Tag Archives: corruption

FILM REVIEW: Palio

The Palio is the oldest horse race in the world, run in the central piazza of the beautiful Italian city of Siena. Preceded by much pageantry, it is a full throttle affair, encapsulating Italian society and the ‘system’ in which it operates, in a microcosm.
Run twice a year, every summer, it offers the residents of Siena’s various districts a chance to claim bragging rights in the city.
Palio is a  documentary which focuses on the 2013 and 2014 Palios and the intense rivalry between both rival districts and race jockeys, alike.
Gigi Bruschelli is the corrupt veteran of the race and the prime scalp that all others seek to dislodge. Giovanni Atzeni is his once trainee; a gifted, twenty-eight year old, level-headed prodigy and pretender to Bruschelli’s throne.
These two, amongst others, go head to head in a bid to be crowned champion, pitting experienced know-how against youthful determination.
If rivalries between two legendary, retired champions of yesteryear are anything to go by, there’s certainly no love loss between the Palio’s jockeys. With their outspoken re-writing of history, tensions continue to simmer between them in largely comedic fashion, many years after they’ve hung up their caps and whips. Their passion for the Palio, like everyone else’s, seems undimmed by the passage of time.
It’s a very well put together account, which, much like recent documentaries Amy and Senna, steers away from the conventional talking heads type of delivery, opting instead for largely incidental commentary, giving the film a free, less  structured feel to it and a strong sense of authenticity.
Sadly,  the saying: “and don’t spare the horses” has never been more appropriate, with eleven or twelve of them careering around the perilous piazza track, jockey whips flailing about wildly as both horses and jockeys are subjected to their leathery justice in ferocious fashion.
We only have to think of the Spanish Running of the Bulls or the Shearing of the Beasts to realise that human beings, the world over, seem only too willing to hold dear to archaic traditions that have scant regard for the well being of animals and The Palio, admittedly to a lesser extent, is no exception.
This whip-cracking, thunderous romp around a sharp-cornered, dusty track, preceded by the vociferous chanting of proud inhabitants of Lupa, Eagle, Porcupine and other assorted districts, whilst being an admittedly impressive spectacle, is just another example of disregard for animal life and the fact that the tone of the film is so overwhelmingly reverential, just leaves me cold.
‘Rocky on horseback’ they say?
Well, perhaps, but the prevailing sentiment remains.
On another level, The Palio is essentially silly little boys games taken way too seriously, never summed up more than when the church gets involved, going so far as to bless the winning horse and rider in the Cathedral itself; all the while, surrounded by a massed, frenzied crowd.
If we can manage to disassociate ourselves for a moment from any such negativity that surrounds Palio (and I do appreciate that that is in itself a subjective thing), as a pure spectacle of raw human passion and tub-thumping pride, it takes some beating and it’s understandable how locals and tourists alike can get swept up in its frenzy of thrills and spills each summer.

It also says a lot that a really well crafted film, beautifully shot and edited and awash with a glorious, sumptuous 1960s era Ennio Morricone soundtrack, can leave one with such a feeling of indifference, bordering on disapproval.

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FILM REVIEW: The Tribe

There’s a moment in the BBC Comedy series ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ when Alan, whilst being given a tour of his prospective new house, is informed that it’s close to a school for the deaf. “Does that mean there will be or won’t be noise?” he enquires. “I mean, it’s not a school for deaf offenders, is it?”

Comedy that may well be, but it does open up an interesting thought to ponder upon and more importantly challenges our pre-conceptions of those with disadvantages and of our need to stereotype, in general; for example, how many of us would perceive ‘the deaf’ as anything other than good people, struggling on through life and adversity?

A comedy, ‘the Tribe’ is not; far from it. It’s a raw and rather bleak look at a run-down, Ukrainian boarding school for the hard of hearing; a school that feels both forgotten and unloved, as though everyone that attends or works there has been abandoned in some way by their families, the system and by life in general.

Consequently, a feral existence ensues; not just tolerated but positively encouraged by those in charge; a means of money making from theft, deceit and prostitution,  promoting a feckless next generation. There are certainly shades of ‘The Lord of the Flies’ about this existence.

The new boy, played by Grigoriy Fesenko, is ‘welcomed’ into his new surrounds through a sequence of rites of passage and is soon actively engaged in the school’s plethora of wrong doings, that is until love plays a part in things. It’s the sort of twisted love that could only be born out of a place like this. Pure love has no chance to flourish here but importantly it’s a  love that breaks all of the rules and codes of The Tribe and is always going to end in repercussions, as the film presses ominously onwards towards its savage finale.

I don’t know whether it’s the winter months, the decaying, cold, blue institutional decor of this establishment or just the feeling of hopelessness in so much as you either accept things as they are here or you’re a part of a problem, to  be treated as such by the pack mentality of the students, but The Tribe is an incredibly desparate, yet remarkable piece on so many levels.

There is literally no spoken dialogue throughout, no soundtrack of any description, not even occasional incidental music to break the intensity.

It has been shot in long, drawn-out takes which offer no escape from the at times harrowing scenes that unfold (and believe me they’re uncomfortable viewing).

Everybody is seemingly in an insanely mad rush to get everywhere and do everything; a warped, yet well oiled corruption machine. All portrayed emotions are dark, angry and somewhat explosive.

The end credit sequence is short, blunt and to the point… much like The Tribe.

Bleak, yet utterly brilliant.

 

 

FILM REVIEW: A Most Violent Year

There’s a lot to like about A Most Violent Year (AMVY). It’s not often that what could possibly, (if we’re really stretching the definition), be considered a gangster film of sorts, refuses to be channeled too far into familiar old tried and trusted territory. AMVY instead focuses on businessman Abel Morales and his efforts to resist the slide into a gangster lifestyle which increasingly looks like his only option as the justifications to do so, pile up.

Oscar Isaac is superbly cast in this lead role; a serious yet charming, likeable and honourable businessman, a part he plays with great conviction and gravitas, not too dissimilar to a less combustible DeNiro or Pacino in their pomp.

In many ways, the film’s title is misleading. 1981 it seems was indeed a most violent year in New York City; if we trawl back through the celluloid archives, there was many a film made in that era that will testify to that; from straight forward gangster flicks to territorial gang movies depicting areas of New york City as total no-go zones. I dare say there was a fair amount of truth in such depictions, although prone to a little Hollywood licence, I’d imagine.

What is evident though from AMVY, is that the early 80s was a pretty unforgiving time for Abel Morales. If trying to operate a fuel supply business in New York City whilst your supply trucks are being picked off by opportunistic gunmen, intent on selling the contents to corrupt  industry competition, is not enough, there’s the biggest business deal of your life in the balance, not to mention the tax man, hard on your tail, looking for any reason possible, to ruin you.

Testing times, but all addressed by Morales’ pragmatic approach and an unshakeable determination to ‘do the right thing.’

Director J.C Chandor succeeds in telling a very gritty, understated tale of corruption and honour in trying times; a film that possesses a feel and sense of realism rarely found in mainstream releases these days.

It’s not without fault and at times can feel a little under-done in both plot and character development and admittedly, it’s a slow burner that will probably leave the special effects / high-speed junky generation of film-goers somewhat frustrated by its considered, often conservative direction, but AMVY’s refusal to sell out to over-dramaticism, violence (ironically) and hyperbole, is very much the film’s chief triumph.

An underrated, understated, engaging effort that’s well worth a look.