Reviews

REVIEW: Army of the Dead (2021)

Mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to put together a team to go into Las Vegas to steal $200 million from a safe beneath the Strip. The only problem is Las Vegas is walled off from the rest of the world and is overrun by zombies – some of which appear to be a lot smarter and faster than you’d think.

At almost two and a half hours long, Army of the Dead is a film where you feel that run time. There are entertaining sequences but there’s more lulls than not and there are certainly portions of the film which drag. The fact that this crew of people don’t get into Las Vegas into almost an hour into the film is telling. There’s a fair few characters to recruit but it takes so long and never uses any of the typical narrative choices from the heist genre to do so so it’s interesting. Not to compare a zombie heist film to Ocean’s Eleven but that film shows how you can quickly get what the key skills an personality quirks of characters in quick succession and how they’ll fit in the team. And to be honest, while Army of the Dead is pitched as a zombie heist movie and though there are certainly a lot of zombies, the heisting is actually quite minimal. There’s really only Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) who’s the safe cracker, everyone else is former military or gang members who can handle themselves in a shootout. Though an argument can be made for Peters the helicopter pilot (Tig Notaro) having the getaway driver role.

Naturally being a zombie film and having about a dozen characters in this band of thieves, there’s going to be some casualties and potentially a lot of death but there was far more than I was expecting leading to a very bleak viewing experience. Plus, so many of the characters get little to no development and many don’t seem to have strong ties to one another that the vast majority of deaths have no impact. Dieter and Peters had key roles to play in the plan, so the threat of their death means something but with everyone else it just let like they were there to be zombie fodder.

What I presume is supposed to be the emotional core of this film is the relationship between Scott and his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), a volunteer at the camps outside Las Vegas who joins her father and his team on their mission though she has her own reasons for going. I say presume as it really didn’t do anything for me. Bautista and Purnell are both fine in their roles but it’s the dialogue and story that surrounds them that doesn’t work. It was also very difficult to care about Kate when her actions were often infuriating. Personally, I was more interested in the dynamic between Dieter and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), one of the former-military guys, as small interactions between them actually built the foundations of a relationship, something that none of the other characters had. More often than not you were told why these characters liked or cared about one another than were shown it.

One thing Army of the Dead has going for it are the zombies themselves. These creatures are fast and intelligent and there’s interesting power dynamics in play with them. Plus, the way these zombies move and the sounds they make is very unsettling. There’s a sequence with a room full of hibernating zombies that is very suspenseful, though character decisions after it are very annoying.

I’ve realised that there’s more negative here than positive but that’s what’s sticking out to me about Army of the Dead. There are fun moments like Dave Bautista jumping from car table to card table while money rains down, guns fire and zombies attack, but those are few and far between. It’s hard to care about the characters when they make so many bad decisions and seem to be bad at the jobs e.g. former-military people not doing basic things like watching each other’s backs so they don’t get bitten by zombies. The heist element is minimal and while the zombie element is good, it’s hard to care about it when the story is pretty dull. 2/5.

Honestly I think I’ve given Army of the Dead two stars instead of one because of how well Tig Notaro was added into the film (she shot all her scenes on greenscreen as she replaced an actor who was fired during post-production) and because her character was fun and weird. Something the rest of the film was lacking.

REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

After an accident on a space mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) begins to develop powers beyond her control. Her fellow X-Men fight to help her while other forces seek to either destroy or control her.

Oh boy is X-Men: Dark Phoenix a mess. It looks and feels like everyone involved didn’t really care much anymore. For all we know that may have been the case as Disney had bought Fox during the films production or post-production, so it was pretty much presumed that this was likely to be the last X-men film with these characters and actors. The special effects aren’t great, and the makeup and prosthetics are even worse. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a horrible shade of blue and looks far worse than she did in the previous three films Lawrence played the character in.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg who is better known as a writer and producer. In fact, Dark Phoenix was his directorial debut and it wasn’t particularly well directed to be honest. In action sequences they are either incredibly static and not interesting or they’re more chaotic and you have little idea of the space these characters are fighting in relation to one another.

The characterisation of some of the characters in this film is awful, if they are even given much to do. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are often side-lined, while Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loses his dorky innocence and becomes a coldblooded killer, not dissimilar to the mind-controlled version in X2 and it’s incredibly jarring. The biggest character assassination is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He is the absolute worst in this film. He’s self-absorbed and almost power-hungry before things go wrong and when you learn of his involvement in Jean’s trauma it makes him look even worse. While Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hardly doing anything new – trying to live the quiet life but then gets pulled into a conflict – as least Fassbender actually gives a good performance which is more than a lot of his co-workers did.

I’m a big fan of the found family trope (there’s a reason why the Fast and Furious films are some of my favourites) and even how they shoehorned that idea into the climax of this film couldn’t save it for me. Speaking of the climax, it happens on a train and is one of the most visually uninteresting sequences ever.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a sour note to potentially end this X-Men franchise on. The dialogue is bad with some really cringey lines, the plot is barely there and there are so many factions going after Jean that while I believe it to be comic book accurate, the addition of Jessica Chastain’s undeveloped character and compatriots feels unnecessary and there’s enough going on that it might’ve been a better film without them. I’d prefer to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine than this. 1/5.

READ THE WORLD – Laos: Mother’s Beloved: Stories from Laos by Outhine Bounyavong

Translated by Bounheng Inversin, Roger Rumpf, Jaqui Chagon, Thipason Phimviengkham, and William Galloway.

A collection of short stories about the ordinary people of Laos.

These stories were super short, often no more than five pages long, but they often managed to say a lot. I was frequently surprised by how often the last paragraph or even the last sentence of a story suddenly reframed everything that had come before it, twisting the narrative slightly so you see things from a different point of view. The stories are quite simply written but that just adds to their impact and makes them incredibly readable. This is a collection I read in one sitting and I think that’s because of the length and the writing style.

The stories are often about very mundane things and people, their hopes and dreams, their mistakes and good fortunes. It made how the viewpoint on the characters or the story twist so much more interesting. I really liked how this collection was bookended by stories about mothers. It made the title of the collection work and it gave the collection a sense of completeness that I haven’t always gotten from short story collections.

Some of the stories were sad, talking about the fallout of from war and how the threat of environmental degradation affects people, both individually and collectively, in different ways. It’s an interesting collection and I really appreciated the introduction from Peter Koret as it gave a brief overview of Laos history and how different factors has affected its literature over the decades. To be honest, I don’t often read introductions in books (I’m usually too keen to get to the actual story) so I’m not sure what made me start reading this one, but I’m pleased I did as a lot of it added context to the short stories and made me grasp cultural references I would have otherwise missed. Note to self: read introductions more often.

Something I really appreciated about Mother’s Beloved was the decision to have the stories in the original Lao side by side with the English translation. I’ve seen it before in translated poetry collections like The End of the Dark Era and Looking for Trouble, but I’d not seen this in a short story collection before. Lao is a completely different looking language and alphabet to what I know so I have no hope of reading it but I liked how in the introduction the decision to include both the original text and the translation was because it could mean the stories could be shared with multiple generations of people, no matter if they only knew English or Lao.

REVIEW: Deadpool 2 (2018)

My original Deadpool 2 review from when it was first released.

Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) puts together a superhero team to protect mutant kid Russell (Julian Dennison) from time travelling cyborg Cable (Josh Brolin) who is out for vengeance.

Considering how the first Deadpool film really didn’t work for me on rewatch, I was a bit apprehensive going into the sequel, but I was pleased to find that Deadpool 2 actually held up! Think this was mainly down to the new characters who were mostly played straight to Deadpool’s off the wall comedy and references. There are still a lot of references (some of the X-Men ones are especially good), crude humour and jokes but more consistently land this time. Plus it does help that they try and give Wade some more serious and emotional development for Reynolds to sink his teeth into, so Deadpool isn’t just a joke machine.

Director David Leitch (of John Wick fame) really ups the game with the action in Deadpool 2. It’s clear from his stunt background that Leitch knows how to film fights that are innovative and well shot, as well as how to show character through their fighting styles. It’s like everyone involved with Deadpool 2 just fully embraces the silliness of the film and its characters, which makes both fights and character beats just work so much better.

Most of Deadpool’s superhero team aren’t around long to make much of an impression but the sequence they are in is so unexpected and hilarious that it’s not really a shame they’re not in it much. Domino (Zazie Beetz) is the one member of Deadpool’s team that sticks around and she’s fantastic. Her superpower is being lucky and how that’s show on screen is very cinematic (no matter what Deadpool might say) and it’s just fun!

Josh Brolin as Cable is pretty brilliant too. The prosthetics and special effects work on his cyborg body and how that’s integrated with his human one looks impressive anyway and with that and the costuming, Cable is an intimidating presence. He’s almost unstoppable and how he and Deadpool work against one another (before naturally finding some common ground) is a great dynamic, with one being stoic and the other never shutting up.

That’s not to say Deadpool 2 doesn’t have its flaws. Julian Dennison’s performance as Russell doesn’t always work, it’s hard to take his anger seriously at times and equally the quieter, emotional moments don’t always land either. Then there’s the treatment of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the love of Wade’s life, it feels cheap and so cliché and while Wade often comments on narrative stereotypes, this one is treated so seriously. It’s there to just add emotional weight to Wade’s character and it’s a disservice to Vanessa as her own character.

Deadpool 2 is funny, action-packed and just good fun. The new characters work well with ones we’ve previously met – Karan Soni’s psycho killer Dopinder is an unexpected highlight – and while the first Deadpool movie worked for having a simple plot, Deadpool 2 flourishes for having more action, more characters and more emotional moments – though some don’t always hit the mark, at least the attempt was made. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Kazakhstan: The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Translated by Jan Butler and edited by Anthony Gardner.

The story of Mukhamet Shayakhmetov from childhood to his early twenties as he grows up under Stalin’s rule and how the collectivisation of agriculture forever changed his peoples’ nomadic lifestyle and caused a famine that killed over a million Kazakhs.

The Silent Steppe is the kind of historical memoir that’s written in a way that’s pretty easy to read and easy to get engrossed in. It’s not necessarily a literary masterpiece but it manages to capture so many emotions so well and it’s a really interesting insight into a time and a culture I knew nothing about. The Silent Steppe is split into three parts: “Class Enemy” which focuses on what the nomadic life was like, how it was forced to change, and how Shayakhmetov’s father was branded a “kulak” (a well-off peasant and therefore an enemy of the people) and imprisoned, “Famine” which covers the 1932-34 famine, the build up to the disaster and how eventually things started getting a bit better, and “War” when Shayakhmetov was a young man and joined the Red Army to fight in World War Two.

Shayakhmetov was born in 1922 and for his first seven years or so his life was normal, helping his father to look after the animals, travelling hundreds of miles with the rest of the family and the village as the seasons turned. Obviously a life not without hardships but positively idyllic compared to what followed.

What The Silent Steppe does well is not shy away from the horrors of what Shayakhmetov experienced. From the age of eight he was having to travel for dozens or even hundreds miles on his own in search of news of his father, or to learn about other family member. He had to do so much at such a young age as his mother either had to stay at home to look after his siblings or to find work so they could eat. The famine and its effects on him, his family and the people is described in vivid detail and it’s often unsettling. Shayakhmetov combines the personal with the factual almost seamlessly as he gives facts and figures on how the collective farms worked (or more often didn’t) and the cruelty and short-sightedness of government officials who repossessed people’s livestock, belongings and even their homes. It’s hard not to get angry when you read how livestock was taken from people and when the newly set up farms couldn’t deal with them, they slaughtered them and then the meat was just left to rot – not given to or even sold to the people. How Shayakhmetov and his mother managed to survive so much, like the fact they were homeless for so long and unable to settle anywhere due to being the family of a kulak, is a testament to their resilience but also a lot of luck and kindness from others. There’s so many other people mentioned, family and acquaintances, who didn’t survive the famine and a lot of the time who managed to survive and who didn’t was down to where people happened to be living and who or what they knew. Just pure chance.

One think that sticks out in Shayakhmetov’s story is how hospitable the nomadic Kazakh are. Their whole culture was forced to change under Stalin’s rule but so many people would still help him and his family when they could, and his family would always help others. They whole country and millions of people were forced to change and for the most part they kept their core values. Or at least, it took the combination of famine, war, and economic struggles for people to start to change.

The Silent Steppe is a really interesting book that covers a place and time I knew little about and shows how far-reaching Stalin and his policies were. How a whole nomadic culture was forced to change and never returned to what it was in such a relative short space of time is amazing – and not in a good way. The Silent Steppe is sad, informative but also a little hopeful as it really demonstrates the power of community – something the Stalin-regime tried to enforce in a structured way when it was already there.

REVIEW: The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020)

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) can’t help but hoard past mementos from failed relationships, but after her latest breakup with her first proper Grown Up boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) her best friends convince her to start to try and let go of the past. In doing so, Lucy beings to curate an art space dedicated to past relationships with the reluctant help of wannabe hotel owner Nick (Dacre Montgomery).

The Broken Hearts Gallery doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of romcoms but what it does do his hit all the needed romcom beats very well and has a load of charm and a fantastic leading lady in Geraldine Viswanathan. Viswanathan is very funny, and she is the glue that holds this film together. She does a great job of showing the different sides to Lucy and make her sympathetic and believable. Plus, Viswanathan and Montgomery have great chemistry as their verbal sparring goes from friendly to flirty as they get closer.

The Broken Hearts Gallery works because it’s never cynical about romance or the type of genre film it is a part of. Yes, Lucy is a hopeless romantic and Nick is more closed off, but there’s something both satisfying and melancholy about the message of letting go to past relationships. That ability to be able to remember but also move on is important in the breakdown of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. Lucy curates this space in order for her to try and let go and it ends up snowballing into something so much bigger than she could imagine – because she’s not the only one who struggles with the what ifs and maybes.

Besides the romance aspect of The Broken Hearts Gallery, one of the key aspects of both Lucy and Nick’s lives are their friendships. Lucy lives with Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo), one whose been in a relationship for six years and the other that leaves behind a string of broken-hearted models. How they each think of love and commitment is different but then their friendship is so strong. They aren’t afraid to call each other out on their issues but they’re also very protective of one another and their dialogue, while full of quips and not particularly realistic, is often very funny. While it doesn’t get as much screen time as the girls’ relationship, Nick has Marcos (Arturo Castro), a friend/employee and his wife Randy (Megan Ferguson) and their relationship is often both funny and awkward.

The Broken Hearts Gallery is sweet, funny and heart-warming. It’s a film that’s made to put a big smile on your face and has relationships that are full of chemistry – platonic and romantic. It’s just a delightful film that makes you feel better if you’re feeling down. 4/5.

REVIEW: Logan (2017)

My original review of Logan from when it was released four years ago.

In the future where mutants are nearly extinct, an old and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) leads a quiet life, trying to keep himself and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) out of harm’s way. When Laura (Dafne Keene), a young mutant who’s more like him than he first realises, comes to him for help Logan reluctantly tries to get her to safety.

Logan is a lot more real and grounded compared to the previous X-Men films. There’s no spandex and there’s fewer powers on show. This is a Logan and Charles who are both old and frail in different ways, who have seen are lot and are weary with the world – though Charles has more hope than Logan.

Putting aside the superpowered side effects of Charles’ illness, how he acts is very true to life in terms of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. He sometimes doesn’t remember Logan, he has mood swings, he doesn’t always remember what he’s previously said or done. It’s sad anyway but seeing Patrick Stewart play Charles Xavier, a man we’ve previously seen to always be in control of his mind and just about any situation not being able to manage the simplest of tasks just goes to show how long and hard a life these characters have had.

The action in Logan is brutal. Logan isn’t as strong as he once was, and he doesn’t heal as fast, but he can still stab and slash at bad guys when needed. Laura, on the other hand, has a tonne of energy and is vicious as she takes down the men who want to take her. There’s blood and screams and limbs are torn from bodies as well as a few decapitations too. It’s rough but it is well suited to the characters of Wolverine and X-23 and I think we’re lucky we’ve seen the full extent of what these characters can do when the film’s rating isn’t an issue.

Logan is an incredibly satisfying end to Wolverine’s story (or at least Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him). There’s some humour and hope in amongst this dreary and hard world these characters now live and Jackman and Stewart’s performances and chemistry are both phenomenal and, at times, can bring you to tears.

Logan is a sombre, personal story about two weary men trying to save one girls life and for her to have a life better than there’s. Logan is the perfect swansong for the character and for Hugh Jackman who has made the role his own over all these years and films. It really is a drama with comic book elements rather than being a full-on typical superhero movie and it really works as that. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Turkmenistan: The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar

Translated by W.M. Coulson.

After industrialists convince a village of fishermen and their families on the coast of the Caspian Sea, they start to make plans to move to the city. All but one, Araz refuses to leave and give up his ancestral home and his trade of being a fisherman. As tensions rise between Araz and the elderly fishermen, the ghost of Aypi, a woman betrayed and murdered by her husband and her village, begins to exact revenge on the villagers.

The Tale of Aypi is such a strange little story. It’s one that starts out relatively simple but then becomes a story that’s laced with mystery and magic as it becomes difficult to tell what is and isn’t real.

There’s a lot of true to life problems Araz and the other fisherman are facing. The majority of them have come to terms with the fact they are being forcibly relocated, and many of them are starting to see it as a necessity in order to keep connected to their children and grandchildren, as their city-living is so different to village life. Araz is like a one man protest as even his wife is looking to the future outside the village, even though she wouldn’t tell him that. The way Araz is almost abducted by the police so corrupt officials can hold and intimidate him to try and get him to agree to move from the village is very uncomfortable but also almost funny as Araz has such a strong sense of purpose he refuses to move.

Then there’s the ghost of Aypi. The way she interacts with the village and its people is interesting. It’s like she changes shape depending on who she is trying to influence or torment, and the thin line between real and imaginary is always there. Sometimes she’s a physical presence, she can be seen by the villagers and have conversations with them, while there’s other times where she attacks them in a fit of rage and they see a sandstorm. Then there’s also the blurring between dreams and reality where thing’s happen before someone wakes up and is unsettled by the whole encounter.

Aypi’s rage is certainly justified, and she offers some interesting ideas on the roles of men and women and their relationship in society. How what both men and women want has changed so men are more interested in finding foreign wives to fit in their strict moulds as the local women are striving for something else. There are some impactful lines like: “Women’ve lost their natural personality, and men’ve become too submissive and they can’t take it anymore.”

The Tale of Aypi is odd and melancholy as so many characters in this story have sad or hard lives. While many of the villagers have decided to give in and move, it’s clear that they won’t have it easy when they’re in the city as their attitudes are so different to people from the city. The Tale of Aypi is a story of community and cultural clash. The inclusion of Aypi the vengeful spirit is sometimes hard to follow as she often goes from being an almost solid person to some sort of spirit who isn’t connect to anything. Still, The Tale of Aypi is a compelling story and at less than 200 pages it packs in a lot of thoughts and ideas into it.

REVIEW: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

My original X-Men: Apocalypse review from when it was first released.

Ten years after the Washington incident, mutants are known to the world. When En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who is believed to be the world’s first mutant, resurfaces Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men must unite to save the world from destruction.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about X-Men: Apocalypse. I feel like it’s the epitome of a mixed bag. There are some things I really liked but there are a lot that I really didn’t. Let’s start with the good.

The crop of new characters (or younger versions of characters we already know) are fun and it’s nice to see their dynamics. There are hints of the extent of Jean’s (Sophie Turner) powers and a young Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) is suitable bashful and cocky as he tries to come to terms with his new powers. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is some comedic relief but the full extent of how visually impressive his powers are (as seen in X2) is never truly realised and he’s used to just ferry around people to move the plot along.

Evan Peters returns as Peter Maximoff and while how his parentage is revealed (or not) is very annoying, Peter as a character is one of the best things in this film. He’s so much fun and brightens every scene he’s in. There’s once again a sequence that shows his powers to their fullest and it’s got another great song accompanying it. Honestly, this film would’ve been over at the halfway point if Peter hadn’t shown up.

Now for the not so good. Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto and his performance is still great and is still one of the best casting decisions in this franchise. However, the decision to have Magneto destroy Auschwitz seems insensitive at best and that scene is just uncomfortable to watch. Having four costumed superpowered people just standing in there seemed weird to begin with and while mutants are an allegory for minority groups and Magneto is Jewish it just seems like a sequence that shouldn’t have gotten past the script drafting stages.

En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse is such a bland and generic villain. He’s big on the monologues and he’s not particularly intimidating either. Oscar Isaac is wasted in the role and to be honest anyone could have been under all those prosthetics and make up and the performance would have hardly changed.

There’s a whole segment where Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman) makes an appearance and captures some of our heroes that feels out of place when you think about it too much. It’s really just there to give Jean, Scott and Nightcrawler something to do and to facilitate a big cameo. The reasons why Stryker has taken them are paper thin and it does just seem like a way for the heroes to get a plane and some cool battle suits. There could have been another way to achieve those things and shave twenty minutes off the films runtime while doing so.

X-Men: Apocalypse is a bit of a mess really. The final battle is exciting, the ways various characters fight one another with their powers is always cool to watch, and the film does end on a good note with the formation of the X-Men, but the dialogue is often terrible and anything but subtle, and with a one-dimensional villain it feels like the threat to the world is there just because the characters told you it is. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Moldova: The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

Translated by Ross Ufberg. Narrated by Daniel Thomas May.

Trigger warnings for rape, child trafficking and suicide.

Set in the early 2000s, a group of villagers in Moldova dream of a new life in Italy. They live an impoverished life in Moldova and through any methods they can think of they try to get to Italy where they’ve been told you get paid thousands of euros for just washing dishes.

The Good Life Elsewhere is a strange and funny story. The ways these people attempt to get to Italy become more and more absurd. To begin with there’s the understandable and realistic attempt to cross by paying smugglers who promise to get them across the Italian border and con them out of €4,000 each as it’s revealed that they never left Moldova. From there the attempts get more outrageous and include building both an aeroplane and a submarine out of a tractor.

I think listening to the audiobook helped me take in and understand this story. The narrator does a good job at distinguishing the many characters voices and I think the humour of the various situations came across a lot better than if I was just reading it. Hearing someone tell a funny story is often more entertaining than reading the funny story yourself.

The Good Life Elsewhere follows multiple characters including a man who has been obsessed with Italy since he was a child and has spent years learning the language and a priest who accidentally starts a couple of crusades leading hundreds of people to Italy on foot. There’s also a number of politicians who seem the most realistic out of them all aka could be from a Moldovan version of The Thick of It.

You can almost get emotional whiplash from The Good Life Elsewhere. The antics these villagers get into to try and get to Italy are often ridiculous and amusing but, as the trigger warnings suggest, there’s also a dark underbelly to it all. People who lose everything in their quest to get to Italy take their own lives, and when a woman is repeatedly raped over the course of years, it’s almost like a footnote and there isn’t time to linger on it before the next strange event is discussed. Besides the triggering content, often just after an amusing escapade or attempt to conduct a plan to get to Italy, something suddenly happens that turns to comedic into a tragedy.

The Good Life Elsewhere is an interesting story to consider in terms of European politics and the extreme lengths people will go to, to try and get somewhere they believe will give them a better life. The “fear” of immigrants Italy and Romania seem to have, the way Moldovans have to pay bribes to the police or other officials in order to keep travelling, how people are detained for no reason and have no idea if or when they can continue. It’s all very sad. Moldova joined the EU in 2016, as The Good Life Elsewhere is set in the early 2000s there’s often discussions of the EU, Moldova potentially joining it and what that could mean for the people. Especially as Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union so there is the stark contrast between what was once a pro-Soviet country and how they almost idealise the West – in this case Italy. It really is weird but interesting how Italy becomes the almost promised land to these people, and how a whole village becomes enamoured with it.

The Good Life Elsewhere is equal parts tragedy and comedy. It’s satirical and odd and often unbelievable, but even today thousands of people travel from their homeland, risking death in the hope of where they end up might provide a better life for them and their loved ones, so it’s not totally unbelievable. It just pushes everything to the extreme.