Summer of Soul (Or when the revolution couldn’t be televised) (12A) ****
The Birthday Cake (15) **
There’s a lot to unpack in the elongated playful title of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s debut documentary Summer of Soul (…or when the revolution couldn’t be televised). Referring first to a season of outdoor music festivals that took place in Harlem in the summer of 1969, the elliptical nod to Gil Scott-Heron’s Black Power anthem, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, ostensibly denounces the systemic racism that has resulted in the concert footage subsequently gathering dust in a vault, effectively erasing the event – until now – from a pop culture landscape dominated by the nostalgic machine of Woodstock.
Given the illuminating nature of some of these images – 19-year-old Stevie Wonder works his magic on his clavinet, Sly and the Family Stone’s psychedelic peacock, Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson exorcising a community’s grief with an interpretation of Martin Luther King’s favorite song, Take My Hand, Precious Lord – it’s something of a parody. But Questlove uses this to its advantage, cleverly contextualizing the dynamism and freshness of the performances in the social and political tumult of the time and drawing on new interviews with key performers, organizers, cultural figures and ordinary participants. to give real meaning to its history. importance.
Taking place over six consecutive weekends from June to August 1969, the Harlem Culture Festival, as it was known, attracted approximately 300,000 residents for the express purpose of celebrating all aspects of black culture while providing a positive way to defuse some of the tension that had caused riots in the neighborhood following King’s assassination the previous year. He had the backing of somewhat progressive New York Mayor John Lyndsay, corporate sponsorship from Maxwell House, and the concerts themselves went off without a hitch. And yet, the producers failed to find a buyer for the footage, despite a talent roster that also included Nina Simone, BB King, Gladys Knight and David Ruffin of The Temptations. Questlove teases many great stories, but it also films the interviewees watching the footage, capturing the profound effect it has on those who are suddenly able to vividly relive a moment that too easily could have remained a memory that fades.
An intriguing cast and gruesome twist almost help the The birthday cake rising above all the Goodfellas and Sopranos references baked into the very essence of this New York mob drama about a young Italian-American doing his best to avoid being sucked into the family business. Admittedly, some of those parallels are simply because first director Jimmy Giannopoulos is able to cast Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, and Vincent Pastore in key roles. But it courts more moan-worthy comparisons by punctuating scenes of extreme violence with Scorsese-style needle drops and deploying terribly written voice-over narration that explains things that don’t need explaining. .
Curiously, this voiceover is delivered by Ewan McGregor, played here as a Scottish priest based in Brooklyn, to whom we are introduced in the prologue as a sort of guardian angel to Gio, the newly orphaned son of Sofia de Bracco. Most of the action takes place ten years later, with Gio (now played by co-writer Shiloh Fernandez) on a mission to deliver a cake to his uncle Angelo (Val Kilmer), a mob boss whose control of the streets has diminished since being shot in the throat. This last plot detail is used to explain Kilmer’s actual addiction to a voice box after treatment for throat cancer. When he finally appears on screen to preside over a tenth anniversary memorial celebration for Gia’s late father, his presence is eerie and interesting in a way that the film could have used more of, especially when the proceedings briefly turn sour. banana. Most of the time, however, this is a fairly standard mob confection.
A far more successfully executed quirk can be found in Giant, the delightfully crazy debut feature from Belgian filmmaker Zoé Wittock. Like a strange cross between Transformers and Crash, this French comedy-drama revolves around the sexual awakening of a young woman who falls in love with a fairground ride. Inspired by the true story of Erika Eiffel, the woman who married the Eiffel Tower, the film takes seriously the desires of its protagonist, Jeanne (played by Noémie Merlant), in an attempt to understand her objectophilia (it’s a thing). But it’s how Wittock manages to bring Jeanne’s relationship to the ride she dubs Jumbo to life that makes it really fun. Despite all the sexual overtones (one scene has Jeanne orgasming while fantasizing about writhing in oil), there’s a purity to the relationship that recalls all those coming-of-age fantasies of 1980s Spielberg involving aliens bonding with aliens or robots.
Coincidentally, an obsession with an inanimate object is also the subject of another French film this week. In deer skin, the latest from surrealist horror director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber), a middle-aged man’s quest to buy a buckskin cowboy jacket leads him down a deranged spiral of murder and movie making. movies when his newfound love for his jacket convinces him that it should be the only jacket in the world. It’s a one-gag movie and Dupieux isn’t pushing his luck, keeping running time lean and exploiting the comedic potential of watching The Artist’s Jean Dujardin play a falling apart man.
Summer of Soul is in cinemas from July 16 and streaming on Disney+ from July 30; The Birthday Cake is on selected release in cinemas and streaming on premium digital platforms from July 16; Jumbo is currently on select release and streaming in Virtual Cinemas; Deerskin is on selected release from July 16
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