Lucy Popescu

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Theatre Review- Frozen

Posted by lucypopescu on March 29, 2015

FrozenBlueprint Theatre’s welcome revival of Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play follows the intertwined fates of three characters dealing with the brutal murder of a ten-year-old child.

In 1980, Nancy’s daughter Rhonna disappeared on the way to visit her grandmother. Ralph is later found guilty of her murder and six other children. He is discovered with a stash of paedophile porn videos in the lock up shed where he buried his victims. Agnetha, an American psychiatrist, suffering her own bereavement, comes to England to study Ralph and his motives. Agnetha compares the criminal mind to the “arctic frozen sea” and describes the emotionally detached Ralph as “icebound”.

Lavery’s laying bare of her three characters psyches is insightful and compelling to watch. This beautifully spare production allows the full force of her writing to take hold.

Ian Brown draws out terrific performances from the small cast. Sally Grey conveys all the anguish and fury of a mother who has lost her child to a monster. As her marriage falls apart, she struggles to connect with her older daughter. Mark Rose is terrifying as the unrepentant Ralph whose only regret is that “killing girls is not legal” while Helen Schlesinger also impresses as the cool, measured psychiatrist, adept at analysing others, but falling apart inside.

Lavery’s unsettling work has lost none of its resonance. The issues she explores are as vital as ever and this first rate production is not to be missed.

Running at the Park Theatre until 11 April

Originally published by Camden Review


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Film review – Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd

Posted by lucypopescu on March 26, 2015

1010 col movies uyghurs 9213Montreal-based Patricio Henriquez’s  compassionate film Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd (2014), follows the stories of three Uyghurs unlawfully imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. East Turkestan has been annexed to China on and off for the last three centuries and was named ‘Xinjiang’ (new frontier) in the nineteenth century. China has repressed the Uyghurs for decades and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was established in 1993 to fight for the rights of their people. In the late 1990s, many activists, and ordinary citizens fearing persecution, fled across the borders into Afghanistan and Pakistan in an attempt to rebuild their lives there. Some found a haven in the mountains, in a small Uyghur village controlled by the Taliban. In the wake of 9/11 the Americans commenced an aerial bombardment of the region and offered substantial financial rewards for those willing to aid the identification and arrest of terrorists.

In total, 22 members of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority were detained and ended up incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay prison for several years despite never having engaged in armed combat. Henriquez follows the fates of Abu Bakker Qassum, Khalil Mamut and Ahmat Abdulahad, two of whom were sold to the Americans as terrorists by the Pakistani army for $5000 each. They were sent to Guantánamo where they remained, without charge or trial, for between 5 and 7 years. The US government declared that Guantánamo detainees would be treated as ‘unlawful combatants’, rather than prisoners of war, which effectively meant that they didn’t intend to follow the principles of the Geneva Convention.

The Uyghurs were found innocent but complex US politics led to their continued detention and a recalcitrant Congress wouldn’t sign off their release. This impasse was not helped by the Chinese government continuing to claim that they were dangerous terrorists, blatantly ignoring the lack of evidence. Tragically, Barack Obama’s government couldn’t resettle them and set about trying to bribe other countries to grant them safe haven.

Henriquez’s film is largely comprised of talking-head interviews with the victims, their stalwart translator,./

, and the American lawyers who worked for their freedom pro-bono.  Frustratingly, because the US military were so careful to cover their tracks and evidence of torture there is little footage to be had from the top security detention centre. However, the interviewees’ emotional scars are evident and it is impossible not to be moved by their testimonies.

Eventually, the Uyghurs were found homes in Albania, Bermuda, El Salvador, Palau, Switzerland and Slovakia. There is no mention of compensation. As one of them points out, they have lost their best years in prison, in inhumane conditions. Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd is indeed a surreal journey through American politics, American hypocrisy and a warped justice system.

Shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Review originally published by

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Film Review – No Land’s Song

Posted by lucypopescu on March 23, 2015

No land's songAyat Najafi’s enthralling documentary film No Land’s Song is about his sister Sara’s attempts to stage a concert in Tehran featuring female soloists. Following the Islamic revolution of 1979 female singers were banned from performing solo in public, unless to an exclusively female audience.  Iran has a history of iconic female singers, such as Qamar al-Molouk Vaziri, Delkash and Googoosh. Now their recordings are only available on the black market.

Sara, a composer, and her friends feel keenly the loss of the female voice in Iran. She decides to plan a public concert of Persian music with singers Parvin Namazi and Sayeh Sodeyfi. She enlists the help of two French female soloists Élise Caron and Jeanne Cherhal and Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian singer-songwriter known for her protest songs. Sara presents the project to the authorities as an opportunity to rebuild cultural bridges between France and Iran.

In his feature debut, Germany-based Najafi accompanies his sister on a sometimes labyrinthine journey. Sara visits a traditional teashop and one man recalls the pre-Revolution cabarets and music clubs where women drank alcohol and sang freely. Whenever she attends the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance there is a blackout. Sara clandestinely records the increasingly surreal conversations. Most telling of all is her interview with a religious scholar to ask why women can’t sing solo in front of a male audience any more. He tells her “No decent man sitting in public and listening to music should get sexually aroused. He mustn’t deviate from his normal condition.” These episodes are in stark contrast to the light and colour of her Paris visits.

The French musicians Sara works with are by turn excited and frustrated by the bureaucracy of the state and its indecision about granting them visas and whether the concert can go ahead. Eventually, in 2013, the authorities decide that the foreign musicians can come to Tehran but, fearful of another Green Wave (uprising), the concert is postponed until after the presidential elections in June. When the musicians finally arrive in September, the authorities again get cold feet after Emel posts an incautious message on Facebook. Sara receives complaints that the women’s voices are too loud in rehearsal and that they aren’t taking proper care with their hijabs.

Made in partnership with Al Jazeera English and TV5 Monde, No Land’s Song is a provocative and compelling film about fighting repression and injustice with music – the featured songs are about hope, freedom and rebellion. It speaks volumes about the treatment of women and freedom of expression in Iran today and is both entertaining and profoundly moving.

Shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Review originally published by



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Theatre Review – Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre

Posted by lucypopescu on March 20, 2015

ShrapnelIn December 2011, thirty-four unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in an isolated mountain village on the Turkish-Iraqi border. The group of traders and their mules had been picked up by a Predator drone. The Americans passed on the intelligence to the Turkish military who, claiming they were terrorists, gave the order to bomb them. Nineteen of the victims were children. The Roboski massacre is the subject of Anders Lustgarten’s compelling political drama, performed in English with Turkish surtitles.

Matching the number of dead, thirty-four short, fragmented scenes are played out on a traverse stage, bare except for a table and chairs. A huge screen dominates the action, depicting the convoy being followed by military drones. They include diesel smugglers Husnu (Aslam Percival Husain) and his fourteen-year old nephew Savas (Josef Altin). Throughout the play’s seventy-five minutes, the ensemble cast share the names of all thirty-four victims of the aerial bombardment. Some, we learn, were teenagers who had engaged in small-scale smuggling to pay for their education.

We’re also shown an arms manufacturer extolling the virtues and profitability of modern warfare and two workers in an arms factory, seemingly unaware that the devices they construct might kill innocent civilians. Two journalists (both played by Karina Fernandez) offer different perspectives on the massacre; one toes the party line, demonising the Kurdish people, the other attempts to report the truth.

Shrapnel is impressively acted and Mehmet Ergen’s gripping production packs a visceral punch.

At Arcola Theatre until 2 April

Box office: 020 7503 1646

Originally published in Camden Review



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Film review – Suite Française

Posted by lucypopescu on March 12, 2015

Suite FrancaiseSaul Dibb’s film adaptation of Suite Française (2014) dramatically compresses the various strands of Irène Némirovsky’s incomplete World War II novel, discovered by her daughter after her death and published to great acclaim in 2004. Némirovsky intended to write five parts dealing with the tumult of war but only completed two novellas – she died in Auchwitz in 1942. In the second, Dolce, she created a vivid portrait of a provincial French town, Bussy, through the various reactions of its citizens to the German occupation.

In their adaptation, Matt Charman and Dibb concentrate on Dolce and the love affair between Lucille Angellier (Michelle Williams) and Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts), a young German officer billeted in the house of her overbearing mother-in-law Mme Angellier (Kristin Scott Thomas). Lucille’s husband is absent; a prisoner of war. We learn he had been unfaithful to her before its outbreak. Mme Angellier is a calculating land owner who tries to use the occupation to her best advantage. Their neighbours, Madeleine (Ruth Wilson) and her volatile farmer husband Benoit (Sam Riley), feisty Celine (Margot Robbie), the self-serving Viscount (Lambert Wilson) and his waspish wife (Harriet Walter) become secondary characters in the film, important only so far as they affect the central love story.

Fortunately, it’s a poignant and dramatic affair that holds our interest throughout. Lucille and Bruno share a passion for classical music and this is what brings them together. Before the war, Bruno had been a composer and he asks to play Lucille’s piano. As a cautious love blossoms between the pair, tensions in the town escalate. Some of the German soldiers begin marauding, chasing the French women and taunting the few remaining men. Then the townsfolk start to voice their grievances with one another and betray their neighbours to the occupiers. Bruno is increasingly called upon to dispense rough justice. Things come to a head when Kurt Bonnet (Tom Schilling) a German officer is fatally shot and Benoit is forced on the run.

While it may not appeal to purists, purging some of Némirovsky’s complex characterisation and finer detail serves the film well. Matt Charman and Dibb hold on to the spirit of the original and its uncomfortable exploration of collaboration and betrayal. Love and war are a winning combination and Eduard Grau’s beautiful cinematography, terrific performances all round, in particular the simmering chemistry between Schoenaerts and Williams, should ensure Suite Française’s box-office success as well as adding to Némirovsky’s fan base.

Originally published by


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Film Review – Leviathian

Posted by lucypopescu on March 12, 2015

leviathianLiving up to its title, there is an epic quality to Leviathan (2014), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s tragic drama about corruption and impunity in modern Russia. Mechanic Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) and his second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) are facing eviction from their home overlooking the Barents Sea. It’s in a prime position and the miscreant mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), wants to bulldoze it and redevelop the land. Kolya’s enlists the help of his old friend Dimitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), now a city lawyer, who arrives from Moscow with damning evidence of the mayor’s past misdemeanours.

Leviathan starts as a simple tale of local corruption which serves to reflect the bigger picture in Russia. As if to underline the point, a portrait of Putin hangs in the mayor’s office and dominates one crucial scene where Dimitri, denied the opportunity to follow lawful procedures, attempts to blackmail Vadim. Leviathan also offers a searing indictment of a judiciary that rubber stamps preordained verdicts with no right of appeal and the Church’s close ties to political power. It’s remarkable that Leviathan passed Russia’s harsh censorship laws to become its official entry at this year’s Academy Awards.

Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin’s script is packed full of telling detail. In the Book of Job, the leviathan was a huge sea creature, destructive and malevolent. Kolya finds his life turned upside down by the acts of crooked officials followed by a series of events that he cannot control and, finally, by love and betrayal. Widespread corruption, Zvyagintsev suggests, is the monster Koyla cannot defeat. The rot sets in and infects everything including his closest relationships.

Leviathan is impressively structured. The rise and falls in dramatic tension are perfectly timed and the plot twists keep us guessing to the end. Leviathan is a memorable portrait of Russia today where ordinary citizens alternately celebrate their small successes or drown their despair with copious amounts of vodka. Although Zvyagintsev paints a bleak world where political corruption and casual violence are rife and religion offers no consolation, there are also moments of surreal humour. The courtroom scene, where Koyla’s fate has already been decided, is delivered in rapid, expressionless prose. Then there are the numerous drunken exchanges, Vadim’s preoccupation with religious absolution (like Putin he has a priest who serves as his personal confessor) and a hunting trip, where Koyla and his friends use portraits of former leaders of the Soviet Union as target practice.

The region’s stark landscape, beautifully captured in Mikhail Krichman’s dramatic cinematography, dominates the film’s opening and closing moments, and vividly evokes a harsh, unforgiving environment. However, there is a note of hope; Leviathan’s central motif, the bones of a beached whale, suggest the circularity of life and death and remind us that all power is finite.

Originally published by

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Book Review: Spill Simmer Falter Wither

Posted by lucypopescu on March 12, 2015

SpillSara Baume’s extraordinary debut follows a year in the life of a 57-year-old recluse and a small one-eyed dog bred for digging and badger baiting.

Through the narrator’s opaque musings, we learn that his name is “the same word as for sunbeams, as for winged and boneless sharks” and that his father, a major presence in the novel, has died 18 months earlier.

Halfway through his rambling narrative, Ray acknowledges he is an outcast in the small Irish community he inhabits: “They’ve long since marked me down as strange, a strange man, I am a strange man. And it’s because of my strangeness that they make a special point of knowing where I live. And they wait and have been waiting all the time I’ve been in this house in this village, all my life, for strange things to happen with which they can finger me, for which they can have me and my threatening strangeness removed.”

It is this self-awareness that draws Ray to One Eye. He is a similar misfit, wounded, always snapping at other dogs and distrustful of humans. Baume gradually reveals that both have been shunned and mistreated. Trust and love quickly blossom between the two but Ray knows that they are in trouble when One Eye sinks his fangs into the neck of a local shih tzu.

Baume’s lyrical use of language is impressive. She takes her time to reveal the psychological scars that have shaped Ray. He switches between the first and second person, projecting his emotions and thoughts on to One Eye. In this way, Baume brilliantly builds up vivid portraits of them both. Never hiding their flaws – One Eye’s insatiable greed, his “maggoty nose” and Ray’s stinking feet and turgid breath – she makes us care deeply for them. Ray’s character recalls Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and is as memorable.

Outwardly he appears slow-witted and lumbering but then we realise Ray is racing with thoughts and ideas, too many to handle, and has no one with whom to share them. His knowledge is cobbled together from observing others, from the radio, newspapers, and books.

Man and dog are planted in a landscape that is by turn harsh and beautiful. Carefully structured to follow the changing seasons, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a heart-breaking read and heralds Baume as a major new talent.

Originally published by the Independent on Sunday

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Film review – Hinterland

Posted by lucypopescu on March 6, 2015

HinterlandHarry Macqueen’s impressive directorial debut, Hinterland (2014), which he also scripts and stars in together with folk singer Lori Campbell follows two childhood friends who reconnect in their late twenties and go on a road trip to Cornwall. Lola (Campbell) is back in London after working for some years in America as a singer-musician. Harvey (Macqueen) picks her up in London and drives her to his family’s holiday home where they had spent much of their youth. Over one weekend they try to capture some of their childlike exuberance for simple pleasures. They take a boat trip, attempt to fish, walk along the windswept Cornish coast (it’s February and desolate), sit around a fire, talk and drink.

It soon becomes apparent that Harvey is in love with Lola. Less clear are her true feelings for him. We learn that Lola only returned because her father has left her mother for another woman. She is nonchalant about her career and her cynicism about relationships is reinforced by her father’s desertion. Often Ben Hecking’s camera just rolls, seamlessly capturing the characters’ shifting, but unspoken, emotions and, in particular, Harvey’s inner turmoil. The closes up of Harvey and Lola are beautifully contrasted with the exterior shots of London’s iconic sites, the desolate moors (complete with ponies) and narrow country lanes leading to the windswept coast and roiling sea.

Macqueen has been likened to Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) but there’s also more than a passing nod to Mike Leigh in his use of social realism and Hinterland’s political resonance and improvisational quality. Macqueen’s attention to detail is also memorable. Before we even see the characters we learn something about them from the mise-en-scène. Hinterland opens with the ringing of a phone. The camera pans around Harvey’s home – on a piece of paper stuck above a messy desk are the words “We are the children of Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher”. In his calendar the name “Lola” is scrawled and underscored. As he drives into London, the radio debate about the problems faced by twenty-somethings, newly out of university, unable to afford a mortgage and with an overwhelming debt to pay off, root us firmly in time and place.

Hinterland is low budget, just 78 minutes long, the performances are deliberately understated and nothing very much happens. But it is clear that a lot of love and care has gone into the film’s composition. It is some measure of the two central performances, Hecking’s cinematography, Alice Petit’s editing and Macqueen’s tight scripting that the film conveys so much in such a short time.

Originally published by

HINTERLAND is in cinemas and on demand 27 February




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Film Review – Trash

Posted by lucypopescu on February 21, 2015

TrashStephen Daldry’s latest feature film, set among the trash heaps of Rio de Janeiro, belongs to its youthful, non-professional cast. Trash opens with Jose Angelo (Wagner Moura) hurriedly packing. As he attempts to flee his apartment he is cornered by cops. Before his arrest, he throws a large wallet into a passing rubbish truck. The next day, fourteen-year-old Rafael (Rickson Tevez) finds the wallet while foraging in his local dump. He has no idea that it will change his destiny and that of his two friends, fellow rubbish-pickers Gardo (Luis Eduardo) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein). But as the police start sniffing around their favela, offering an award for the wallet’s safe return, Rafael realises that he’s found something worth hanging on to.

Jose Angelo’s wallet contains money, a key and a miniature flip book displaying the photograph of a young girl. With the help of Gardo and Rato, Rafael sets out on a journey to discover what it all means and whether more money might be involved. Rato recognises that the key belongs to a set of lockers in a train station. Inside one, the boys find a letter addressed to a man detained in prison. They enlist the help of two Americans living in the favela, Father Julliard (Martin Sheen) and Olivia (Rooney Mara) a volunteer English teacher in order to gain access to the prison. Here they meet Clemente (Nelson Xavier), Jose Angelo’s uncle who, on hearing their story, realises that his nephew must be dead.

Meanwhile, it’s apparent that a substantial amount of money is involved. Rafael’s refusal to cooperate, incurs the wrath of local cop Frederico (Selton Mello), who is working on the orders of a ruthless politician, mayoral candidate Antonio Santos (Stepan Nercessian). Narrowly escaping death at the hands of Frederico’s thugs, Rafael hears Santos’s name and realises that he may be connected to the wallet.

Further clues are hidden in passages from the Bible and this quickly becomes a race between the young trio and Frederico as to who will solve the mystery first. Adriano Goldman’s cinematography does an excellent job of conveying the frenetic pace of the various chase scenes.

An upbeat denouement, the dropping of numerous clues and Richard Curtis’s busy script, based on Andy Mulligan’s novel, occasionally feels a little formulaic, but this is tempered by the luminous performances of the three boys; all making their film debuts. Daldry has a rare talent, evident in his feature film directorial debut, Billy Elliot (2000), for drawing out the very best from young actors. The sheer joy and energy of the boys propels Trash and keeps us rooting for good over evil despite the contrived ending.

Originally published by



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Berlinale- Film Review: As We Were Dreaming

Posted by lucypopescu on February 19, 2015

As we were dreamingAs We Were Dreaming (Als wir träumten), a coming of age story about a group of friends growing up in Leipzig, is German director Andreas Dresen’s competition entry for the Bear adapted by Wolfgang Kohlhaase from Clemens Meyer’s award-winning novel of the same name. As the film opens, Dani (Merlin Rose) is looking for his friend Mark (Joel Basman) in an abandoned cinema. We then travel back in time to their recent past. The wall has fallen and East and West have recently reunited. Dani, Mark,  Paul (Frederic Haselon), Pitbull (Marcel Heuperman) and Rico (Julius Nitschkoff) run riot every night, drinking, stealing, hotwiring cars and smashing them up. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn of their school days as young Pioneers, drilled to be loyal to Socialist ideals.

As a child Dani had hoped to be a journalist, he won his school’s poetry competition, while Rico dreamed of becoming a champion boxer. As teenagers, the friends open an underground club in a dilapidated building, but a rival gang of neo-Nazi skinheads decide it’s on their patch and start kicking up a storm. Matters are further complicated because Dani is obsessed with Starlet (Ruby O. Fee) the girlfriend of the rival gang’s leader. Refusing to bow to pressure, Rico, Mark and Dani are badly beaten-up. As they grow older, things only get worse. Paul considers working in pornography and Pitbull starts dealing drugs. Dani spends time in a youth correctional facility, Mark becomes hooked on heroin.

The characters’ lives are evidently meant to reflect reality for poorer, disadvantaged East Germans after reunification. For many, newfound freedom inevitably led to excess. Unremittingly high octane and sometimes graphically violent, As We Were Dreaming, won’t appeal to all tastes. Some audience members left during Dani’s brutal beating. As they are all proudly delinquent, it’s hard to feel sorry for any of them. Dani is the most sympathetic but he betrays his two friends when they are being chased by the gang. The zeal with which they steal and smash things up becomes depressing after a while. The narrative is punctuated with snappy chapter headings such as “Gutter Hound”, “Rivalry” and “Thunderstorm in the Brain,” but there is little else to dispel the overriding atmosphere of alienation and despair.

Meyer, born in former East Germany, has described himself as a “child of the street”. Like Dani he spent time in a youth detention facility but put his experiences to good use by penning acclaimed novels. One can’t help yearning for similar redemption for his characters, for there to have been some emotional journey worth taking, but the film’s bleak ending offers little in the way of hope. Superb performances from the young cast and Michael Hammon’s evocative camerawork are the main compensations for a relentlessly bleak story of lost youth.

Originally published by




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