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Pompo: The Cinephile review – frustrating anime takes on the madness of the movies

Lacking a compelling story or much visual verve, this semi-satire of Hollywood has its fun moments but soon wears out its welcome

For a film whose characters are so concerned with brevity and marketability, Pompo: The Cinephile is a hard movie to sum up quickly. Its bare bones – an anime look at the slightly mad process of live-action filmmaking – seem simple enough, but that hardly lets you know what you’re in for. You have to factor in that the studio head here – the eponymous Pompo – is an 8-year-old, who hires her teenaged assistant Gene to direct a “masterpiece” starring the best actor in the world and a complete newcomer called, inexplicably, Natalie Wood. Oh, and there’s a subplot about a group of bankers have a crisis of conscience as they decide whether to fund the film in question.

It’s all very silly in a way that is sometimes fun but more often just feels like a film with the wheels falling off, dry and confusing when it should be funny and earning unintentional laughs at its emotional climaxes. It starts with its strongest moments, following Gene around a facsimile of LA (called “Nyallywood” in the film, a verbal gag that quickly gets old) as he does everything from buying lunches to sitting in on directorial decisions for Pompo’s latest film, a sexy B-movie about a scantily clad surfer girl fighting sea monsters.

Anyone who has worked in the industry will get a kick out of the way Pompo captures the mix of glamour and drudgery of being on a low rung of the movie ladder. Gene has deep, dark bags of exhaustion under his eyes and is often assigned menial tasks, but he’s also learning how movies are made and trading friendly words with beautiful actresses.

After impressing Pompo by cutting together a trailer for the monster movie, Gene is assigned to direct and edit ‘Meister’, a serious, awards-y piece about a conductor who has fallen out of love with music, shot on location in Switzerland and starring the legendary Martin Braddock (a sort of Daniel Day-Lewis figure). It’s a huge, fantastical leap in logic that, coupled with the fact that Pompo’s age is never actually addressed – even for laughs – makes the story impossible to believe or invest in.

By the time that Gene is losing his health and sanity in the editing suite (after an almost entirely incident-free shoot where he directs like he’s Terence Malick), I had long since lost my patience with Pompo. Even at 90 minutes – the length that Pompo wants all her studio’s films to be – this story feels endless, and the occasional flashy visuals of Gene physically slicing at the footage he’s editing like he’s a Demon Slayer character are not enough to keep it compelling.

Pompo tries to be both wish-fulfilment and a real look at “the way things are” in modern studio moviemaking, but can’t find a satisfying balance between the two, and the result is a mostly frustrating story that lacks stylistic verve. Sometimes it’s mad enough to pique your curiosity, but this is mostly just a self-consciously odd take on one of the most overused and over-satirised milieus in all of movies – the movies themselves.

Pompo: The Cinephile is released in UK cinemas on July 1.

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