Category Archives: London Film Festival

London Film Festival 2018/extra

4This is one film I wanted to see but could not get tickets for, Wildlife, the directorial debut of Paul Dano with his real life partner Zoe Kazan.

Based on the novel by Richard Ford, this is part domestic drama, part coming-of-age. Seen, even in the film, almost entirely through the eyes of 14 year old Joe, played immaculately by Ed Oxenbough, this film shows that parents have flaws and also that parents had lives before they were parents.

Using both the dramatic Montana landscape and the claustrophobic 1960s interiors to create a world which we have long left behind, this film shows to an extended degree, the smallness of a woman’s life. Jeanette (a scintillating Carey Mulligan) has no job, she has given up a teaching position to join her husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Montana, where, at the start of the film, he has a job as a golf course groundsman/caddy.

There is a suggestion that Jeanette has given up her job to look after Joe, but I have a feeling that in the 1950s (which by deduction would have been when she married and started the family) women had to leave the teaching profession when they married. Maybe not in America?

The slow unravelling in this film is brilliantly conveyed, very few examples of this type of camera work still exist. There is no artifice – what you see is what you get.

Emotionally tense, this shows people on the edge of a nervous break-down. The ending is different from the novel, but works in the context of film, to perfection.

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London Film Festival 2018/10

One last film. Celeste set in the Queensland rainforest, so obviously it would be on my list.

Celeste

This turned out to be rather a low key film, beautiful settings, rather twisted storyline with a lot of added back-story to make it sensible. In the back-story, Jack (Thomas Cocquerel) is a mixed up junior, very much fascinated by his new, beautiful and talented step-mother. After his father’s sudden death he makes off.

Ten years later, same place, step mother Celeste (Radha Mitchell) is making a comeback concert urged on by her agent Grace (Odessa Young). For reasons unknown at the time, she writes to Jack begging him to come back.

The tormented threesome sweat it out under the rainforest canopy, with a lot of misunderstanding and complex undercurrents swirling around.

The setting was stunning, as only rainforest can be, the strange Paronella Park actually exists and is mostly the setting for the film, green and tropically hot. Everything about it feels steamed up: the lush foliage to the ever spinning air-cooling fans and three people trying to work out a long relationship in a short time. You can go to stay at Paronella yourselves, for a price.

Then there are the six films I could not get tickets for – all sold out within 45 minutes of Membership Priority booking opening. This is possibly because, like so many art houses, theatres and memberships new levels are created, they all do it and they all have to do it; unless like say The Donmar Warehouse, they close their membership lists from time to time and wait for natural events to loosen the blockage.

These are all films I will look out for if they get UK distribution – not a given even for a highly commended film in the London Film Festival of any given year.

 

 

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London Film Festival 2018/9

Penultimate day, penultimate film, how did it all go so fast?

Today my choice was from the Thrill section: “nerve-shredders that’ll get your adrenalin pumping and keep you on the edge of your seat”. El Angel is billed as having excessive violence, to the extent that there was even a warning at the entrance of the screening.

El Angel

So I was thinking that this would be way beyond my comfort zone. I was prepared for the worst but after several Scandi Noir series and the Netflix series Narcos, this was not the worst I have seen by far. But while this has a high body count, the amoral gangster with a cherubic face was not especially violent.

On a day when the torture and death of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi is slowly leaking out into the media, the true life story of Carlos Robiedo Puch hardly touches the sides. Brilliantly portraying the angel faced Carlitos, Lorenzo Ferro bursts on to the screen as a sizzlingly sexual predator, more lynx than lion.

It is in Carlitos’ calm, dreamlike deniability of his crimes, that makes this such an extraordinary film. His robberies are excessive, and begin even before he leaves school, but to start with he is a cat burglar without a gun; once his hands are on a gun (or two things become ugly, but still casual.

However terrible the reality, it is the thoughtlessness of it that makes this film so watchable. In the jewellery store heist with his partner in crime, Ramon, he puts on a pair of pearl earrings and admires himself in a mirror and tells Ramon to slow down, the scene is so seductive, and even beguiling – because he is enjoying himself so much.

The denouement has the same careless rapture: Carlitos is mindlessly dancing to music, graceful and abandoned – it is the exterior view that dramatically alters this perspective.

Luis Ortega has achieved a masterpiece here, a stylish and fast-paced biopic. The choice of music is sensational.

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London Film Festival 2018/8

Three glorious films today: Olivia Coleman strutting her stuff as Queen Anne in The Favourite, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant as a criminal pair in the true story of the forger, Lee Israel and John McEnroe as himself in an instructional sports documentary.

Favourite

Whether entirely accurate historically, this was a lovely romp between three very different women and female actors. Rachel Weisz played Lady Malborough, the wife of the British warrior of Blenheim and the French Wars; Emma Stone played the wickedly scheming Abigail Hill, and Olivia Coleman the temperamental Queen.

Everything about this film was wonderful: gorgeous costumes, ridiculously extravagant hair – on the men especially – and lovely locations. Hampton Court for the kitchens and Hatfield House for much else.

The film was played for laughs, though there is a bitingly savage satire going on as one side plays off against the other, with a mixture of toadying, blackmailing and rampant sex.

Queen Anne, in history, was an unfortunate woman. She reigned over a newly unified country, Great Britain; her husband George of Denmark gave her many children all of whom died in infancy, then he himself died  in 1708.

The statue marking her visit to St Paul’s Cathedral on the creation of the Acts of Union between England, Scotland and Ireland still stands outside the cathedral, and is more often than not mistaken for Queen Victoria.

She presided over a two-party parliament, which was in its early manifestation and not entirely successful, since the Queen had controlling influence over finance and the cabinet. After her husband’s death she came increasingly under the influence of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and as Sarah was of the same persuasion as her husband, that the war with France should continue until they sued for peace, this meant great increases in taxes.

Meanwhile Sarah’s cousin, the cunning little vixen, was conniving with the Opposition to have the taxes reduced, the Marlboroughs disgraced and Lord Godolphin’s Tory government deposed.

The occasional use of a fish-eye lens gives this film a strange sense of the surreal, which accentuates some of the more extremely scandalous behaviour of the Court, right up to the top levels.

My second film, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is another example of a good actor portraying, sympathetically, a seriously transgressive character. This film is the true story of a woman who forged and sold over 400 letters, purporting to be by celebrities like Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker and Emily Brice. When that activity came to grief, she began another career, replacing genuine letters in serious archives with copies. It is hard to know which of these two activities was the more reprehensible.

Forgive

Cultural forgery, whether paintings or belles lettres is a very serious matter, and so it must have been challenging to make Lee Israel in any way tolerable, and yet the portrayal is one of empathy. She was clearly a lonely, unfulfilled woman and not without talent; she was a published author, but that source of income had dried up and her agent suggested she find some other way to make money.

An accidental find, while doing genuine research, leads to a highly successful source of income, with Jack Hock as her partner in crime.

Later on, Jack cooperates with the FBI investigation and Lee is caught  At her trial she admits to having had the time of her life. She shows no remorse, only fury when she sees one of her own Dorothy Parker forgeries, authenticated as genuine, for sale at five times the price she was paid for it. She notified the seller, with a caustic letter of suitably Parkian vitriol.

The sports documentary which followed these two was odd, but brilliant. Hard to describe, but infinitely worth catching if you can.

McEnroe

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London Film Festival 2018/8

Another three film day. Altogether a more successful run, time wise, location and content.

My first film was another film with a female director, Celia Rico Clavellino, as was my last film today. This is pure accident, it just fell out that way, and also there are significantly more women director’s and teams in this year’s selection.

Journey to a Mother’s Room so easily could have been another coming-of-age movie and wasn’t. In this case, it is the life of the mother that goes under the microscope. Superbly acted by Lola Dueñas (see recently in Volver for which she won an Oscar), the mother first reacts against her daughter’s desire to leave home and then endorses it. From then on, having let her daughter loose, the film concentrates on her life and how she adapts to widowhood.

There are poignant moments when her grief almost overwhelms her, as when she opens a wardrobe still full of his clothes, but she grasps the nettle and deals with it.

The whole film has a tender humour about it, as she tricks the mobile phone company into sending her “husband” a brand new mobile with unlimited access; he is dead, of course, but she passes the security test and then learns how to use the phone to keep in touch with her daughter on Instagram and snap-chat. Her first attempt at a selfie, is an example of this.

This is a film full of depth and nuance. Delightful, a little sad and intimate.

Angelo, the second film, is a biopic of an African child, selected and strangely raised as a European in Vienna.

Angelo

In the end, the Q&A was rather more enlightening than the film. The film was delivered in three distinct chapters, Angelo the child; Angelo the adult and Angelo the old man.

Markus Schleinzer grew up with stories about Angelo Soliman, who was a famous exhibit; the educated and refined negro, but when he came to research the background for the film, he found that pretty nearly everything he had heard was wrong.

Angelo was not assimilated into Society, he was always an exhibition of “the other” and that created for the Director a different focus. In an Austria which now has a radical government and a poor history in race relations, Schleinzer aimed to make this film a more philosophical look at how “we” deal with “them”.

So in each section, differences and attitudes are implicit. In the child section, first the negro child is baptised and then taught to play an instrument and then exhibited performing; by the second section Angelo is more than a servant, for he becomes the companion to the Emperor, but once he transgresses (by marrying without permission to a white servant), the Emperor frees him and dismisses him from the Court. The third section is horrendous, he is an old man and when he dies his corpse is used as an exhibit, as the noble savage.

There is a lot to think about in all this, which applies so significantly at the moment, when so many people are refugees, economic migrants and struggling with the concept of nationalism and identity.

We should be kinder, to each other certainly.

Finally The Kindergarten Teacher.

KindergartenIt goes without saying that Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderful in the role of Lisa, the teacher. How she took on such a transgressive character and brought to the screen a person whom one could understand, and even like, is quite extraordinary: for Lisa breaks every rule in the book.

Again, this was a film of strong female direction by Sara Colangelo and a largely female production team, so the Q&A was extremely interesting.

In fact all the Q&A sessions today were exceptionally interesting, fully realised with long and thought provoking answers.

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London Film Festival 2018/7

If yesterday was a marathon, today was a double marathon! I had not fully taken on board that the first film was three and a half hours long. Then they added a fifteen minute interval (which says a lot about the decision of the director) so my scheduling became critical.

The plan

The Plan that came from the bottom up is a documentary about labour relations in the 1970s, seen through the lens of the Lucas Aerospace company. Director Steve Sprung clearly believes in “slow cinema”. There was a huge amount of mood setting, relevant once or possibly twice but not more. The film started in Lisbon, in a terrible fog and then there was a billboard which stated in three languages, Portuguese, English and Chinese, that “you can buy this view”. Following that there was an equally magnificent aerial view of London, with the legend “London, open for business”.

I do not want to trash this film as it is important, both for its message about top down industrial management, about the level of government payback to big business (leaving aside the bank bailout of 2008) and how this affected both the workforce and manufacturing in Britain.

The talking heads were all one-time workers at Lucas. Now retired, (actually they were sacked) but who, when they were shop stewards created a cooperative committee who tried, but failed, to persuade the management that the workers were able and willing to diversify production to more community based products – like wind turbines. Unbelievably, Lucas Aerospace felt that this did not fit with the company image and turned it down, the workers also created a proto-type of an electric bus that could run on rail and road. Also vetoed, although it would save millions in under-developed countries because it would run on concrete, rather than rails, what’s not to like? But no, Lucas preferred making killing machines.

With substantial editing this would be, as it is described above, “a gripping essay”, reflecting on the darker side of capitalism. What is really astonishing though, is the level of behind the scenes collaboration between the Labour government of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan and the management of these vital industries.

There were figures, which I did not copy down, but which showed that after a turnover of tens of millions, what with cost of production and Labour government subsidies, Lucas Aerospace paid only £470,000 to HMRC in tax. Does anyone else immediately think of Amazon and Starbucks?

I wish I could say this was a must see. Maybe a four-part-series on television. Because what it has to say about our choked up cities, about climate change and industry, and the death of manufacturing, is important; because there are people out there who have ideas that would help, if only they had been listened to in the 1970s!!!

It was a rush to get to the next film, which was a shame and this was redoubled by the fact that my neighbour (not the friend I was with but on the other side) seemed oblivious to the fact that a garlicky, chilli wrap followed by smelly, crunchy tacos are not suitable fodder for the cinema. I felt like asking her if she thought she would starve if she waited to eat until after the film.

Bisbee

Bisbee ’17 was not exactly the film I thought it was going to be. 2017 makes it one hundred years since a mass deportation of striking copper miners and other supporters was effected in Bisbee.

The town decides on an re-enactment. This film is the result. And while shining a light on the trauma of a single town, is probably a good thing for the town, I suspect that there would have been better ways to do this for the cinema. It was fractured and over-sentimentalized, which rather drowned the horror of what actually happened.

In July 1917, over 2000 people, nearly all of them Central Americans and Eastern Europeans, were transported into the desert in cattle trucks and left to die. No amount of re-enactment is going to bring to life the absolute inhumanity of that act; yet Bisbee survives – with the visible scars of copper mining all around them and the Mexican border just a short distance away – what better reminder is there?

Finally tonight a beautiful French film set in Paris and India. Two men get off a French Republic flight and are greeted by François Hollande. In spite of public denials, these two are hostages freed with a slush fund, held under wraps for the French Government.

This is another film with a female director, Mia Hansen-Love. Beautifully realised and filmed, but a bizarre choice of music – as Gabriel wanders around Indian cities, throbbing with colour, noise and traffic – we are hearing Shubert – why?

Maya

After a few weeks, young Gabriel goes off to India, a country where he grew up until his parents separated. We travel to India with him and it is utterly gorgeous, as he also travels. Starting from Goa, where his godfather has a hotel, he travels throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Maya is both a love story and a commentary upon what tourism is doing to India, to the farming community and to the still unspoiled places, with unscrupulous developers forcing sales of land and houses by fair means and foul. And possibly a gibe at the French government whose aid programme is dwarfed by the funds paid out to rescue French hostages.

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London Film Festival 2018/6

A marathon three film day, meaning atrocious diet of coffee and Maltesers, plus a hurried sandwich, but I would not have missed any one of them.

First up was a fictionalized account of a South Korean spy working in North Korea. This was one of the only South Asia films in this year’s list, most of them have been hived off into a separate film festival of their own, which follows hard upon this annual London Film Festival, by which time I am filmed-out for a while. Pity, as those are the films I used to choose most.

The Spy

This was a brilliant start to the day. Although my knowledge of South Korean politics was limited, so that possibly some nuanced chicanery passed over my head, this was a spy drama of immense tension and interest. It will certainly lead me to do a bit of post-film research since the story, largely true though fictionalized, was of immediate interest in view of the current situation on that peninsula, right now.

But even without the relevance of today’s situation this was a marvellous look at the inscrutable East, being at its most opaque. Who was on to the bigger picture and who was not? Which of them was on the side of honour and which was the snake in the grass?

Brilliant acting, vibrant and astonishing glimpses of Korean politique and possibly even pictures of North Korea – though since the credits were not translated at all, it is impossible to know where exactly the film had been made.

The second film I am also glad to have seen, although it was a filler for a film I wanted to see but could not get tickets – a situation I might address later.

Putin's witnesses

This rather intimate picture of the Russian leader, is of Putin visiting his old school teacher in St Petersburg. She had twice been primed for this visit, the first time when Putin was meeting the British Prime Minister – Tony Blair, on that occasion for some inexplicable reason he failed to turn up, though his security turned up in advance anyway. The second occasion Putin was there for a funeral of his political mentor, not Yeltsin but someone else.

A great deal of this film was made before the country really knew who Putin was, and before Yeltsin’s sudden announcement on 31st December 1999 that he was retiring. Putin took over as Acting President from that moment, though the elections, at which he got 52% of the vote, were some months later.

He arrives with flowers and kisses. The genesis of this visit comes from an idea presented by the film’s director – Vitaly Mansky. Mansky is a well know and highly respected Russian documentary maker and he and his team got intimate and extraordinary access to both Yeltsin and Putin, especially before Putin actually became the Russian leader.

This was a thought provoking film, not least because in spite of being close to Putin, being invited several times for quite intensive interviews while Putin explained himself, Vitaly Mansky and his family now live abroad and not in Russia. At the Q&A Mansky made it clear that his exile was voluntary, but during the film, his commentary also made it quite clear that opposing the present leader can lead to significant difficulties and sudden death.

Manksy’s decision to leave with his family came after the Ukraine debacle.

Finally, a touching and tragic film about a family split by religion and ideology. Sami, the son of the title is seen suffering from acute migraines, for which there seems no obvious cause. But we know that all is not quite as it seems.

Dear Son

The father-son relationship is tender but complicated. Sami is clearly lying to his parents, who think he is studying for his baccalaureate. When he vanishes, Riadh finds that he is beginning to lie to Nazli. This is a family torn apart in a devastating and emotional roller coaster. The acting is superb, both parents show deep and convincing tenderness for their son, who acts like many another moody teenager – but with tragic consequences.

 

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