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Morris: A Life with Bells On (2009)
UK film distributors - shame on you!
Morris A Life with Bells On was sheer delight. In a packed screen at Picturehouse in Liverpool (one of only three scheduled showings in the north-west) I had to sit on the front row, and the lack of a wider release is a scandal.
From the moment Derecq Twist (Charles Thomas Oldham, who wrote the story) is seen dancing (supposedly) near the head of the Cerne Abbas Giant and the camera pulls out to show the figure holding a hand across his crotch this was full of great humour both in the words and the visuals. Even the invention of a "Dorchester Airport" got a laugh.
It's done as a sort of Spinal Tap mockumentary. Aidan McArdle plays the producer Jeremy, who breaks the golden rule of documentary "I intervened". That's after Derecq is plunged into despair following his rustication from the Morris Circle. From its offices in the City of London, Chief Executive Quentin Neely (Derek Jacobi) defends the Englishness of Morris Dancing against such foreign influences as the Brazilian "morrizio".
Manchester's Moss Side Morris are the reluctant enforcers of the Circle's dictates. Ian Hart as their "squire", Endeavour Hungerfjord Welsh, takes his duties seriously. Academic credibility on the history of Morris comes from Harriet Walter as Compton Chamberlayne, Emeritus Professor of International Folk Dance at Cambridge. You're never quite sure whether it's true history or absolute cobblers.
The outrageously camp Orange County Morris in California give Derecq a refuge, and romantic interest from Sonja (Naomie Harris). Derecq follows her to her new job in Iowa where he's reduced to the devil's dance (line dancing, you can learn all the moves in ten minutes). The lure of the Morris (and the prospect of a pint of Onan's Revenge cider) takes him back to Dorset and redemption.
There's just so much good stuff in this: a superb evocation of grief as well as the laughs, and a marvellous turn by Dominique Pinon as a French fisherman washed up on the Dorset shore after a storm, who decided to stay rather than go back to a million empty whelk shells.
A modern parable
The World Health Organisation reckons regular night-time noise of more than 45dB can ruin your health. Here's a film that treats a fact of modern life and turns into a "home under attack" movie. It's coming, and you can't stop it.... It's quite clever to have a home-invasion movie where the alien force is nothing more scary than noise and loss of privacy.
Swiss writer-director Ursula Meier backs this tale of modern times with jazz tracks, classical work, and Nina Simone. The music is a diversion from the relentless pressure building on the family as they face up to life next to a Trans-European highway.
Cinematographer Agnès Godard captures the images brilliantly, from the pose Michel strikes on his car roof with the chest freezer that now has to be delivered across the new road, to the line of holiday traffic stretching into the distance in one long bidirectional jam.
Morir en San Hilario (2005)
A town that comes to life when someone dies
San Hilario is a village that's made a killing by putting on great funerals, but business is slack. It's been ten years since they had a customer. They're a bit rusty.
When they do get a client, he dies before he can get there - but an escaping bank robber is mistaken for the man expected. At first he's happy to be in this village cut off from the world and the police searching for him, and it's two days before he finds out that his welcome, the visit to the church, meeting the priest, and getting measured up by the tailor are preliminaries to his own funeral.
It's sad and funny - there's a framed map of San Hilario, as a dot in the middle of nowhere that says "you are here". "A fictional story with touches of magical realism" is writer-director Laura Mañá's own take on her film, which touches on life, death, love, truth, faith, doubt and hope.