiara D’Anna) who lives in her house, and also takes on the jobs of personal maid and housekeeper. It soon becomes apparent that the pair have an intimate lesbian relationship, but one that is far from normal. Evelyn seeks domination and humiliation from her older lover, and this is supplied in carefully crafted scenarios that are conceived by the young student.

Although she plays along, Cynthia is far from happy with her role, and would sooner have a loving and conventional relationship with the adoring younger girl. As Evelyn’s demands become more and more obscure and bizarre, Cynthia feels that their love affair is doomed to fail, unless she can persuade the girl to put it all aside.

As I said, not a film for everyone, and certainly not for family viewing. There are sexual references, and some love scenes, but they are never distasteful or unpleasant. As a film, it is simply stunning. Superb visuals, a gripping soundtrack, and a spellbinding atmosphere. Then there is Knudsen, one of the finest actresses of her generation, and always totally compelling to watch. If you love cinema, then you will surely love this unusual and unique film.

Just been watching…(63)

Testament of Youth (2014)

***This is a true story, set around historical events. So spoilers apply***

Fortunately, the BBC is not letting us forget that we are still remembering The Great War of 1914-1918. One hundred years ago, men were dying all over Europe, in what later became known as WW1. This film was shown at the weekend, and is based on the book of the same name, by British writer Vera Brittain. I have read the book, and also watched the outstanding TV serialisation in 1979. This modern film stays true to both.

Very much a film of two halves, we start off with the rather idyllic lifestyle enjoyed by the English upper classes in the first decade of the 20th century. Polite company, girls looking for husbands, young men looking for suitable wives. Tea on the lawn, swimming in the lake, and walks on the beach. The men are at expensive private schools, and all have solid futures at university, and beyond. Young Vera is a rebel. She wants to go to Oxford University. Few women gained such places back then, and her father fears that it will make her unattractive to any prospective husband. But she is strong and determined, and gains her place at an all-girl college. Meanwhile, she spends the last holiday with her brother, and his two best friends. One of them is besotted with her, and they fall in love and become engaged to marry.

But just as she leaves for Oxford, war breaks out in Europe.

Vera’s fiance promises not to go, but soon joins up. Her brother follows shortly after. The third friend is initially turned down for medical reasons, but as casualties mount, he too joins as an officer. Studying at Oxford, Vera feels useless, and wants to do something for the war effort. She abandons her degree, and becomes a volunteer nurse. After working in England for some time, and seeing the effect of war on the patients she is treating, she asks for transfer to France, to help with the wounded close to the front line, and to be nearer her brother, who is leading his men in the trenches now.

This is a film about tragedy, and how we cope with it. Newspapers in the film are little more than page after page listing the names of men killed in action. Vera’s mother is unable to cope with wartime rationing, and the fact that her household staff have left. Her comfortable life has been shattered, and it affects her mentally. Vera’s sombre father has seen his son off to the war, and is constantly worried about him. As the war goes on, the reality hits home. Vera’s fiance is reported killed, on the very day he should be home on leave to marry her. She gets the news while wearing her wedding dress.
Working in a field hospital in France, Vera is shocked to see her own brother brought in, badly wounded, and left for dead. She nurses him back to health, only to have to watch him leave to go back to the war once again. When they get the news that he has been killed in action later, it almost breaks his distraught father.

This is a noble film. It is not a war film, though there are some short action scenes, mostly in flashback. Much of the action takes place in either comfortable upper-class homes, or amid the horrors of battlefield hospitals, short on resources, and understaffed. I think it is a fine adaptation of the book, with the period feel handled flawlessly, and the viewer completely invested in the emotions and strengths of the characters. Above all, it is the casting that exudes quality. Not a single bad choice, with every actor and actress just right for the role. And what talent is on display too.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander may seem a strange choice to play the rebellious Vera. But she is just perfect, and her accent is exactly right too. This young woman really knows how to act, and I have never seen her give a poor performance. Vera’s parents are played by Dominic West, and the wonderful Emily Watson, and her female tutor at Oxford gives Miranda Richardson the chance to shine once again, this time in a smaller role. The three men in Vera’s life are all just right too. Her brother is played solidly by Taron Egerton, and her fiance by Kit Harington. Their friend Victor, who has always secretly loved Vera, is a fine turn from Colin Morgan, showing real acting quality.

The British film industry has a long history of delivering compelling historical and period dramas. They tend to do these very well indeed, and this is no exception.

Just Been Watching…(55)

Calvary (2014)

***No real spoilers***

This is an Irish film, written and directed by Stephen McDonagh. It is filmed on location in a small town on the coast of County Sligo, and also in Dublin. With a couple of exceptions, the cast is made up of Irish actors familiar to film and TV viewers in Britain and Ireland, as well as some internationally-known stars like Brendan Gleeson, who has the lead role of a priest, Father James. This priest is unusual though. He was married and has a daughter, coming late to the priesthood after the death of his wife. He has experience of life outside of the Catholic Church, and that shows in his style and demeanour.

It starts in the confessional, where a male voice is heard telling Father James a story about his childhood. How he was repeatedly sexually abused and raped by priests, from the age of seven. He makes no confession, and does not seek absolution. Instead, he informs James that he is going to kill him, to pay back the church for the sins committed on him as a child. He even gives a time and place, Sunday week, on the local beach. We don’t see the face of this man, but we are aware that the priest knows who he is, as he recognises his voice.

That sets the scene nicely. We now know that Father James has eight days to live, and that he knows the name of his assassin. After consulting his bishop, the priest decides that he will not inform the police, despite the threat not meeting the laws of the confessional. As each day appears on the screen, we follow Father James about his everyday business, visiting his parishioners, and holding church services. The locals are a disparate bunch indeed. An adulterous housewife, a cynical local doctor, a disillusioned bar-owner, a gay policeman, and an annoying male prostitute. He also has to deal with an aggressive African mechanic, and a cantankerous old American writer, who wants to commit suicide. (A lovely cameo from M. Emmet Walsh, who was around 80 at the time, and looks it)

This is no longer the old Ireland, where priests could do no wrong, and expected deference from the community. There is much mention of the sex scandals that have rocked the church in recent years. Father James is often openly mocked, and many of the inhabitants claim to no longer have any religious beliefs. His daughter arrives for a visit, from her home in London. She has recently split from a long-term lover, and has tried to kill herself, by cutting her wrists. The two take time to bond once again, and examine the changes in their relationship over the years. As Father James struggles with his family and community responsibilities, the days leading to the fateful Sunday are counted down on screen.

This film is unusual and highly intelligent. It could have taken so many familiar paths, but chose none of them. It questions religion, deals with the collapse of the European economy in 2008, and the changes in society in Ireland that have followed that country’s social and financial elevation in recent years. When Father James asks the adulterous woman what she really wants to do with her life, she answers “Nothing. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin”. She quotes scripture back at the priest, to show him what she feels to be the pointlessness of life. Visiting a serial killer in prison, a local man who has killed and cannibalised young girls, he is told “If God made me, then he knew what I would become”. All around him, Father James’ life is unravelling, and Sunday is getting closer.

This really is a top-notch film. Brendan Gleeson, in one of his best roles by far, feels as if he was born to play Father James. English actress Kelly Reilly is just right as his troubled daughter too. As well as Walsh who I mentioned above, there is a string of impressive supporting actors. Dylan Moran as a lonely rich man, Aiden Gillen plays the cynical doctor, and Gleeson’s son, Domhnall, is the young serial killer, Freddy. One of the bigger roles goes to Chris O’Dowd, playing the town butcher, Jack. He may be known to you from parts in ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Loving Vincent’, and the recent ‘Molly’s Game’. The scenery of Ireland plays its part too, with the rugged coast and rural setting adding to the overall atmosphere. Despite moments of laugh out loud comedy, and a witty and often sparkling script, this is not an easy film, with its dark undercurrents never far from the surface.
But I urge you to try to see it.

Here’s the trailer.

Just been watching…(48)

Leviathan (2014)

Original Russian language, English subtitles.
Not to be confused with other films of the same name.

***No spoilers***

Thanks to the excellent programming decisions of BBC 4, I was able to watch this film on TV, free of charge. Winner of Best Film at the London Film Festival, it had been on my list to watch for some time.
As I have mentioned previously, being unfamiliar with the actors makes such films all the more enjoyable, as I do not associate them with any other roles.

Set in the bleak northern regions of modern-day Russia, close to Murmansk, we are introduced to mechanic Kolya, his second wife Lilya, and his troublesome teenage son, Roma. They live close to the sea in a house Kolya has built, on land owned by his family for generations. Family life is not ideal. Roma doesn’t like his inoffensive stepmother, and Lilya is worn down by everyday life looking after her husband and his son, as well as working hard in the nearby fish-processing plant. Kolya is pestered by corrupt policemen who want him to work on their cars for free, and also troubled by a long-running court case. He drinks too much vodka, and is obsessed with his self-built house. To help him, his old army friend Dima is arriving from Moscow. He has now trained as a lawyer, and is sure that he can help with the impending court appearance.

The local mayor, Vadim, has ordered the compulsory purchase of Kolya’s house and land. On paper, he is pretending that this is necessary to build a new phone mast there, something needed by the town. But behind the scenes, the corrupt mayor is planning to offer the land to a hotel company, to build a luxury coastal resort complex there. By stating it is to be used for the phone mast, Kolya would only be entitled to basic compensation, nowhere near the true value of the house and land.

When Dima arrives, he tells them he has a plan. Smart and good-looking, with his sharp Moscow ways, Lilya is immediately attracted to him, and Roma likes him too. But when Dima tries to confront all the local officials with his detailed objections, his efforts are stalled by bureaucracy at every turn. Kolya becomes increasingly outraged by his treatment, and Vadim determines to rid himself of the troublesome Moscow lawyer.

This film is a visual treat. The unfamiliar harsh landscapes of the north coast of Russia play their part in the story, as well as making it good to look at. The daily grind of modern-day life in Russia is shown perfectly too, with the lot of the average workers basically unchanged since the fall of the old Soviet Union, and their problems now added to by the corruption that exists in every part of public life. From traffic cops taking bribes to supplement their low pay, to resurgent Orthodox priests exploiting their influence over the local people, and the mayor and his cronies acting little better than gangsters.

In the midst of all this, Kolya’s frustrations reach boiling point, and Dima tries to do deals with the mayor by making veiled threats about exposing corruption. Lilya is disenchanted with her new life as Kolya’s wife, and the friends of the family have their own vested interests to look out for. The film edges towards a dramatic climax, and had me gripped from the start. A fascinating insight into life in remote regions of Russia, with completely convincing characters. Highly recommended.

Here’s an official trailer.

Significant Songs (148)

Lay Me Down

During my recent Musical A-Z challenge, this track featured in my selections for the letter ‘L’.
But I thought then that it deserved showcasing on its own, so here it is. Sam Smith is an outstanding young British singer/songwriter, and produced a top selling album in 2014 that received numerous awards.

His vocal range is amazing, and his personal lyrics resonate with anyone who bothers to listen to them properly. Like many others, I am eagerly awaiting his second album which is released next month, hoping it delivers the same quality of timeless songs. Meanwhile, here is my current favourite, with no apologies for giving it a second outing. Superb.