More Highlights From The London Film Festival
The London Film Festival 2016 has finished but the new films that have been shown are or will be on general – or limited – release over the coming year. Some of those worth catching are CHRISTINE and KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE; MOONLIGHT; INDIVISIBLE; LA LA LAND; MANCHESTER BY THE SEA; A QUIET PASSION; PATERSON; ARRIVAL; I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER; THE BIRTH OF A NATION; AMERICAN HONEY; THE INNOCENTS and WOMEN WHO KILL.
An interesting pairing sees CHRISTINE directed by Antonio Campos which tells the story of Christine Chubbock the TV reporter who age 29 shot herself. During a live broadcast of a magazine TV programme in Sarasota in the 70s. Campos gets the very best from a barely recognisable Rebecca Hall who is excellent in the name part and the film is fascinating. Alongside this in the festival is another well-thought through performance. Actress Kate Lyn Sheil is Kate in the documentary KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE, directed by Robert Greene. This is a mixture of fact and fiction, showing the dilemma faced by the actress who has to confront her own emotions as she portrays the very troubled woman who took her own life in front of the viewing public. The words of the real Christine are read aloud along with full details of the newscaster herself. Kate researches the actual suicide which took place in 1974. Kate who is 31 looks, too, at the autobiography that Christine wrote when she was 15. This is a fascinating documentary which sheds light not only on the film Christine but also on the real-life Christine and, indeed, on the actress Kate Lynn Sheil.
MOONLIGHT is another hit from the LFF. Set in Miami in the 1980s, the film follows the story of Charon who looks and feels different from his classmates. As Charon’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) is a drug addict and absolutely no help to him, Charon turns to the local drug lord (a charismatic performance by Mahershalka Ali) who, along with his girlfriend, provide emotional support as well personal care. Charon’s only other friend is Kevin (Jaden Pinner) and the two eventually come to terms with their sexuality. The older Charon is portrayed by Trevante Rhodes and he and his younger version both act with sensitivity as do the young Kevin and Andre Holland as the older one. The beautifully made film has a special performance from Harris as a loving mother who can’t cope with her own drug addiction. Keep an eye out for this emotionally involving movie.
I really enjoyed INDIVISIBLE, a most unusual Italian film about conjoined twins who sing and perform at weddings, christenings and many religious festivals in their little home town near Naples. Given the chance for wider recognition, their father exploits the girls, pocketing their earnings. When they find out that there is an operation which could separate them successfully he refuses to give them the money they need. Surreal imagery abounds in this well-made, weird sort of fairy tale with moments of horror as we see the conjoined twins, played by real-life actress twins Angela and Marianna Fontana, play and sing together. Written and directed by Edouardo De Angelis, the film has many surreal moments. It is fascinating to watch and remains with one long after it is over.
There was a lot of favourable pre-festival publicity for LA LA LAND and for once the hype was justified. This is a well-made delightfully filmed musical. Damien Chazelle, has written and directed a lovely romantic movie set in Los Angelis, featuring Emma Stone as an actress who can’t find work and Ryan Gosling as a struggling pianist. Chazelle shows it is still possible to make this kind of musical movie. We see a side of Gosling – who plays Sebastian, the musician, who falls in love with Stone’s actress called Mia – that is most unexpected. Ryan sings and dances with dexterity. Stone makes a lovely romantic partner. After watching this charming film, we come out of the cinema with a broad happy smile.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, set in Massachusetts, is completely different. Not a lot of laughs in this story of Lee (played by Casey Affleck) who, although overcome with grief at his past loss, is forced to return to his home town, where his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still lives, to take care of the teenage son when his brother suddenly dies. Director and writer Kenneth Lonergan has made a most moving movie which comes across as completely truthful in its dealing with past and present tragedy.
A wide variety of styles was on display at this year’s LFF and different again is A QUIET PASSION, which, as it happens, is also set in Massachusetts. Although known as an American poet, the film covers more of Emily Dickinson’s life than just her poetry. She is a non-conformist, independent in spirit and against the formal religion of her family. She is also not in the market for a normal easy marriage or relationship. Director Terence Davies gives us a rounded picture of a very talented woman with an individual style all her own. Luckily he has Cynthia Nixon to portray Emily as a real woman in a particular setting in the mid-1880s. Jennifer Earle plays Lavinia, Emily’s lively, witty friend. You might well want to search out Emily Dickinson’s poems after seeing this movie.
Keep a look out for PATERSON, an unusual little film by Jim Jarmusch. Adam Driver stars as Paterson, a bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson follows his own routine – reporting for work each day with his lunch box, then driving his bus across the city. In the evenings he takes his wife’s bulldog for a walk, stopping at the same bar for a drink and a chat with the barman. All the time Paterson is making up poems which he writes in a notebook when he is out of his bus. His wife is completely different. Played by Golshifteh Farahan, Laura is a baker and freelance artist. She also likes fixing up their home and decorating it in quirky styles. She is constantly thinking up new ideas and it is not unusual for Paterson to arrive home and be met by his wife with a sudden enthusiasm for a DIY project, or cupcakes or learning the guitar. The two get along fine and this sweet movie shows them co-existing in an easy manner.
A completely different kind of Sci-Fi film, ARRIVAL, imaginatively directed by the Canadian Denis Villeneuve, is always visually entrancing. It has an intelligent story and is well served by its actors. Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics who is called upon to interpret the language of a group of extraterrestrials who have suddenly arrived and seem to be trying to make contact. She is assisted by the scientist Ian Donelly (Jermey Renner) who is attempting to work out why they have come and what they want. As outsiders the couple find themselves working against the establishment but Dr Banks is able to establish a way to communicate with the aliens and the film deals in a most interesting way with the importance of proper translation in making links with other people and, indeed, other countries.
I AM NOT A SERIAL KILER is not perhaps the slash and slay film you might expect from the title. It shows us 16-year-old John Cleaver (in a highly talented performance by young Max Records) who is abnormally interested in death and killers and fears his own propensity to commit crimes. It doesn’t help that John helps his mother in the funeral parlour where she works, dealing with the naked bodies of victims who have been murdered. With superb cinematography by Robbie Ryan and directed by Billy O’Brien it is a humorous yet ultimately frightening portrayal of an adolescent who is alienated from his surroundings and those around him. Nice little cameo by Christopher Lloyd.
For me one of the top films of the festival was THE BIRTH OF A NATION, not only directed but also written by, produced by and starring Nate Parker. Parker plays Nat Turner, a slave who is also a preacher. He learns to read with the help of the plantation owner’s wife, who uses the Bible to teach him. Having become religious, his owner uses him to persuade the other slaves to submit. Nat decides he can’t do this anymore and plots the uprising which becomes known as the slave revolt, in Virginia in 1831. The photography evokes the land around. The film has a strong message, which is very relevant to todays’ race relations in America. Acted with conviction by all and well-made, it is very much worth a visit.
AMERICAN HONEY has been praised by many, but, although it is directed with enthusiasm and is a lively American film made by British director, Andrea Arnold, it didn’t do much for me! It’s basically a road movie with a group of teenagers selling magazines house to house and singing along – almost karaoke style – to music as they travel together in a bus. Arnold observes both the land they travel through well, and also gives us a lively new star in Sacha Lane, playing Star, who joins the group. Shia LaBoef is also good as the leading male who forms a relationship with Star.
Based on the diary of a young atheist French doctor working for the French Red Cross in Poland in the winter of 1945, the Polish film THE INNOCENTS is a thoughtful film giving a story which will be new to most of the audience. Mathilde (Lou de Laage) is called upon to help a group of Benedictine nuns who have been assaulted in their convent by Russian soldiers. The result is that a number of the nuns are pregnant and feel deeply ashamed. Director Anne Fontaine deals effectively with the emotional state of the nuns who fear it is their own fault they have been raped. The cast act truthfully and give us individual characters even though they are nearly all dressed in the same outfits.
Is WOMEN WHO KILL a comedy? Or is it a psychological thriller? Well, actually director Ingrid Jungermann, who also stars, has given us both in this movie. It tells the story of two Lesbians who specialise in podcasts about female serial killers. The women are ex-lovers and we see one of them form a relationship with another woman who may or may not be a real murderer. There are lots of amusing moments and also a few hand-over-mouth gasps as the two ex-lovers plunge into trying to discover the truth about the newcomer. A lively well written (also by Jumgermann) film with acting of a high standard: worth seeing.
Feature by Carlie Newman