Three films in one day has taken a while to process. They were all so different and extremely challenging. I began the day with a toasted sandwich in the ICA café, which I highly recommend during the London Film Festival, which is pretty much the only time I go there, it was very buzzy as there were some interesting exhibitions on as well as the film.
The first film of the day was Russian, by the director Yusup Razykov who was at the screening with an interpreter, the title was Shame, though afterwards he told us that it was nearly called Compassion. A title that would have fitted it equally well, and might indeed have given us a more accurate indication of his intention. Set in a residential navel base in Kola, in far northern Russia. A number of women, wives with their children wait for the return of their husbands; submariners. There is one strong one, who as it happens is not the Captain’s wife but who strives to keep everyone in order; there is the Captain’s wife, Lena (Maria Semenova) who is the coldest, most unemotional of them all, only recently arrived on the base and pretty isolated, though also the central character in the film…then there is a disaster at sea.
The Director contrives in this film to encapsulate in a matter of ninety minutes the whole gamut of possible emotions, reactions and superstitions. I asked afterwards in the Q&A, because most UK audiences would associate this with the Kursk disaster, whether there was any problem with censorship. He replied, rather amazingly I think, that he had no problem, that we the audience were the censors (about whom he became quite poetical) and in Russia itself people would not think of the Kursk, since there have been many submarine disasters. This answer interested me most of all, since there have indeed been many disasters, one Russian submarine type, the K571 is actually nicknamed The Widowmaker. I hope he looks over his shoulder from now on, because that is something I suspect Russia would prefer not to have broadcast around the world.
Then I went across town to Leicester Square for soup and sandwiches at one of the many chains of cafés now proliferating around the area and my next film was Grigris. I have absolutely no idea what attracted me to this film, it was way outside my comfort zone. A France-Chad cooperation by the Director/Screenwriter Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. I can only think now, that the picture in the BFI Programme reminded me of the actress in Diva, (Wilhemenia Fernandez) another of my all time favourite films. Anaïs Momory, who plays Mimi in Grigris is nothing at all alike, and the dancer who plays Grigris is Souleymane Démé. It is such a strange story that I cannot really say anything about it without spoiling the ending. Oddly, these two characters are ill-matched and yet their relationship is beautifully solid. It is a Beauty and the Beast sort of attraction, with no disrespect intended to Mr Démé. In the film, Mimi asks him how he came by the name Grigris, and he answers quite simply, “that is not my real name, I am Souleymane Démé”. Whether this was scripted or not, it was a very moving moment. It is another of the films in the Journey section, and yes, you are taken on quite a journey. I do recommend it.
Finally, after another snatched meal, I went to the Canadian/French collaboration Tom at the Farm, scripted, directed, produced and acted by Xavier Dolan, based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard. Tom (Xavier Dolan) travels to Quebec for his partner’s funeral, the partner Guillaume is only 25 and has died mysteriously in an accident. Tom has never met his family, knows little or nothing about them and only has the address. He turns up at the farm and there is nobody about, finding a key he lets himself into a deserted house, falls asleep at the dining room table where he is found by the mother, Agathe (Lise Roy). The combination of tense, unspoken grief and psychological threat is conveyed briefly and suddenly when Tom is woken in the night by Francis, who threatens him with violence if he dares to expose the true nature of his relationship with Guillaume…and it goes on from there, occasionally actually violent, occasionally tender; always a puzzle…always marvellous. This will get distribution everywhere, I recommend it. This film comes under the Official Competition section which recognises inspiring, inventive and distinctive filmmaking. Right on the button with this one anyway.