Friday 15 December 2017

New film 'Bobby Sands: 66 Days' is scrupulously balanced, and even includes interviews with one of Sands' jailers

Bobby Sands: 66 Days
Bobby Sands: 66 Days
Romcom: Virginie Efira stars in 'Up For Love'

Paul Whitington

Thirty-five years after his death, so many myths have agglomerated around Bobby Sands that the real person seems unknowable, and Steve McQueen's very fine 2008 biopic 'Hunger' made the job even harder by portraying Sands as a kind of latter-day saint. In his new documentary, Bobby Sands: 66 Days, director Brendan J Byrne paints a much earthier picture of Sands by putting his 1981 hunger strike in context. Including interviews with everyone from old friends like Gerry Adams to dispassionate commentators like Fintan O'Toole, Byrne's film gives a compelling insight into this pivotal figure in 20th-century Irish republicanism.

Robert Gerard Sands grew up on the mixed north Belfast estate of Abbey Cross, and had Protestant friends as a child. But after the brutal suppression of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, he became radicalised, and joined the IRA.

During his first prison spell at Long Kesh, Sands took part in blanket protests, but came into his own in the Maze, when he led an IRA hunger strike. Before he died, Sands was elected an MP, and his campaign changed the nature of the Northern conflict, and helped drive the republican movement towards politics.

Byrne's film is scrupulously balanced, and even includes interviews with one of Sands' jailers, but it ultimately acknowledges that, whatever one thinks about him, his actions made a difference.

Meanwhile, a French romcom with a refreshing enough premise, Up for Love stars Belgian actress Virginie Efira as Diane, a high-powered lawyer in the middle of a messy divorce who misplaces her phone on a night out. She's telephoned by a suave and charming gent who offers to meet up in person to return it. Alexandre (Jean Dujardin) is charming alright, but he's also four foot five, a shortcoming he encourages the tall and statuesque Diane to overlook during a blinding charm offensive.

They begin dating, and Alexandre proves the man of her dreams in all but one respect. But when Diane begins to tire of people pointing and staring, her new-found happiness is threatened. Up for Love is a rather old-fashioned romcom, and its broad jokes don't always come off. But it's sweet, and enjoyable, and Jean Dujardin is as charming as ever in a demanding lead role.

Wake up and smell the roses is the simple but persuasive subtext of Sweet Bean, a slow and charming Japanese drama set in a sleepy pancake restaurant. Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) cooks up dorayaki, or sweet bean pancakes, for a living, but seems to derive no joy from it. His customers gasp out loud when he smiles, and we get hints of an unhappy past. He's not best pleased when an eccentric old lady called Tokue (Kirin Kiki) turns up looking for work, but when he tastes her delicious red bean paste, Sentaro decides to give her a chance.

Tokue's enthusiasm for life is infectious, and she attracts many new customers, including a vulnerable schoolgirl called Wakana (Kyara Uchida), but a dark back story slowly emerges charting Tokue's life as an institutionalised leper. Tokue's closeness to nature is a rebuke to 21st-century urbanised Japan, but Kirin Kiki's warm and humorous performance is anything but preachy.

The great white hope of the Bebop era, Chet Baker became as famous for his heroin habit as his playing, and is now best known for the before and after shots of his ravaged good looks. He was a difficult man but a very fine jazz trumpeter, two facts made abundantly clear in Robert Budreau's hazy biopic, Born to Be Blue. It's a strong film, a lot better for instance than Don Cheadle's recent biopic of Baker's great rival Miles Davis, and Ethan Hawke is at his nervy, twitchy best in the lead role.

Irish Independent

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