19th October London Film Festival Halfway Point

New films are such a gamble.  You simply have to go with your instinct and this year I am on a roll!  Went to Headhunters yesterday, a film based on the book by Jo Nesbo. [If you haven’t already discovered this marvellous author – where have you been?  Catch up!] Then saw Return and finally Oslo, August 31st.

Headhunters is a thriller and a comedy, quite Coen Brothers but not so off-the-wall.  I haven’t read the book actually, because it has only just come out in English.  But the film is bloody in the cool way that Coen Brothers films are bloody, there is so much it is funny. The chases and the situations are quite brilliant and the acting joyfully whole-hearted.  The Scandanavians are so beautiful: the women tall and blond and the men tall and tanned – except our ‘hero’ who is only 1.68 metres!  Which is his problem, but he rather over-compensates and thereby hangs this tale.

I adored this and will definitely go again, why? For the same reasons that one can see Fargo several times or No Country for Old Men.  The point does not lie in the ending but in the whole.  They are so funny, fast, furious and glorious.

Return is a very different film.  Very serious and rather sad.  The main part, played by Linda Cardellini, is a returning female soldier – Kelli.  She has been in a war zone for a year, we first see her in combat uniform waiting for her family to collect her.  She has been in a ‘supply’ unit and returns to Ohio, to her husband and two children.  She maintains that she hasn’t had a bad war but finds that she cannot settle.  Not with her job which seems boringly repetitious, ‘small’ and pointless; neither can she seem to settle with her husband and sleeps on the floor in the children’s room; nor with her friends with whom she  is distant and off-beat on a ‘girl’s night out’.

The mantra from the non combatants is ‘talk about it, let it come out’ and other platitudes and Kelli’s reponse is always “nothing happened out there”; “others had it much worse”; “I didn’t have to handle dead bodies”.  But clearly these are phrases that have stuck, and each time there is a more desperate, hollow sound to them.

From the moment she quits her job, her life spirals downwards with the autumn leaves.

It is rather a pity that George Clooney was in town which meant Return had rather a small audience. [You mean “you weren’t out there with the pack to see your idol?”] This is ANOTHER film by a female director, Liza Johnson, with a female lead.  I didn’t deliberately pick these films, I selected on the basis of region and storyline but I got lucky!  If there is any weakness in this film, it seems to be in the lack of military back-up for these families and perhaps that is the case in The United States and maybe this is as much as anything the message of this film.  Soldiers return, with internal bruising, hidden spiritual damage and there is no safety net for them.  If so, this is America’s tragedy because there will be a lot of broken homes, as well as broken veterans.

The final film of the day was Olso, August 31st.  For those of you who are not familiar with Scandanavia, this is officially the last day of summer, as it transpires it is also the day that Oslo got its name.  I thought this was a documentary, but actually it was a single day in the life of a recovering drug addict.

We see early on, that Anders still has problems and that he has been in rehab, but on this day he is allowed out: firstly for a job interview and then he has an evening pass and will visit his sister.

Things do not go quite according to plan and when he gets to the city he looks up old friends, first of all Thomas with whom he has a long and painful conversation, clearly he is still in two minds as to whether to go to the interview.  He has had so many opportunities and has made a total mess of things, is it really worth the effort to start out all over again?  Finally, however, he goes to the interview.

There are several tipping-points in this film, scenes where everything might turn out differently, better or not,  Choice is part of it, opportunity is part of it and disconnection is the thread that, oddly, connects all of the carefully and sensitively handled scenarios of the film.

It is a film as much of recollection as anything else.  Years in rehab have caused him to lose friends, and as Anders tries to find them again he is reminded of the past, finds himself in the painful present, and looks agonisingly into the future.

This is a highly accomplished film, beautifully shot.  Though this is based on a book about a recovering addict in Paris the director, Joachim Trier, chose to set it in Oslo, the city he grew up in and knew well. So it is as much about memory as about people.  As Trier said in the introduction and afterwards in the Q&A, Norway is a place where young people must make their own entertainment.

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