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DOC TALK

Childhood revisited, when in Rome, swan song, Free Cinema

From "Rewind."
From "Rewind."John Solem/Rewind to Fast-Forward Productions

At the beginning of Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s “Rewind” (2019) the filmmaker says “I know vaguely how I got to this place. But there are pieces that are missing. It’s a puzzle made from my life. I feel like I have to put those pieces back together if I’m ever going to move on.”

The pieces come together slowly at first, but the picture that emerges by the end is one of grotesque evil and incredible courage.

It starts with his father filming him as a baby (and later his younger sister) and then continuing to do so obsessively as he grows up. Neulinger’s mother recalls how her husband’s attachment to the video camera distanced him from his relationship with her and the family. He seems like the protagonist of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Camera Buff” (1979), so attached to the medium that he abandons the reality it records.

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That reality is obliquely documented on the numerous tapes, some 200 hours of footage, that Neulinger peruses in his search. They show a happy child to whom something happened between kindergarten, when testing showed him to be far above average academically, and first grade, when he fell behind drastically and became an angry, fractious, and self-destructive child. At one point young Neulinger took the camera into his own hands and filmed himself full of rage and self-loathing. But the cause of this transformation lies somewhere outside the frame.

Like Andrew Jarecki’s “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003), Jeff Malmberg’s “Marwencol” (2010), and Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), “Rewind” has a narrative that takes unexpected, sometimes sinister, twists and turns. I’ll leave it to viewers experience these on their own, but suffice it to say that though innocence may prevail the guilty are not necessarily brought to justice. Throughout it all Neulinger remains undaunted and relentless but also artful, as he shows how cinema can both conceal and reveal, how it can evade the truth, or confront it, and by so doing transcend it.

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“Rewind” premieres on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on May 11 at 10 p.m. It is also available via Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, and other services beginning May 8.

Go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/rewind.

Pope Francis in "Inside the Vatican."
Pope Francis in "Inside the Vatican."© Copyright Governatorato dello S.C.V. – Direzione dei Musei

Pope culture

Silvia Sacco’s “Inside the Vatican” starts out with the venerable Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, checking out the view from his chambers in the Apostolic Palace while listening to Abba on a CD player. There is something comforting in these times about this combination of centuries-old splendor and tradition with a pop music soundtrack, about the melding of the hallowed and the affable embodied especially by Francis, (almost) everyone’s favorite pope. A behind-the-scenes diary of the fifth year of Francis’s papacy, in 2018, the documentary ranges from the dedicated workmen buffing the Bernini bronzes in St. Peter’s Basilica in preparation for the Easter service, to a soloist in the papal choir who has qualms about singing the “Credo” when he isn’t sure what he believes, to the pope himself engaged in the moving ritual of washing and kissing the feet of prisoners.

But the film also takes note of the crises facing the Church, including the never-ending sex scandals and the challenges from conservatives opposed to Francis’s progressive views on gay rights, divorce, and social justice. Though his demeanor may be benign, Francis knows how to work the system, as he packs the College of Cardinals with new members from unrepresented countries such as Pakistan and Madagascar who are likely to help choose a successor who will continue his reforms. As one Vatican journalist comments, “He’s not a liberal. He’s not a conservative. He’s a radical.”

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“Inside the Vatican” can be streamed at pbs.org and on the PBS App until May 26.

Go to www.pbs.org/show/inside-vatican.

Marius Petipa
Marius Petipa© Les Poissons Volants/courtesy Icarus Films

Giant steps

He’s not as well-known as such titans of dance as George Balanchine or Vaslav Nijinsky, but Marius Petipa nonetheless was responsible for some of the most beloved and performed ballets in the repertoire, including “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake.” Denis Sneguirev’s brisk, inventive, and engaging “Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet” (2019) tells the story of how this aging journeyman dancer found a second career in 1847 in St. Petersburg with the Imperial Ballet, delighting audiences — including the czar — with such extravaganzas as “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” which looks like Verdi via Vegas with some Busby Berkeley thrown in.

But he did not achieve his greatest masterpieces until in his 70s, when he collaborated with Tchaikovsky on “The Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker,” and a revival of “Swan Lake,” which, as Sneguirev shows in clips of contemporary performances, still enthrall with their grandeur and pathos. Sneguirev and his experts also shrewdly analyze how the two geniuses created these two masterpiece as much through conflict as collaboration, and the film’s visit to recent productions of Petipa’s ballets shows how new interpretations reinvigorate the spirit while retaining the integrity of the originals.

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“Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet” is available on DVD for $29.98 from Icarus Films on May 12.

Go to icarusfilms.com/if-petipa.

From "Every Day Except Christmas."
From "Every Day Except Christmas.""Under license from the British Film Institute. All rights reserved."/courtesy British FIlm Institute

Working-class heroes

Before they went on to their careers as some of Britain’s foremost directors, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, and Karel Reisz had formed the short-lived but influential Free Cinema movement in the 1950s. A variation on cinema vérité, the group espoused cheaply made, gritty shorts about the everyday life of working-class people.

Anderson’s “Every Day Except Christmas” (1957) follows the hectic labors of the porters, drivers, and laborers who overnight set up the centuries-old Covent Garden market. Reisz’s “We Are the Lambeth Boys” (1960) visits a youth club in a tough part of London, where young people gather to escape the grind of dead-end jobs and bleak futures. The best is Reisz’s and Richardson’s subtle celebration of a jazz club in “Momma Don’t Allow” (1956) — in part because it avoids the condescending, anodyne voiceovers of the other two (concessions to their sponsors) and focuses on the harsh poetry of stunted lives, class inequities, and the ecstasy of dance and music.

Though the movement lasted only a few years and produced just a handful of shorts, the experience inspired the three filmmakers to pioneer the British New Wave with such masterpieces of kitchen-sink realism as Richardson’s “Look Back in Anger” (1959), Reisz’s “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960), and Anderson’s “This Sporting Life” (1963). He also directed one of my favorites, “If . . .” (1968).

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“Every Day Except Christmas,” “We are the Lambeth Boys,” and “Momma Don’t Allow” can be streamed on Ovid.tv beginning May 12.

Go to www.ovid.tv/page/docs.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com