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Sunday
Mar052017

FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON: THE NICOLE GARCIA INTERVIEW

Reworking Milena Agus’ novel Mal di pietre for the big screen was always going to be a daunting task. The setting of 1950s rural France demanded all the period trappings; the narrative unfolds as an extended flashback; the troubled heroine, Gabrielle, spends much of the film in a mental health sanatorium, where her free will and passion faces prejudice and ignorance. Yet in the hands of director Nicole Garcia and her leading lady, Marion Cotillard, the adaptation Mal de Pierres (From the Land of the Moon) becomes a soaring, moving melodrama; the film screened in Official Selection at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where Screen International lauded it as “an old-fashioned romantic weepie given class and conviction.”

Nicole Garcia is one of the grand doyennes of European cinema. A beloved actress (she has 13 César nominations to her name), Garcia turned to directing with the acclaimed 1986 short, 15 août, a personal slice-of-life drama that featured her husband Jean-Louis Tritignant. It has led to collaborations with Nathalie Baye (Un week-end sur deux, 1990), Jean-Marc Barr (Le fils préféré, 1994), Catherine Deneuve (Place Vendôme, 1998), Daniel Auteuil (The Adversary, 2002), Jean Dujardin (Un balcon sur lamer, 2010) and her son, Pierre Rochfort (Un beau dimanche, 2013). Following the Cannes Premiere of From the Land of the Moon at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, Garcia (pictured, above) sat with SCREEN-SPACE in the Alliance Française tents to talk about her latest film….

SCREEN-SPACE: How did you become aware of the novel? What aspects of Gabrielle most enthused you?

NICOLE GARCIA: A friend of mine told me, “You have to read this book.” So I read most of it travelling between Paris and Marseilles, and when I arrived I rang my producer and told him, “You have to find out if the rights are available.” Maybe I was waiting for this sort of character. Maybe she represents a part of me, or a maybe because she represents a fascinating part of all women. Maybe because the character foreshadows what is happening with the women of today. What I like is that she dared to express the desire that she has. It is not a dark desire; she is not a nymphomaniac or a sex addict, but it is live, real sexual drive. It is also something that is very mystical. But hers is a life in two parts and she doesn’t want to give up on either part. It is her dream to have both elements. (Pictured, above: Marion Cotillard and co-star Alex Brendemuhl).

SCREEN-SPACE: The setting provides an historical framework, but it is in many regards a very contemporary work…

NICOLE GARCIA: (Cannes artistic director) Thierry Frémaux believes that if you set a film in the past, you are foreshadowing what contemporary women will become. Gabrielle is in this very restrictive 1950s society, yet she has this wilful yearning for freedom, which was scandalous at the time. She was accused of being mad. But she represents movement towards the freedom and independence that women have today, sort of the ‘first step on the ladder,’ if you will. But above and beyond the modern interpretation of the text, is that there is something universal in the story, in Gabrielle, and that is the universal strength of feminine desire, which can be frightening. It is something that can overflow, can take over, that can wash away the very person from whom it generates. To this day, it is still viewed as very suspicious.

SCREEN-SPACE: I sensed that the soulfulness of her character comes from a yearning for a truthful connection, whether that is physically or intellectually…

NICOLE GARCIA: Gabrielle says something that is very important. At one point, she says, “I want somebody to talk to me, I want somebody to talk to.” She wants somebody that she can express herself to in meaningful words, which is what she most often wanted to do with this very taciturn, rough Spanish builder. The modern woman has so many outlets, so many opportunities to express and validate and explore her many desires. But Gabrielle does not.

SCREEN-SPACE: Did you immediately share an understanding and common goal with Marion about how Gabrielle should be played?

NICOLE GARCIA: During the shoot, there was very little need to explain things. She saw things in the script and in my discussions about the character and just pulled them out, when required. It was two communicating vessels. We didn’t rehearse; the only things we did before hand were costume and hair. So when we got to the set, I’d show her the scene and she’d say, “Ok, got it.” It was just she and I and, with very little need to speak, we formed this character. For me, Marion creates a Gabrielle who is the geography of the film. She is the lavender fields, the Mediterranean, the Alps. In my vision, she emerges from the backdrop of the film. I wrote the role, so it was always within me. She was always the first choice for the role. She is the best actress in Europe at the moment. (Pictured, above; l-r, Louis Garrel, Cotillard and Garcia at the Cannes press conference).

SCREEN-SPACE: The sex between Marion and Louis Garrel, as Andre, is physically raw but also one of the most deeply emotional depictions of lovemaking I can recall…

NICOLE GARCIA: Thank you, yes. I was very worried about this scene. We shot it just before we left The Swiss Alps, so I had to count on the actors just letting themselves go. In the script, it’s very easy; the actors lay down together and their bodies…engage (laughs). Marion knew (the passion) had to shown, had to be externalised. Personally, I find sex scenes in films rather boring, so I watched sex scenes in films from directors I admire, like Ang Lee. Then it dawned on me that the way into this scene is through her eyes. When you realise that she is seeing what she has always been looking for, and that she’s achieved it, is deeply moving. And when you realise it is a dream…well, the force, the power of the imagination is beautiful.

From the Land of the Moon will be screening at the 28th annual Alliance Française French Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the official event website.

Wednesday
Mar012017

JASPER JONES: THE RACHEL PERKINS INTERVIEW

The big-screen adaptation of Craig Silvey’s beloved bestseller Jasper Jones is one of the most eagerly anticipated local films of the year. The story has become an Australian classic; the tale of the bookish Charlie Buktin and his unique and moving friendship with Jasper Jones, an indigenous teenager desperate to prove his innocence when a horrible event envelopes an Australian country town in the late 1960s, has earned comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. So all eyes will be on director Rachel Perkins when the film premieres to eager home grown audiences this week. SCREEN-SPACE sat with the director of such acclaimed works as Radiance (1998), One Night the Moon (2001), Bran Nue Dae (2009) and Mabo (2012) to chat about the joys and pressures of doing justice to a yarn that means so much to so many Australians…

SCREEN-SPACE: How did you first become attached to the Jasper Jones adaptation?

RACHEL PERKINS: It had sold over half a million copies and everyone had read it by the time it was recommended to me by my partner. He insisted I read it, which, of course, instantly turned me off it, so it went unread for quite awhile. Then, finally, it was sitting by the bed and I couldn’t get to sleep and next thing, it was 4am and I couldn’t put it done. I immediately knew this would make a great film and that, I must admit, my partner was right and I was wrong. So then I reached out to all the people to try to secure the rights, which, because I had messed about for so long, were gone. So I was resigned to the fact that someone else was going to direct it. But I ultimately outlasted the other filmmakers, persisted so much that I eventually got the gig that allowed me to be part of the adaptation

SCREEN-SPACE: What are the key elements of the narrative that connected with you? What made it a story you wanted to film?

A number of elements combined to make it really attractive to me. It was the murder mystery plotting that was the reason I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to solve it, to see it solved, I love a mystery such as the one in the book. But along the way there is this beautiful dialogue between Charlie Buktin and Jeffery Lu, which is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And then there is this great heart to the story, which provides the sort of cathartic, emotional experience that I love in films. (Pictured, right; stars, l-r, Aaron L. McGrath, Levi Miller and Angourie Rice)

SCREEN-SPACE: It’s traditional small-town, coming-of-age story that employs big themes, weighty issues in Jasper Jones. The scourge of racism, the shadow of Vietnam, the sweeping social change of the late ‘60s setting…

RACHEL PERKINS: Having some underlying meaning or providing some commentary on how we can improve the world has always been a part of my work. It might sound a bit naïve, but I think films can change hearts and minds. This film is about a young guy who, when exposed to the world that the character Jasper Jones inhabits, displays a lovely compassion. I think the great thing about this book and certainly a large part of why I love it so much is that it wasn’t just about those big issues. It transcended the themes of racism, class, sexism and abuse to ultimately become a bigger story about empathy and understanding. Most importantly, it’s a ripping yarn, a terrific piece of entertainment, that doesn’t bash you over the head with issues but weaves them into great storytelling.

SCREEN-SPACE: In addition to established names like Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving and Dan Wyllie, the production secured the young Australian stars Levi Miller and Angourie Rice, both on the cusp of international stardom…

RACHEL PERKINS: You can see why they are international names, fronting big films overseas. They have a greatness about them. They have an intelligence that they bring to their understanding of the characters. They have an emotional truth that they can naturally portray, that they can switch on, which they access in different ways but which they convey beautifully. They are incredibly talented young actors who bring with them the experience of having worked on big films, so they have sophistication and sensitivity. It wasn’t a hard casting process.

SCREEN-SPACE: And you also did the unthinkable and actually welcomed the writer of the book and co-writer (with Shaun Grant) of the screenplay, Craig Silvey, on to the set every day. That flies in the face of the Director’s Rule Book, surely?

RACHEL PERKINS: (Laughs) It never happens, really. Maybe the Coen Brothers but, you know, they’re brothers and Craig and I are quite different, obviously. From a director’s point of view, I’m not intimidated by collaboration, by having someone else say, “That didn’t really work for me,” or “No, that’s not how I imagined it,” or “Really, do you think that’s the right thing to do.” If I’m wrong, and I often am, I’m pleased to be corrected so that it becomes right. Who else to judge that and provide a second opinion but the person who has imagined it all and way before me? Ultimately, the director has the final say on set, so I knew I could always just say, “Hey, I’m the director and I’m doing it this way so just shut up!” (Laughs) But that never happened. Craig was great resource, particularly for the actors, who Craig could talk endlessly to about their characters. We got along great. (Pictured, above: Perkins, left, with Craig Silvey)

JASPER JONES is in Australian cinemas from March 2 from Madman Entertainment.

Tuesday
Feb282017

DARCY GLADWIN AND THE MUSINGS OF A WEB PROPHET 

At any time in film history, the emergence of a truly free and independent cinematic vision has been cause for celebration. With his film Godplex, a surreal journey that follows a poet/prophet spruiking ‘internet religion’ across the vastness of New Zealand, Darcy Gladwin embodies such a visionary. A much younger man when filming began nearly a decade ago, Gladwin started shooting guided only by a draft script and the vital personality and intellect of his leading man and friend, beat poet Shane Hollands. Ahead of an intimate screening of his film in Sydney’s inner-west, Gladwin spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his London home…  

“The story was inspired by our lives travelling as musicians throughout New Zealand, realising the messianic qualities of what we were doing and that the poet that I was travelling with could be a great screen persona,” says Gladwin, a self-described ‘inter-media artist’, whose experience across music, photography, film and design led to him writing, directing and editing his debut feature. A non-pro actor, Shane Hollands is a highly respected alternative culture figure in his homeland for his ‘Beat Generation’ poetry stylings; his low-key charisma and live-reading experience made him a natural before the camera. “Shane also has an encyclopaedic mind,” Gladwin says of his friend (pictured, above: the director, left, with his star), who has conquered dyslexia and deals with a degenerative bone condition to perform his unique oratories, “so he brought a huge amount of knowledge (regarding) religion, history, popular and alternative culture. There was continual research and discussion (and) the result is a gut-feel composite.”

Hollands plays Clark Duke, an insurance consultant reborn as a new-age spiritual guru when he launches an e-religion concept called Virtology. After his home is destroyed by fire, he hits the road in an effort to define his own inner enlightenment and talk up his philosophy, undertaking a journey that soon attracts an eclectic mix of followers and doubters. Portraying Gladwin’s fascinating cast of characters are such personalities as Melbourne-based painter Marko Maglaic, Maori performance artist Mika, veteran Aussie character actor Gil Tucker, actress Alison Walls and feature debutant Katie Bierwirth. (Pictured, right: Shane Hollands as Clark)

At the core of Clark’s musings is the notion of ‘Elephant Consciousness’, an invention of Hollands that the director part-explains as, “They're big, beautiful, oppressed beings, (yet are) the smartest animals on the planet. Shane was toying with creating a religion in his backyard and struck up the Elephant metaphor. Godplex was a lovely home for the idea to root and sprout.” A narrative that examines the exploration of faith and spirituality fronted by a poetic preacher will be labelled as an allegory of modern religion, but Gladwin is circumspect regarding any didactic intent. “(That is) a reading I would ally with,” he concedes, “but I do hope that any lines found inside be wavy and that preaching is quite far from the mode of cinema that I aspire to.”

The ethereal nature of Duke’s journey allowed Gladwin to create a visual storytelling style that is distinctly dense and complex. Recalling the avant-garde cinema of the 1980s and the free-spiritedness of 1960s counter-culture art, Godplex looks contemporary while evoking bohemian aesthetics and a Jack Kerouac/Timothy Leary-type personality all its own. “It has been a great struggle for me to identify where I sit in film culture, as I feel like an endless explorer and nothing satisfies,” admits Gladwin. “As a low budget filmmaker, I'm looking to create a cohesive visual style with resources at my grasp. So finding environments and objects that don't suck is a really important first consideration.” He points out that the staging of key moments embraces a vibrant use of composition. “I think that the Godplex cinematic frame is conservative, which allows the content to speak clearly. Overall the style is gut-feel, ‘Do-it-Yourself’, and I've enjoyed that a lot.” (Pictured, above: Gladwin, on location in Auckland, with AD Rina Patel). 

Given his debut feature took years to complete, Darcy Gladwin admits he might do a couple of things differently on his next shoot. “I've heard that producer-type people can be valuable additions to a team,” he says with a laugh. He refused to let the long passages between production on the film slow him down, stating proudly, “I continued to make and perform music, shoot documentaries and music videos, and have a baby.” He regrets nothing of the process that has resulted in a bracingly unique film experience bound for cult status in years to come. “I loved the process of shooting over many years,” he says, “because there was space for a lot of thought, learning and reflection.” 

GODPLEX will screen at The Record Crate, 34 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe on Thursday, March 2 at 7.00pm. Full details can be found here.

Saturday
Feb252017

AUSTRALIAN STORY / THE JENNY WU INTERVIEW

Since graduating from the nation’s premiere acting school, Jenny Wu has forged a unique niche for herself in the Australasian sector as an actor determined to challenge the established stereotypes. The Chinese-born/Sydney-bred actress has crewed on an action blockbuster in the Gobi Desert; shot in the freezing chill of the northern Chinese countryside and on the steamy streets of Hong Kong; worked with two of this country’s most acclaimed directors; and, is preparing for her professional stage debut in a award-winning play being staged by Australia’s most respected theatre company. Ahead of what promises to be a rewarding 2017, Jenny Wu spoke with candour to SCREEN-SPACE about her craft, career and choosing the most challenging path as an artist…

SCREEN-SPACE: Having graduated from the the most prestigious training ground for actors in the country, what do you recall of your time at NIDA?

JENNY WU: The school is very strict, certainly sheltered, but you are very well looked after there. You don’t always get an idea of how tough the industry can be once you’ve graduated. The school is concentrating on your craft, so a lot of things the teachers say are very personal, the aim of which is to make you able to transform into as many characters as possible. But a lot of directors I’ve worked with want to see just ‘you’, a vulnerable you, not the technique you apply to become a character. I’ve spent a lot of time unlearning much of what I learnt at NIDA to get a job, then reapplying it, or combining it with my personal growth, when I’m on set or on the stage. You start to understand more fully what you’ve learnt at NIDA when you get out into the workforce and apply it in practical, working environments.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your studies in China led you to the set of Dragon Blade, the epic action film on which you served as Assistant Director, alongside filmmaker Daniel Lee and stars Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. How did such a coveted role come your way?

JENNY WU: I was interviewed and months passed and I hadn’t heard from Dragon Blade, so I returned to Sydney only to get the call, meaning I had to fly back. When I arrived, I found out that they had only jotted one name down from all the interviews and that was mine, as I was the only one with the qualifications. I felt like I did a three-year film course in the seven months I spent on Dragon Blade (pictured, right: Wu on-set with actor John Cusack).

SCREEN-SPACE: Those years in China appear to have been both professionally rewarding and personally fulfilling, especially the role you played in Lin Bai Song’s rural romance The Promise I Made To You (那年我对你的承诺).

JENNY WU: My parents were ‘sent-down’ youth, city teenagers sent to the country to work as peasants as part of their social education during the Cultural Revolution. The Promise I Made To You is a kind of romantic comedy version of that experience, of two young people thrown together in the countryside and experiencing this incredible life-changing period with each other. I was able to visit northern China, a beautiful place that I had never experienced, and a place that my father had spent ten years as a sent-down young man. The movie resonated with my parent’s generation, as there a still a lot of them who recall the experience with very powerful emotions. Many did not return to the city, instead settling in the country and changing the course of their lives.

SCREEN-SPACE: Then you got mean and bloody as the lethal martial arts adversary in Chris Nahon’s US production, Lady Bloodfight, shot on location in Hong Kong. How much of that NIDA training were you able to apply to the action genre?

JENNY WU: (Laughs) It’s very much a knock’em’down, blood’n’guts type of role but she is still a fully-fleshed out character. I absolutely called upon my NIDA training to create a look and feel for this girl, who emerged as a punk-ish, streetwise, alternative-goth type of pickpocket who becomes a stripped-down and rebuilt martial arts weapon. Martial arts were new to me, so I had to put a great deal of trust in not only my amazing choreographer and stunt team but also my own instincts as a performer. I didn’t know I could be an action star before Lady Bloodfight. So much of the location work had to be in one, sometimes two takes, which makes you so aware of both your performance and the environment.

SCREEN-SPACE: In 2017, you co-star in two of the most anticipated local productions of the year, Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day and Jane Campion’s second season of Top of the Lake. Firstly, what insight into Jane’s technique can you offer from the set of Top of the Lake?

JENNY WU: Jane’s approach is to keep it simple, to not try to do anything. What she loves is actors who are really just ‘there’, who are living the role and living the moment. I interpreted that to mean, ‘Don’t act, just trust your own emotions and instincts and your body will respond to that truthfulness.’

SCREEN-SPACE: And what can audiences expect from what promises to be a confronting study of our society in Australia Day?

JENNY WU: It was the first script I’d read that had ethnic characters in complex lead roles, and that’s very exciting. I am very cautious that the roles I choose are not those that typically reinforce established stereotypes, like ‘the Asian doctor’ or ‘the Chinese computer nerd’. These are well-rounded characters in culturally sensitive and relevant narratives. Australia Day is going to redefine what an ‘Australian story’ is in this day and age and what it means to be Australian. My character is of Chinese heritage but her story, and the voice that it is told in, is very much from contemporary Australia. She is the new immigrant, defining her place in the country on her terms, and that will raise the question of what it means to be Australian in 2017. It’s a simple but quite radical approach and I don’t think any Australian artform has really approached it in this way (pictured, above: director Kriv Stenders, far right, with Wu and cast and crew on-set).

SCREEN-SPACE: And you take on another dramatic aspect of race and society when you make your professional stage debut in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, for director Kip Williams. Was it always your intention to go after roles that challenge racial boundaries and social issues?

JENNY WU: I think the play will inspire passionate discussion, which is one of the benefits of great art, in any form. It presents various viewpoints that offer a critique of both western and eastern cultures. I don’t mean to make any specific political statement, or statement on ethnicity, by taking on these roles. They are great roles that were presented to me that I find challenging and rewarding as an actor; they are characters with a purpose. I never intended them to define my point-of-view or dictate an agenda. When I approached them as characters, I did so by embracing their humanity, their vulnerabilities and insecurities, not as symbols for social change. My job as an actor is to make sure they live truthfully within the world provided for them (pictured, above: Wu with actor Jason Chong during Chimerica rehearsals).

CHIMERICA opens February 28 at Sydney Theatre Company; AUSTRALIA DAY and TOP OF THE LAKE will air on pay-TV provider Foxtel in 2017 (dates tbc). 

Main photo: Shane Kavanagh.

 

Wednesday
Feb012017

TRUE BLUE HOUND BOUND FOR BERLIN RED CARPET.

Despite earning A$22million at the domestic box office, a sequel to the 2011 hit Red Dog was never a sure thing. Surely producer Nelson Woss (Ned Kelly, 2003), with director Kriv Stenders and writer Daniel Taplitz, had captured the kind of lightning-strike chemistry that generally proves impossible to recreate? But when Taplitz pitched an inventive story treatment, Woss and his director were convinced there was a new narrative to be told and Red Dog True Blue, starring the charismatic kelpie Phoenix, was unleashed. 

SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Woss and the film’s head animal trainer, the renowned Zelie Bullen (Racing Stripes; Charlotte’s Web; War Horse) ahead of its European debut as the Opening Night film of the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus programme strand…

SCREEN-SPACE: Five years between a legitimate homegrown blockbuster and a sequel is an eternity in film terms. Why so long?

NELSON WOSS (pictured, left): A lot of people told us to quit while we were ahead (laughs). The director, Kriv Stenders and I both have young children and there was an opportunity to make what would very much be a family movie. We wanted to make a film that we could bring our kids to. And we are thrilled to be able to tell Australian stories on the big screen, to celebrate what is special about being Australian. We love films from Hollywood but I thought it was nice for our kids to have a bit of a spectrum and see stories about themselves. As a practitioner in the Australian film industry, we are just happy to work (laughs). So when we get an opportunity to make a film, we are going to make it, especially one that is located in such a beautiful part of the country.

SCREEN-SPACE: The first film’s star, Koko, was a natural in front of the camera. In True Blue, you’ve recaptured that casting magic with Phoenix. What is your leading man’s pedigree?

ZELIE BULLEN: Phoenix was born and raised by Carol Hogday, the same lady who bred Koko. He was chosen by the production because he’s a distant cousin of Koko. He’s a very sweet, happy, responsive dog. He loves doing all the publicity, meeting and travelling, but he was also very hard working on the set. He loves to work and be led, feeling that sense of belonging and contributing, like a lot of dogs. (Pictured, right; Bullen, with Phoenix)

NELSON WOSS: Filmmakers aren’t too bright. We did an Australian-wide search for the sequel’s star then ended up going back to Carol, whose home had just had a litter of pups from which we chose Phoenix. He’s got the same abilities and star-like character as Koko.

SCREEN-SPACE: How many different tricks or cues did Phoenix have to learn before the shoot?

ZELIE BULLEN: A lot of animal work on film is clearly defined behaviour in a small area. Even in the vast outback setting of the Red Dog films, we need to be very specific about directing actions; which leg he’s lifting, which way he’s looking, how many steps forward he needs to take to hit his mark or still be in the correct lighting. The training is intimate, very precise. In that regard, he’s less a ‘trick dog’ and more a technically proficient actor.

SCREEN-SPACE: The chemistry between star Josh Lucas and Koko in Red Dog was crucial to the film’s success. What needed to be done to ensure that level of mateship was recreated between Phoenix and your new star, Levi Miller?

NELSON WOSS: Levi and Phoenix (pictured, right) spent time together before the shoot and, like the pros they are, they immediately bonded, and that is clearly evident on-screen. There is that classic ‘boy and his dog’ connection in their performances, which enhances the ‘coming of age’ elements in the story.

ZELIE BULLEN: Levi is a similar kind of character to Phoenix, in many respects. He’s that soft, kind, loving boy. I remember one moment when Phoenix jumped sideways – someone had stood near his tail, I think – and Levi was beside himself, not willing to keep filming until he was assured Phoenix was ok. He is a very compassionate, caring young man, which Phoenix responded to.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the film’s great moments is a scene featuring two of our acting legends, Bryan Brown and John Jarratt…

NELSON WOSS: No spoilers! (laughs) But, yes, how amazing to have two living legends of the Australian film industry together. Bryan loved the first film and has a passion for music as well, and both films have some iconic Australian music, so given the chance to play the banjo in the film…well, he hit it out of the park.

ZELIE BULLEN: And he loves dogs and clearly loved working with Phoenix. There were times when I had to step in and say, “Bryan, I have to take him and work him now,” and Bryan would say, “No, no, I’m patting him now, just a minute.” (laughs)

SCREEN-SPACE: More broadly, how would you define the relationship between the working dog and the people of the interior? What did you have to capture to honour that bond?

NELSON WOSS: With these films, and it was the same with Ned Kelly, you’ve got to capture the heart and soul of the people and the place. We don’t have the big budgets that allow for effects trickery, so we come from the heart. It is an authentically Australian story that people from the heartland will understand. But it is also a story that travels well and, very much like Red Dog himself, was always going to roam.

 

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