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In the Earth

Back in the Woods
Bad movie. It needed a genius as Stanley Kubrick to make up something out of director Ben Wheatley's silly and preposterous script.

Six actors, pompous-premonitory music, a pandemic, scared people, masks, gel, scientists in the woods doing research about the wart on the sixth tree to the left, hoping that the fungus that releases a celestial mist will give them the secret of the universe, an ancient book of witchcraft, local folklore about evil beings, little flowers that end up being benevolent...

You've seen all this 321 times before. An eternity of 107 minutes that tells you nothing worthwhile in the end. Nothing. You just have to get under the shower, take a bath and remove the drops of blood that will surely fall on you.

Wheatley may travel to Los Angeles to make ugly sci-fi/horror Los Angeles movies.

Terra di mezzo

Magnificent Opera Prima
Some people are born to be filmmakers, fewer to be good filmmakers, and a handful to be masters of cinema. At the end of Matteo Garrone's first feature «Terra di mezzo» I immediately ranked him among the third. I already knew about his talent since 2008 for «Gomorra», but I followed him and watched his old and new movies, and then in 2018 with the impressive «Dogma» there was no doubt.

From the beginning he showed maturity and style that made him ipso facto an "auteur". Nanni Moretti awarded his first short «Silhouette», Garrone made «Self Service» with the prize money, and both shorts became parts one and three of this film about the migrant working class in Europe, in the lowest paid and most unworthy jobs.

Perhaps the Bulgarian clairvoyant Baba Vanga foresaw the invasion of the northern hemisphere by people from the south (many of whom are, in fact, Muslims), which would bring about the fall of Europe. And she does not seem clueless. Those exploited peoples, whose original inhabitants were decimated, whose lands and resources were usurped, whose cultures were despised in the elaboration of an ethical code to live on Earth in harmony with nature, today perhaps --without realizing it-they are undermining the lands of the North and some kind of shock will come to pass, along with wars, natural disasters and climate change.

In this "land in between" (apparently the Italian peninsula, bathed by the Mediterranean) converge the young Nigerian prostitutes of the first segment «Silhouette», the Albanian mason boys of the second segment «Euglen & Gertian», and the old Egyptian who attends a gas station in «Self Service». The three segments recount a day in the life of these people. Garrone threaded fictional elements around the protagonists and made the prostitutes, the bricklayers and the gas station attendant play themselves. It is a proposal that, if not new, is magnificently achieved, so that you feel that you are watching three portraits of the life of the migrant, but at the same time you follow the central characters in the same way as watching a drama, since the film's script is structured as such.

The prostitutes are the most jovial and their case is not deepened more perhaps because we all know that prostitution is immemorial as time. The beautiful Afro-descendant women struggle with their clients, laugh, haggle, argue, fight, insult, but the morbid side of their profession is not shown in the tale, which is intrinsically violent. Beautiful feminine voices chant and accompany the working day of these women who fled from the misery of colonized Africa, only to fall into a not very encouraging panorama.

The middle segment is the softest, with a group of young males who assume their migrant drama with youthful spirit, perhaps with greater hopes and, as men, taking advantage of the undeserved privileges that society gives us simply by putting an M on each time we are asked what our sex is. However, it shows us the contractors, most in frank ignorance of the condition of their "workers", some kind, others completely clueless.

Finally, the segment of the old Egyptian Ahmed (called Amedeo in the "land in between") is the most moving: one, because the character is very charismatic; two, because he confronts the abuse of clients with a certain wisdom of an older adult; and three, because Garrone relies on fragments of some black and white footage of which no information is given, in which the younger Ahmed recounts his life.

In the end, «Terra di mezzo» flows like life, and while Ahmed, at the end of his night shift, arrives at dawn in his humble room and prepares to sleep, the African prostitutes and the Albanian masons without work permits take their arms on the highway, waiting to be "picked up" to earn their livelihood.


The Terror of the Devil Drones
The production coming out of Austria is frequently amazing. Of course, we had Romy Schneider and the bland «Sissi» trilogy, but we also have had the amazing cinema of Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, the documentaries of Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Michael Glawogger and Hubert Sauper (respectively, «Our Daily Bread», «Megacities», and «Darwin's Nightmare»), the work of Peter Kubelka, a great exponent of experimental cinema and the horror film "Michael", that has nothing to do with monsters or apparitions, but with child abductions and pedophilia. Seidl is also a producer of other filmmakers, including Peter Brunner and his wife Veronika Franz.

Brunner's "Lucifer" is the story of Maria, a mother who is not quite right in the head, and her son Johannes, an adult with the mind of a child. The two live isolated in the Alps, given over to their rituals and escapades from reality, but a ruthless company has started a violent campaign to evict them from their property and build a tourist funicular.

One thing is what I tell you. Another is execution. On the one hand, the cinematography and soundtrack are first rate. Maria and Johannes really live in a paradise of splendor, that cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg delights in capturing, while Manuel Grandpierre accurately mixes the sounds of an eagle, the creak of wood, fire, a swarm, and howl, the night silence, voices, and music into an aural symphony. Then, there is Michael Fissneider's wondrous art direction, reflecting the state of mind of the protagonists, an accumulation of debris, tangled mazes, and mutilated Catholic icons, in a house that was once large and beautiful. On the other hand, drones have never been objects of terror like in this film, in which they harass Johaness, for whom this device is the Devil.

But none of these traits compares to the performances of the central cast. In the opening credits, a card announces that the film is based on a true story. But it is impossible for anyone to make such a precise description of the things that happen in private between mother and son, because Maria is in no condition to keep a diary, much less her son, who can hardly speak. Although it is possible that some of the action described could have happened to a mother and her son (supposedly an exorcism, or violent acts of eviction, as the film reminded me of similar movies such as "Daughter of the Lagoon", "Altiplano" and "Bacurau"), what is really a true story is the contribution that Susanne Jensen made to the character of the mother. Today Susanne is an Evangelical pastor, artist, and author, but in her childhood, her father raped her for ten years, leaving her sterile; and all the evocations that Maria makes of her alcoholism, of her torture and rituals, are real memories that nourish her performance. And Franz Rogowski as Johannes shines on his own merit. Both received the awards for best actress and actor at the Sitges festival, while Brunner won the best director award at the Locarno festival.

Like some other films I have recently reviewed, «Luzifer» runs for 103 minutes and it's not that it could, but that it should! Have lasted less. It is a film of excellent execution and acting that takes special care in the description of each ritual, because mother and son adhere to non-violence and perform religious rites to God, the Devil, and the dead father, so that they can be saved from the harassment of the drones, but nothing, nothing releases them as the aggression grows in tension and intention. So, while you want it to end, you cannot keep your face away from the frame.

If you have the will to go through it, I totally recommend them. It may be long, but I cannot give it less than a 10.

Ganze Tage zusammen

Epilepsy Cure
I do not like this movie, but I do recognize that behind it there is a filmmaker with an approach to cinema worthy of respect. This is not a slow film at all, make no mistake. It is not even observational: it is an audiovisual experiment that refuses to give us access to the little drama it narrates... if we can even speak of narration or drama. Although I liked the images, and I sensed something original and different in the director's discourse, I hardly knew what was going on, so I looked for information when the short film ended.

I never imagined that the film is about a young woman with epilepsy who has been cured and is preparing for a new life. It would be necessary to know something about medicine, or about the tests that are applied to the adolescent to understand the drama. However, apart from this lack of exposition, I liked the girl, the children, games, and practices around her.

What I find annoying and sometimes unbearable is director Luise Donschen's reluctance to open up her world to us, her decision to shut it to the viewer's appreciation, her strategy of making things happen out of the frame (for example, the swimming pool scene, or the projection that the children of the institution watch and smiled at), to the point of creating a distance that did not induce me to meditate on what I had seen, because I did not know what I was seeing.

I ended up meditating on the film, on Donschen, and in the end for me the movie turned out to be a narcissistic exercise. I don't think I would be interested in seeing a Luise Donschen film again. And I don't know if anyone will want to invest in another psycho-mental trip like this one. But for one viewing, it was worth the time invested.

Napola - Elite für den Führer

Routine Melodrama
Friedrich Weimer (Max Riemelt) is a young Aryan with potential as a boxer, the son of a working-class, anti-Nazi German family. He receives an invitation to pass the admission tests in an elite Nazi school or "napola", which offers him the opportunity to train as a hopeful boxer and to have access to university studies. Friedrich ignores his father's refuses, goes to the school, passes the tests and enters the napola, where he is subjected to harsh physical, ethical and ideological training. Despite this premise that is so attractive and rarely addressed by German cinema, there is no surprise in this film, no tension or expectation, no mystery and much less poetry.

One senses what is going to happen, at least emotionally, and suspects that everything will turn into a tragic mess, but it gives the viewer little to think, deduce or learn. Angelo Badalamenti's syrupy music takes the film in unwelcome melodramatic directions, as the movie refuses to explore the motivations of its characters (especially those of the boxing teacher who helps Friedrich enter the napola) or develop the boy's character with more depth.

With its "zero degree" style, «Napola» could have been made in Hollywood without being very different from a film with Tom Cruise or Rob Lowe in their younger years. And that's why I think the applause of many viewers came from, who feel secure with a story they have seen many times, nothing to alter their notions of status quo, and all the ingredients to weep with the mishaps suffered by Friedrich and his rebellious friend Albrecht (Tom Schilling). For me, however, there are no inspired moments, just routine sequences, and several bad or tearful segments, performed by a cast of young and old actors who try but are often betrayed by the trite script. A pity.

Illusions perdues

Qualité 21
The French cinema "de qualité" was heavily attacked by "nouvelle vague" critics back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. While many of the masters of the preceding decades were no longer giving the best of themselves (with the usual exceptions, such as Renoir or Bresson), the reason for the ridicule was the urgency that the critics (Godard, Truffaut, Rivette et al) had to make their own movies and with their writings they tried to "overthrow" the classics, who were too old to engage in diatribes and humiliations.

The worst of the case is that today we can take works by Clair, Duvivier, Carné or Clouzot and discover magnificent, beautiful, and lustrous films that those angry critics discredited. That cinema "de qualité" accompanies French cinema since cinema is cinema, it is not always of "quality", but there are outstanding works. What is ironic, furthermore and to the point, is that the new French cinema, despite the awards and praise given by festivals and the new critics, alienated the public from the cinemas en masse, Panama included, which had the Teatro Presidente, an exclusive theater for brand new European cinema.

And even more ironic, it is the return to the vein of "quality" cinema. In this category we can add «Illusions perdues», a film based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac that, in the last edition of the César award (supreme prize of the French film industry), it won five distinctions, including best film and screenplay based on another media (adaptation).

Everything is beautiful in the film, including the cast, everything is magnificent, from listening to Gérard Depardieu's hoarse, spirited, and passionate voice as the literary editor who cannot read or write, to Christophe Beaucarne's beautiful images (awarded the César). The weight of the film falls on a cast of young actors, possible big names of the future, who perform with equal panache and skill among veterans.

The anecdote of the film (and the novel) does not propose anything that has not been told before. What makes it very interesting is the social, media, labor, political, economic contexts - in a word, cultural - and their parallel with the present: Lucien de Rubempré is a young man from Angoulême, a country boy with immense poetic talent, to whom society denies him even the option of using his mother's last name, Rubempré, as "nome de plume", which would give him access to an estate, a place at the court and a noble title.

Lucien de Rubempré (Benjamin Voisin, who was 24-year-old actor when playing the role, winner of the César for Best New Actor) not only falls into the corrupt circles of Paris, with their vices and bad habits, he not only exercises vile and caustic journalism , but he literarily does not create anything beyond his book of poetry, written when he was 20 years old. In Paris he comes into direct contact with the city (at a time when the Bourbons were restored to the throne, betraying the ideals of the 1789 Revolution) and falls in love with Coralie, a young and beautiful theater woman, despised as an Andalusian and an actress. The film describes, with the aesthetic rigor that characterizes French cinema and with a current tone, the Parisian world at the beginning of the 19th century, that of the press, critics, publishers, authors, playwrights and the most rogue courtiers that, in their "salons" and circles, scheme to stay in power and marginalize the triumphant bourgeoisie.

The young cast includes Vincent Lacoste (Cesar winner for Best Supporting Actor) as another country boy, hashish smoker and unethical journalist; Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan as a talented novelist whom Lucien is able to destroy with one of his cruel and malicious reviews, who ends up being his only friend (and apparently his secret admirer) and Salomé Dewaels as Coralie, the young actress who adores Lucien and is reciprocated.

Lasting two and a half hours, «Illusions perdues» is a model of academic and prestige cinema for exportation, which does not skimp on details, evocations, reconstructions and becomes one more example of how European cinema represents itself better than Hollywood's attempts , tinged with a certain vulgarity, such as «Desirée», with a ridiculous Marlon Brando nasally applying "the Method" to evoke the image of Napoléon Bonaparte; or as «Dangerous Liaisons», with John Malkovich trying to give us, by means of the usual tics (possibly also of the "Method"), an 18th-century Parisian gentleman.

King Car

Novo-Cinema Novo Meets Post-Nouvelle Vague
Imagine Elliot Silverstein's 1977 "The Car", scripted by a young Glauber Rocha and directed by Jean-Luc Godard in his prime. You will have the same political agenda, the same audiovisual madness, the same slogans turned into dialogue, the same Brechtian performances by non-professionals, and the same script with unconnected scenes, although this one does have a defined structure, and wham!, you have «Carro Rei», a science-fiction pop comedy, with its political primer not at all hidden.

This is definitely a movie for the times of Bolsonaro (or in reaction against his government), but it evokes again the aesthetics of the "cinema novo" and "nouvelle vague", two movements that were crucial in the 1960s for the evolution of film grammar and syntax all over the world (except, I am afraid, Los Angeles).

It tells the story of Uno, an adolescent mulatto (handsome Luciano Pedro Jr.), who can communicate with cars since childhood, and who refuses to follow his father's taxi business and begins to study the laws and methods of agro-industry. When the tycoons of power establish a law that prohibits the circulation of vehicles older than 15 years, the people go rebel.

There is also a crazy uncle who creates "Carro Rei", the monster of the movie (which talks, unlike "The Car", "Christine", or "Duel"!), and becomes a monster himself, played by Matheus Nachtergaele (in a Denis Lavant performance), an Argentine woman out of Cronenberg's "Crash" who has a sexual thing with cars, the followers of Carro Rei getting high with phosphorous drinks, a war between students of agriculture and followers of Carro Rei, and "ideological dialogues" in the Godard's and Rocha's tradition that made me laugh.

Go, see it, and bring your own Coke.

Il castello dei morti vivi

Too "morti" to be "vivi"
Christopher Lee appeared in almost 200 films in various countries, many of which only cashed in on his name for little return. Best of his forays outside the UK were in Italy, during the heyday of Italian horror cinema. There he made Mario Bava's «Hercules at the Center of the Earth» (1961) and «The Whip and the Body» (1963); Antonio Margheriti's «The Virgin of Nuremberg» (1963), and three other less successful films, such as two from 1964: Camillo Mastrocinque's «The Crypt and the Incubus», and the one at hand, Warren Kiefer's «The Castle of the Living Dead.»

The strange thing about this film is that, despite being a modest co-production with France, it has production values worthy of note: the leading man is French actor Philippe Leroy («Le trou»), and the crew includes top names: cinematographer Aldo Tonti («The Nights of Cabiria» and «Reflections in a Golden Eye», etc.), operator Luigi Kuveiller (Petri's photographer par excellence) editor Mario Serandrei («Rocco and His Brothers«, «The Battle of Algiers», etc.), maestro Angelo Francesco Lavagnino (who even composed «Othello» for Orson Welles), and conductor Carlo Savina, plus Michael Reeves («Witchfinder General«), who made contributions to the script and was second assistant director.

There is something flat here, and it is director Kiefer's story. Few horror movies have had effective embalmers as villains (unless it is the one in a terrifying drama by Matteo Garrone), no one is scared by "living dead" who are people and animals that the count and mad scientist Drago (Lee) suddenly immobilizes to capture a glimpse of life turning into death, with a substance obtained in the tropics... What need does the count have to go with his coachman Hans to see a performance by a 'commedia dell'arte' troupe in the square of a town of thieves, and invite the troupe to his castle to give them the fatal tropical blow...? Aren't there virgins of both sexes on his land for he and Hans to practice embalming "à la carte"? The fact that the story is set after the last Napoleonic war, around 1815, adds nothing either.

As in countless horror script, there is a "de rigueur" scene in which the villain reveals his intentions. Here it takes place in the laboratory, but I could not help but wonder why so much wear and tear. It is an overrated film, with scores too high for its achievements. Perhaps it evokes memories of better movies, as Giorgio Ferrone's classic «Mill of the Stone Women» (1960).

The best things about the film for me are probably the "little person" Antonio de Martino (Anthony Martin, in real life), as a very resourceful dwarf who always comes to the rescue, and Donald Sutherland in a double role, especially as a witch, who... in her speech, Yoda's precursor is, since for her to communicate it is possible, although reversed the word order is.

Everything else is simply correct, the tempo is fast, and the performances are simple and appropriate for the story, although Lee, perhaps to justify huge dark circles under his eyes, looks more distracted than other times. Same as me.

Play for Today: Penda's Fen
Episode 16, Season 4

Journey to Adulthood
I believe that British director Alan Clarke (1935-1990) died without us in Panama having any idea of his work and his reputation as a radical and iconoclastic man within theater, TV, and cinema production in the United Kingdom. When the first video clubs appeared, I remember renting and seeing «Rita, Sue, and Bob Too» (1987), which made a very good impression on me; but it is not until now that I see another of his films: «Penda's Fen», made for the BBC.

On the internet you can find information about Clarke, who was inclined to social realism and center of controversy and censorship for his television production. Clarke understood the medium as a very useful way to educate and alert the voting masses, instead of drugging them with "reality shows", talent hunts, violent (fast) movies, game shows or newscasts plagued with yellowish and red notes. In his work, he made films about everyday issues "that are not talked about", such as criminal acts of the English army in Northern Ireland, juvenile prisons, incest between fathers and daughters, multinational companies, racist "skinheads", military interrogations, teenage drug addiction, Margaret Thatcher's politics, football hooligans, with casts that included David Bowie, Tim Roth, and Gary Oldman.

«Penda's Fen» (after the last pagan king of the Anglo-Saxons, which led to the name of Pinfin, the town where the action takes place) is an admirable film in every sense, aural, visual, dramaturgical and technical, in in which the writer David Rudkin combined dreamlike, mythical, and religious lines to tell the story of Stephen Franklin (Banks), the fanatical, manichean, and puritan son of a vicar, who makes a difficult transition to adulthood at the end of high school. In this stage of his life and education, he rebels against the militia, discovers his ambisexuality, studies the music of Sir Edward Elgar, has encounters with the country's pagan past (through the name Pinfin and King Penda himself), with the ghost of Master Elgar, with materializations of opposites, virtue and desire, by means of an angel and a devil. In the end, Stephen is so enlightened in his search for identity (personal and national), but at the same time so exhausted by his religious, erotic and ideological conflicts, that he is forced to take a qualitative leap in which fantasy plays a central role to reach the stage of a young adult.

I warn that this film is not at all for the mentally lazy, nor for the "millennials" reluctant to illustration, nor for its declared opponents, the fans of football, «Star Wars», Tarantino, Netflix, Disney, TV series and Marvel heroes. Neither for the militants of the neo-left nor for the old and stale left-wing faction, nor for those obsessed with their bodies and sexual identity. There is something interesting here for almost all of them, but I don't know if they will have the patience or the openness to listen to philosophical dialogues in pristine British English, amidst the apparitions of the angel, the devil, Penda, Elgar and Stephen's erotic fantasies and dreams of weird rites. Shot in 16mm, the film was restored by the British Film Institute.

Le baron fantôme

Beautiful movie
Enchanting little film, with splendid monochromatic visuals, sets and locations, with refined art direction by Jacques Krauss. The fable has a touch of the Brontë sisters in its details, about a young woman who is in love with a woodsman since childhood. Both are servants and subjected to the romances of the rural bourgeoisie and the games of power between the church, the military, and a nobility in decay. The film plays with the viewer, especially in the last minutes, between tragedy and comedy, to lead us to a happy conclusion, but by the time the story becomes that frivolous you can easily take it, while it rapidly closes the different subplots. Jean Cocteau wrote the dialogue and played the phantom baron in his brief, funny appearances. Recommended, it deserves restoration.

El tesoro de Morgan

"...makes quite a dismal tale" (Johnny Mercer)
Not that Zacarías Gómez Urquiza was a great director, but he was a good artisan when the sun was in a favorable position in his birth chart or so it seems... but it is hard to believe that this is the same person who directed "El derecho de nacer", or who was the assistant director in Mexican classics as Emilio Fernández's "Bugambilia" and "Enamorada", and Alejandro Galindo's "Una familia de tantas". This is one of several movies he made in coproduction with Colombia in the last years of his career, and not a good one. Shot in Panama in the early 1970s it combines crime with music and comedy skits that are hardly funny. The best of it all is Lorena Velázquez as the villain, but you better try to find her as the Queen of the Vampires in that bad movie with Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata, that makes you laugh when you are not supposed to. This one is not capable of even that...

El Príncipe

Is There a Stallion in the House?
Pedestrian adaptation of the only novel written by Mario Cruz, a little-known work from the 1970s (which I don't know, so I cannot talk about it). The result is a melodrama of sex between inmates, with clichéd situations and lots of nudity, sodomy and erections, and with allusions to the days of Salvador Allende, just because: you just change the bell-bottoms and it can be anytime, anywhere.

The worst is the ill-advised choice of Alfredo Castro as The Stallion, who changes partners at his whim and seduces the young inmate that has just arrived in his cell. Castro is a good actor... but a "stallion"...? It would have been more convincing if the character's name was " Old Goat ". Gastón Pauls would have seem a better choice for the role.

P. S. The film includes the last film performance by the beautiful Lucas Balmaceda as El Rucio, before becoming Lux Pascal, equally pretty as a girl. But Lucas was very handsome... I don't understand those "transformations".

High Life

A Long Day's Journey to So Little
IBy pure chance I saw Argentinian director Ana Katz's film «El perro que no calla» an hour after this one. Both were made by women. I immediately wrote two sentences about the fascination Ana's film caused me, a beautiful audiovisual poem, simple and free of repressive dramaturgical traps. However, in retrospect, I feel deceived for investing 115 minutes of my life in «High Life», another gruesome drama of blood and vexation by the French filmmaker Claire Denis. It is an intense science-fiction drama that will probably have little existential, emotional, or spiritual repercussion on the viewer. And not because such cathartic derivation is an indispensable criterion to evaluate a work of art. In my case, I ask for it in compensation for the 115 minutes I gave her in exchange for so little, seasoned with Cartesian nonsense.

A group of males and females is given the option of avoiding death sentences, or getting out of life imprisonment, if they participate in a sex experiment in space to create a new being and reach a black hole that will mean a great contribution to the advancement of humanity, blah blah blah. It becomes an endless journey at the pace of a turtle commanded by a scientist who is also a murderer (Juliette Binoche), but not without interest here and there, and frequent suggestions and evocations of the smells of sweat, blood, feces, urine, private parts, and semen... as only Madame Claire knows how to do it. Don't get me wrong and don't skip the movie if it crosses your way (there's a terrific baby actress in the cast). But don't blame me if it leaves you wanting not to eat. Nor to have sex.

El perro que no calla

Endearing Work of Love
What a beautiful film «El perro que no calla». Everything, the drawings, the music, the people who live and daily do, without so much questioning the order of the Cosmos, without so much resting, commanding, partying, accumulating... The dialogue of the umbrellas, the evolution of Sebas, the owner of the old dog that does not shut up, the plague that literally breaks and bends the community, except for those who worship their bubble-masks... Endearing. When Sebastián watered his little plants, almost at the end, I cried, because I know that it's up to all of us to leave and I would not want to go so soon, to find another corner where my plants flourish.

The Boy Friend

The premise of Ken Russell's «The Boy Friend» is quite simple: art is an extension of life, it is a reflection, even if the story is as sweet as the one told in this version of the musical comedy by British Sandy Wilson, released in 1954, in which Julie Andrews made her debut on Broadway.

The musical comedy in cinema was developed (I think) with the films of Warner in the 30s and those of Fox in the 40s. They paved the way for the golden age of American musical film, with the MGM classics of the 1950s and Andrews' adrenaline rush into cinemas around the world in the mid-1960s. Andrews went like a rocket, from «Mary Poppins» to «The Sound of Music» and «Thoroughly Modern Millie» and she curiously gave a spectacular closing to the current, although at the same time Barbra Streisand entered movies and Petula Clark made a new leap from vinyl to celluloid. But neither Clark nor Streisand had Andrews' charisma, and the films they starred in were huge turtles that made little use of their energy. By the end of the 60s, the films were bad, tired or both, as «Doctor Dolittle», «Hello, Dolly!», «Goodbye Mr. Chips» and, with Andrews herself, «Darling Lili» (shot in 1968, but released in 1970) .

The 1970s were something else, Hollywood heeded the "gospel" of «Easy Rider» and produced more radical cinema. Product of that opening is «Cabaret» (1972), the iconic musical of that decade, for which we valued new releases, although no one else repeated it. Bob Fosse there was only one.

A year earlier, Ken Russell released «The Boy Friend,» which was in the spirit of the old school musical. MGM cut 28 minutes when the film was released in the US and met with an enthusiastic reception ("retro cinema" was all the rage), but it did not revive the musicals' old glory. However, Russell was special, he was a follower in his own way of the British "free cinema", a visual madman who, like Fosse, was an institution in himself. He was one of the filmmakers who laughed at the cinema of British middle-class, and not only he directed "monsters" such as Alan Bates, Vanessa Redgrave, Jack Nicholson, Helen Mirren, Oliver Reed, Ann-Margret, William Hurt or Kathleen Turner, but he also worked with Roger Daltrey, Tina Turner, Ringo Starr, Rudolf Nureyev, Eric Clapton, Elton John and, in this one, the lovely model Twiggy.

Instead of directly telling the story of the girl who, on the French Riviera, falls in love during the carnival festivities, in his adaptation Russell made the musical «The Boy Friend» the play that a provincial company is presenting in an almost empty theater. The day a famous American movie producer (Vladek Sheybal) arrives searching for talent, the star of the show (Glenda Jackson) has an accident and is replaced by Polly (Twiggy), the poor stage assistant who delivers the cafes, waits for the cast to arrive on time, guarantees that costumes are ready, that the hysteria of almost the entire company prevents the performance, and on top of that she has to learn all the roles, for an emergency like this.

What happens in the play, happens in real life: Polly (which is also the name of the musical's leading lady) is in love with the actor who plays "the boyfriend" in the theater production (Christopher Gable). And between sumptuously staged dance numbers (even though the company is apparently penniless), the comedy of errors, misunderstandings, hidden identities, and surprise endings unfolds. Russell (and choreographer Gable) pays homage to the kaleidoscope choreographies that Busby Berkeley put on, and everything, the entire cast enjoys it so much that it makes one infected, even if you know what you are seeing is fluff. I fully enjoyed it, in its 137-minute version.

Moj jutarnji smeh

Great Film from Serbia
If there could be an antidote to the sexual initiation comedies that Hollywood manufactures every time a new "cupcake" (male or female) is in fashion and the "creators" feel compelled to tell a story of a first sexual relationship so that they can show them naked to the public, «My Morning Laughter» is the perfect candidate for that privilege.

Hollywood usually removes social, ideological, or economic complications. The question is to undress the actress and the actor (who are invariably very cute) and thus give teenagers a lightning course of "heteronormative sex for good living", but what they seem to achieve is nurturing the planet with more neurotic people.

However... before «My Morning Laughter» there were times when I did not know how to react. Some scenes seemed uncomfortably funny to me (such as the visit to the "psychic"), because you feel that "you shouldn't laugh at that"; others, painful (those that have to do with the protagonist's relationship with his father), and some, surprising, like the peak sex scene, which is clumsy, but at the same time of a certain tenderness, mixed with instructions from some manual, that it thrills...

Dejan, the protagonist (excellent Filip Djuric) is 30 years old and a virgin. Graduated from History (a career that incites complex geopolitical thoughts...), he is a substitute teacher in a school, his sad mother Radica (Djuricic), who denies all and lives apart from him, sub-maintains and controls him at her whim; and he lives with his old father (Klavkovic) in such a tough relationship that one does not know if they are really father and son.

The visit to the psychic-counselor-psychologist-astrologer Milos (Glogovac) is a key turning point in the film and occurs in the first minutes: Milos sings it clearly to both Milos and Radica, and prescribe them sex in a natural, funny, but firm way, which reminded me of a psychiatrist from San Antonio de Los Baños who tried to solve the lives of all of us, workers, teachers and students of the Cuban film school, distributing Viagra.

The rest of the film deals with the consequences of that visit and the decisions that Dejan makes --especially when he is with his friend and colleague Kaca (Vukovic), who unsettles, excites, and challenges him-- conform an unparalleled work that, at the end, made me say: what a tender film!

«My Morning Laughter» talks about a generation of Serbs, who, as director Marko Djordjevic says, lived overprotected by their parents so that they would not see the terrible reality that was outside the home. They were non-emancipated children living under the same roof with dad and mom, even if the relationships were dependent, tense, and destructive. This magnificent, charming, difficult film is about that and more, with aesthetic decisions that help deconstruct the viewer's false pity, the false compassion, and force us to look at the character and his environment, with frames that seem "wrong", light years away from the Hollywood-Disney-Netflix movie recipe, like a hidden camera, looking at everything, capturing everything, without disguising it. Highly recommended.

La nature

Master at Work
Armenian director Artavazd Pelechian (USSR, 1938) is one of the most brilliant directors in the story of world cinema, but you will rarely hear a common cinéphile mention his name. Perhaps, if you were alert, you unknowingly saw «Inhabitants» during one celebration of World Environment Day.

His films are mostly made up of shorts that resist classification and that were the way in which he developed his concept of "distance montage", as opposed to Sergei Eisenstein's "montage of attractions" theory. In the 1980s, thanks to the writings of a French film critic who saw and praised his work, his cinema (particularly his masterpiece «The Seasons») began to be talked about, and Jean-Luc Godard became his admirer and advocate of his montage ideas.

Now, by pure chance, in these times of wars, pandemics and the tearing of the ethical and moral fiber of societies (dominated by the materialism of the dictatorship of corrupt and thieving businessmen, politicians and professionals), I saw his work «La nature», premiered when he turned 80, in which he shows us human beings that we are a tiny dot in the universe; our egos, an insignificant detail, and our wars and robberies, useless displays of force and deceive, which are absolutely nothing compared to nature.

And don't expect postcard landscape photography. To begin with, the film is in black and white, and the filmmaker made use of all the material he could find (surely you have seen some on the internet), both on celluloid and on video, to show us the marvelous force of nature and its ability to create, destroy and be reborn from the rubble, and the ease with which it turns the work of men into soup. Pelechian did not leave anything out: clouds, forests, seas, deserts, rivers, lakes and snowy peaks, but at the same time he included material that can leave you in awe: landslides, eruptions, melting ice, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, in which nature demonstrates its power, its ability to give a couple of lashes and send us to fry asparagus in Siberia, whether you are black, Chinese or white... if we can light a little fire, if we get oil and if she gave us the asparagus.

A lesson that does not lack the hope of another dawn, to the chords of music by the Armenians Avet Terterian and Tigran Hamasyan, as well as Beethoven, Mozart, and Shostakovich. Highly recommended.

The Dark

A Very Good Horror Tale
During the time that «The Dark» lasted, I was reminded of several disparate films, the elements of which combine nicely here to formulate a compelling story that I had never heard of. Premiered in 2018 at the Tribeca festival in New York, I had no idea it existed.

First, it reminded me of the Swedish film «Let the One Right In», in which a vampire girl chooses a boy as her future protector, when her "Igor" (a generic name I give to a vampire assistant who has not been vampirized) is too old and unable to assist her. On the other hand, the memory became more disturbing, when it reminded me of the plot of the Austrian film «Michael», a horror film that is not a horror movie but the drama of a child who is kidnapped and repeatedly abused as a sexual toy by a respectable-looking pedophile. And finally, the memory mellowed, when I remembered «The Enchanted Cottage», that beautiful American film in which a blind war veteran falls in love with an ugly maid, who, with the love of the soldier, becomes beautiful in the eyes of the audience.

There are components of the three films in this terrifying story (which is horror indeed), the tale of two children who have been abused by men: a nauseous zombie girl who wanders through the woods, seeking revenge; and a very much alive child, who has been blinded by the man who kidnapped and abused him. Bonds of solidarity arise between the two and they seek to survive, because both, dead or alive, have immense fear of the destruction caused by men, with the complicity of the girl's mother and the suffering of the boy's mother, who wants him back at her side. And from that link, the girl's metamorphosis begins, while the boy glimpses the possibility of recovery.

With a running time of 95 minutes, the co-directors handle the dramatic evolution calmly, but the tension rarely falters, the action moments keep you on the edge of your seat, while the violence generated by the zombie girl is terrifying. For tastes there are colors, without a doubt, but for those who like horror movies with good dramatic content, psychological evolution and zero humor, «The Dark» is for them. I liked it a lot, I like this kind of cinema and I give it 8 stars, but the fans would surely raise it a few more points until it gets to 10. Winner Best Screenplay (Lange) at the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre.

Les prières de Delphine

A Round of Applause
My sister Nyra often sends me moving reflections of the movies I share with her, as this note she wrote, after seeing «Les prières de Delphine», portrait of a beautiful 30-year-old woman from Cameroon, who was abused and resorted to prostitution to survive, who married a European white man and emigrated to Belgium. Hereafter Nyra's text:

"Delphine tells us her story from confusion, pain and from an imaginary that evolved from her extreme poverty and her marginalization. The resulting tone is part of an imaginary that, if we do not understand where and why it arises, we can take it for a lie and judge her as a shameless and even cynical woman. At one point, she says that she is an actress and as such she should be understood, as an interpreter who makes and remakes her own story to survive a reality that surely far exceeds her in pain and sadness.

"Delphine's tone and attitude arise from a sociocultural and economic state that we do not know because the media hides it from us: we intuit it, but we have no certitudes. It is a state of affairs that the media and capitalism are responsible for disguising to give free rein to their foreign debt programs and, incidentally, create stories of "empowerment" and "positivism" (which we will only see in 1 person out of 1 million poor), so that we continue to believe that everything is possible under capitalism. But the truth is that Delphine will always be seen as a human by-product wherever she is: in Cameroon or in Belgium. She is the daughter of extreme poverty turned into a by-product: black, poor, female, uneducated, African, object person, immigrant, unemployed, etc.

"On the other hand, the cinematographic image that the director offers us of Delphine is a masterful decision. It is a decision that implies a lot of sensitivity and maturity! It's a risky bet, but one that produces a harsh enclosing effect on the audience that hits you very hard. She forces you to listen, not to fantasize about Eurocentrism. It is an exercise in concentration from objectivity: Delphine.

"Of course we use the image for the obvious, to observe and measure Delphine's reactions, but if we put aside the obvious, it is there to weigh up the narrowness of her world, a world reduced to a room, a bed, a dirty wall that counts for a lot and too much, to an environment in total Western-style disorder, but from her native Africa it may have other readings and a terrifying fear of the outside, no matter how much she says otherwise. It's a cage per world, it's her head, her state of mind.

"I imagine that many will want to fantasize and see her socially docile and servile looking for a job and finding the understanding of a benevolent West, of the promised land, of the white husband who loves her, of a beautiful and friendly city. But the director, who has also experienced her own, makes it clear that despite the apparent social differences between them, both are women-black-immigrants in societies that will never accept them. Delphine does not know what to do to get out of that cage because her limitation is her own poverty, her fear of misfortune, of being punished. Then and as a resource, her imaginary leads her to prayer, and her prayers makes it clear to us that she feels guilt, she feels that she is to blame for her fate. I think the cruelest trait of poverty is making you feel guilty for being who you are.

"After listening to Delphine, I think that «Les prières de Delphine» is a film that contains a high range of variables that can be submitted to the right of equality, the theme of this year's BannabáFest. And I give it a round of applause. I was absolutely moved. Moved inside."

Bunco Squad

Fun with the Rama Society
Herbert I. Leeds was an efficient American B-film director and editor of Jewish origin, born and died in Manhattan, of whom you may have never heard, but not because he made bad movies, but because American film industry opted over the years for huge, expensive products built around the names of profitable monsters, with little space for little movies.

From Leeds I had seen a couple of entertaining and well-constructed films from the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan detective series, today considered un-PC and offensive. They are still enjoyable and benefit from Leeds' experience as an editor, filming low budget stories with narrative and visual economy. My curiosity has been aroused now by the good opinion that some people have of his four films of detective Mike Shayne, played by Lloyd Nolan, and of «Manila Calling», a film made in wartime that, according to what I read, avoid US Army propaganda, until the last moment.

I'm adding now «Bunco Squad» to the list of little films by Leeds that I like. The cast is clearly having a good time telling us the story of five swindlers who use the occult to trick unsuspecting clients and rob them. The target is a millionaire lady whose son has died. The crooks create the Rama Society, with Princess Liane as the in-house medium, but the strings are pulled by the criminal Tony Weldon (Ricardo Cortez, once again in the roles of villain he always did very well). Since the deceased son had charitable tendencies, the swindlers induce his mother to bequeath her fortune to the Rama Society, which they present almost as a charity association.

The dramatic complication is clear, without great complications or mysteries, Leeds handles the action with skill, the good guys and the bad guys pulse with pleasure for 67 minutes, and the interest in the spiritism theme (with a slight smile on my face) never wanes. At a very low cost.


The Man, the Boy and the Monster
Shot far from Los Angeles, in natural settings in Texas, I finally watched this exceptionally good movie from 2013, about characters rarely seen these days in movies, apart from independent cinema.

«Joe» is a rural drama, a shocking tragedy, directed with welcome restraint by director David Gordon Green, based on a novel by Larry Brown. It is also a western, but not of the nostalgic or revisionist kind, with old cowboys in decline as protagonists, but a contemporary western with new "motorized cowboys", altering and rebuilding the landscape in wild places. There is an atmosphere of violence and imminent death, like in the old classic American western dramas, built around a final shootout.

It is mainly the story of two characters: Joe (Cage), a violent man in his fifties, who also has the ability to respond with solidarity and, if necessary, tenderness, in the face of injustice and suffering of the underdog, who works as the foreman of a gang of African-Americans that poison trees of little use to plant pines in their place; and Gary Jones (Sheridan), the 15-year-old son of an abusive alcoholic, eventual murderer and pimp, who is hired by Joe, who indirectly takes him in when he discovers the boy's tribulations. All around them, there are misery and people who barely survive in an environment that offers few alternatives for a life with dignity.

The film contains outstanding performances by its three central actors: Nicolas Cage, an unpredictable man who today makes a film for which he deserves all the existing awards and tomorrow signs a contract to make five bad, ordinary movies just to make ends meet. Here Cage found another opportunity to make a dignified and precise representation of a man who approaches old age and is given to brief philosophical reflections on life and its vicissitudes, not without ceasing to be harsh and anarchic. The young Texan actor Tye Sheridan, launched by Malick in «The Tree of Life» (1991), and after reaffirming his abilities alongside Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon in «Mud» (1992), confirmed all expectations in this, his third movie, in the role of Gary, winning the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Actor at the Venice Film Festival for «Joe» and becoming an in-demand actor ever since.

But the one who shook me the most was Gary Poulter as Wade, the alcoholic father, one of those beings that appear in movies that are not horror movies, but who are monstrous. And I don't think there is exaggeration in the description of the character: beings like old Wade Jones exist and trample the family unit with mistreatment and outrage everywhere in the world. Poulter was a natural actor, this would be his only film. He was a homeless man to whom the director gave the leading role of Gary's father, but he drowned at the age of 53, six months before the release of the film, which was dedicated to him.

My only objection (and it's very slight) is the length of the film, which could have been shorter. Director David Gordon Green, who produced another admirable rural drama, Jeff Nichols' feature debut «Shotgun Stories», has embarked on routine Los Angeles productions that don't measure up to this film, including a couple of "Halloweens" and a new «The Exorcist». But he can still surprise us...

Smagen af sult

You Are What You Eat
When I started watching this movie, I remembered that two or three days ago a good friend of mine, perhaps my best friend in many years, who is also my disciple and colleague (and who could be my great grandson), told me that he would love to have a way to nourish his body without having to eat all the processed food sold in restaurants and supermarkets, something like astronauts' "nutritive pills.

And I wondered, what am I doing watching a movie about a restaurateur who wants to win a Michelin star with the help of a ravishing brunette who becomes his associate, support and wife? I had my period in life when I would go to restaurants in Panamá and Cuba, where they would even charge you for breathing, to discover the pleasures of gastronomy, but right now I make do with less complicated dishes and fruits. However, the movie turned into a highly dramatic tale about family, betrayal, adultery, dysfunction, in a way that I am convinced that only Scandinavian filmmakers can accomplish. They are "cutting your veins" with the intensity of the drama, but everything runs smoothly, never letting your attention down, because they do it wonderfully.

The couple play little games of seduction, meeting in bars and secretly making love on the premises, but one night, during one of those encounters, a British guy from Michelin goes to their restaurant, and declines the dish of the house, because the chef in charge did not check the state of the fermented lemons used in the recipe. In seconds, everything turns to mess, and heads to possible bankruptcy, or closure, all because of a lemon. For a moment it seems that this is going to be the dramatic core of the story, but no, not at all.

The gastronomic incident opens the structure of the film. In that turning point, the movie guides us through the hard paths of a story that goes from present time to flashbacks that show how the man did not separate his profession from his husband, lover and father roles, and in particular how he neglected his wife, when a suspicious mole appears on her skin. Biopsy, fear, the need to share the result of the test, and the husband's inaccessibility to listen to his wife, lead her to a restaurant worker who pays her too much attention... Complications mount and you have as main dish a complex situation in which love, family, business and resentment converge.

As I tell it, it may not sound very attractive, but do not be mistaken. The film's script is signed by Tobias Linholm, the talented man who has written several scripts for Thomas Vintenberg, such as «Submarino», «The Hunt»), «The Commune», and «Another Round,» as well as his own movies, «A Hijacking» (about Somali pirates), and «A War» (about a war crime in Afghanistan).

Be confident that you are in very good hands. It is not the typical film to disconnect us from those awfully dark transits of life or those somber dramas by Ingmar Bergman, but the ending is reassuring.


The Invisible
Erik Poppe brings his Oslo trilogy to a happy conclusion with this drama which, midway through the narrative, is fragmented by screenwriter Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, so that the story is told from two points of view: Jan's (or Jan Thomas), a young organist responsible for the disappearance of a child in his adolescence, and that of Agnes, the child's mother. It is a story about the love between fathers, mothers and children, but it is above all a drama about expiation and forgiveness, in which the emotional outpours are scrutinized so as not to fall into melodrama.

From the children of migrants who live on the streets of Oslo, in «Schpaaa», to the group of overwhelmed Oslavians, who are affected by the dreams of a nurse and the actions of an Afro-descendant girl, in «Hawaii, Oslo», in this final installment Poppe enters a temple and the home of a middle class family, to make the organist and the mother cross each other's path.

Jan (Hagen) is released on parole to apply for a job offered by a church. The young man plays the organ with such passion that he is hired and gradually adjusts to free life. In a discreet and naive way, not without a certain clumsiness, Jan falls for Anna, the church priest, and finally gives in to the affection shown by Jens, the priest's little son, whom he has avoided for reminding him of the dead child. One or two events suggest that Agnes is stalking him, until suddenly Jens disappears. Cut.

In an uncommon twist (although not unprecedented in cinema), the story goes back a few days, when Agnes (Dyrholm) discovers Jan -henceforth Thomas, his middle name, by which she identifies him- playing the organ in the church. In her delirium, Agnes confuses the affection of Jens, who has chosen Thomas as an alternate father; she scares the boy's mother with an incoherent warning, she throws her family life into crisis when her husband accepts a job in Denmark and her obsession affects her relationship with her two foster little daughters.

Throughout the entire film, there are scenes of overwhelming force (notably the dinner between Agnes, her husband, the Danish employer and his wife), with shocking confessions (the denouement), the pain caused by irreparable acts and the "destiny", which sometimes delivers the unspeakable to us just around the corner. In the end, there is an intense emotional tear that directs the characters towards an adjustment with themselves and with those around them, in a fluid, invisible way... an ending that is not exactly happy, but encouraging and renewing in the long run, as life itself.

Hawaii, Oslo

Oslo Trilogy - Excellent second installment
With «Hawaii, Oslo» Erik Poppe continued his Oslo Trilogy (begun with «Schpaaa»), as well as making the second feature in his filmography. From a script by Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, based on an idea of the two, Poppe built a choral film that, for a second foray into the fiction feature film, is a leap not of 7 but of 14 leagues! Movies with several interconnected stories are not a novelty and, if it is about finding similarities, it would be necessary to cite Altman, Kieslowski, P. T. Anderson or Iñárritu, whose «Amores perros» I remembered in the first minutes of «Hawaii, Oslo.»

According to Poppe, during the shooting of «Schpaaa», he met people in Oslo whose stories he wanted to capture in a collective drama. The mystery of the premonitory dream is the unifying thread of the incidents, through the character of Vidar (Trond Espen Seim), a nurse at a psychological care center, who glimpses relationships, exchanges, transformations and deaths .

During the hottest day of 2004 in Oslo, Vidar dreams that Leon, a young patient waiting for a visit from a childhood friend on his birthday, is run over by an ambulance, and so begins the multiple and parallel account of the lives of two boys whose father has died and are going to be separated by social workers, their singer mother whom they have not seen for 11 years and who has just been rescued from a suicide attempt, a couple who must raise $105,000 in 12 hours to pay in the United States for the operation of their son who was just born with a congenital malformation, Leon's brother that obtains a provisional leave from prison to celebrate his brother's birthday and who has a hidden agenda, the driver of a fatal ambulance, a newspaper-delivery and psychic little girl, plus doctors, bankers and Oslo marginal people. And lots of action: people racing, runaway cars and the ticking of the clock which never stops.

The result is an exciting drama, solidly put together by editor Einar Egeland, with plot twists and reversal of fortune that sometimes surprise us and others, confirm our feelings. However, the entire package is irreproachable compact, with very good performances and values in the technical areas. When I finished watching it, I thought that the best world cinema is made without fanfare by Poppe, Sorrentino, Weerasethakul, and many other lesser known filmmakers, showing beings with lives similar to yours and mine, not hollow characters in stuffy melodramas, with or without Netflix support." See it. You will be grateful.

Die Farbe

The Color of Terror
H. P. Lovecraft's tales and novels have been adapted into pedestrian motion pictures. I have liked very few of them, especially «Re-Animator», for its exacerbated irreverence in 1985 and the iconoclastic direction by Stuart Gordon, who was taking his first step in cinema; and two fine low-budget but stylish productions by the H. P. Lovecraft Historic Society, «The Call of Cthulhu» and «The Whisperer in Darkness»

Lovecraft's adaptations often fail, not only because the writers and directors are mediocre, but because, to find a narrative line in stories like, say, "The Shadow over Innsmouth," you have to overlook pages and pages of descriptions of buildings, bell towers, sidewalks and docks, of ugly mutants, of tiaras, lineages and tenures, and, in the end, in the inventory of significant incidents you make for your adaptation, much of the author's best is lost. However, I recently found a little gem that is by far the best film that I have ever seen based on a Lovecraftian text: «Die Farbe», based on «The Color Out of Space».

Lovecraft fans have rejected it, maybe because it is not American, possibly because it was made in Germany with German actors and the action relocated to the Swabian-Franconian Forest, or maybe because it was directed by a Vietnamese man raised in Brecht's land and financed through crowd funding. You can even think that they are annoyed because Huan Vu did it so well.

Lovecraft's tale is a story about a color. It can be a symbol, a metaphor, but in any case, this color is unknown on planet Earth. It arrives with a meteorite that falls in a splendid valley near Stuttgart. The meteorite is subject to investigation, but the object - which is getting smaller and smaller - gradually gains in strangeness, manifested in trees that bear enormous and rotten fruits, on the farm of a family whose members are losing their sanity, announcing the impending tragedy. Director Huan Vu decided to make the film in black and white, so that when the color finally manifests itself, it seems new but also strange, terrifying, and devastating.

The tragedy in «Die Farbe» directly affects few persons... First, the family made up of the parents and three boys; then the American young man who comes to the forest looking for his father, a soldier who served in the area during World War II; and finally, a witness to the events, a neighbor of the infected farm, who narrates the film. The resolution suggests that eight people were affected by a color that in the end flew away from Earth... But in the final shots, during the end credits, something larger is hinted at, something that will spread like a pandemic, just like in «Invasion of the Body Snatchers» by Siegel, Kaufman, or Ferrara; or Polanski's «Dance of the Vampires»... "It's all over", repeats one of the characters, but no, that is not so... The devastation will continue.

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