Close-Up Film spent a manic time taking in the delights of this year’s London Film Festival. Here, editor Jean Lynch, and writer Peter Fraser, talk about some of their own personal highlights from the event
The 16-day frenzy of screenings, screen talks, interviews and masterclasses that heralded the arrival of the 49th Times BFI London Film Festival must surely be the highlight of any cinephile’s diary, bringing with it the opportunity to sample high profile releases before their nationwide distribution, alongside the cream of new British cinema, European and World cinema, a selection of shorts and experimental, and to revisit some timeless favourites. Add the appearance of such faces as George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Susan Sarandon, Gael Garcia Bernal, Francois Ozon – to name but a small few – and you’re left in no doubt as to why this is the country’s premier event.
So, on what is purely a personal odyssey, and a near-impossible choice given that over 180 features screened throughout the festival, here is a selection of some of the best films you can expect to see over the coming months:
Audiences do not have to wait long to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is released on Friday. Written and directed by Shane Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and who was also on hand to provide a very entertaining Screen Talk, it stars Robert Downey Jnr as a conman-cum-actor who finds himself unwittingly ensnared in a murder investigation alongside Val Kilmer’s private eye. A darkly comic film noir, the film hurtles along at breakneck pace, full of knowing self-awareness. Downey is an unsung hero of comic timing, and Kilmer is a tour de force as ‘Gay’ Perry. Providing the latter with a role that will surely resurrect and redirect the actor’s career, Black’s quickfire dialogue and smart sassy style are akin to a subtler and more humorous Tarantino. After a career hiatus, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang marks Black’s directorial debut, a step he took in order to ensure the films he wrote were the films that ended up on the screen.
Suspense and the threat of a violent climax are key elements of two more festival highlights. Having risen to prominence with Amores Perros, 26-year-old Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal has achieved critical and commercial success without undertaking an English speaking role… until now. The King, directed by James Marsh, marks that debut. Bernal plays Elvis, a young man honourably discharged from the navy, who returns to his home in Texas to find the father (William Hurt) he never knew and never knew of him. The reunion doesn’t fare well and so Elvis takes matters into his own hands. Whilst billed as a horror story, The King is more of a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, with thoughtful, sympathetic performances and multi-layered character depictions. What is particularly appealing about the story is the way in which it demonstrates how our destinies, and often those around us, can be shaped by a single unthinking moment.
Even more understated is the menace that permeates the French film Hidden, the latest from director Michael Haneke (The Time of the Wolf, The Piano Teacher). Starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as an ordinary couple who suddenly start to receive anonymous videotapes of themselves going about their everyday business, this is a tale which, like its title, unfolds at a slow but well-timed pace to reveal a much deeper story, and one which takes the viewer into a dark maze of psychological repression. This is a film that smoulders rather than burns but with somewhat alarming sudden flares, and is very adept at drawing the viewer into the story, tricking them into being an accomplice rather than allowing them to sit as an impartial observer. Excellent performances too from both Auteuil and Binoche.
In terms of lyrical beauty, two films deserve a mention. First, Liev Schreiber’s Everything is Illuminated. Based on the true-life novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, the novelist himself is played by Elijah Wood. A young Jewish-American travels to the Ukraine to discover the woman who saved his Grandmother’s life during World War II. Aided by a young local and his grouchy grandfather, the three men and a dog begin a journey whose end is both beautiful and terrible. Occasionally, this feels like two films – one quirky humour, the other grandiose emotion – joined together, but fortunately the two halves are so well made that the slight jarring juxtaposition barely matters. Schreiber’s directorial debut displays an endearing empathy with its art and subject matter, and in turn provides us with a touching meditation on human loyalty and values. Similar themes are explored in the Italian Drama Sacred Heart, from director Ferzan Ozpetek. Barbara Bobulova plays Irene, a dealer in real estate, who embarks on a personal journey when she takes on a new project, a building owned by her family and which was once occupied by her own long dead mother. Here she meets a street urchin, Benny, whose curious mix of integrity and dishonesty lead her to examine her own life and values. Ozpetek manages to convey both darkness and luminosity in the film’s style, with chocolate-like luxuriousness to the dark interiors of the old building. The film goes further than a personal quest and also tackles religious issues head on, but in doing so Ozpetek has created a memorable modern fable that transcends the everyday.
There’s an honourable mention for Steve Buscemi’s Lonesome Jim. Casey Affleck is outstanding as the young boy returning home to have a nervous breakdown only to find his brother has beaten him to it. Liv Tyler is great in a supporting role but the fact that the funny and highly competent lead in this low-key quirky comedy is from the same family as the man from Gigli is quite astonishing. And last, but certainly by no means least, is Crossing the Bridge, from Fatih Akin, whose Head On was one of the hits of last year’s London Film Festival. The documentary takes a look at the underground music scene of Istanbul, the city where East reputedly meets West, and serves as a melting pot for the respective cultures. This is a tale of how the city reclaimed its identity, by way of hip hop music and traditional Turkish songs. As we meet the artists, a diverse and fascinating cross-section of life in the city is revealed, detailing that which makes its inhabitants unique yet also that which brings them together with their eastern and western counterparts.
In summation, this could be likened to the London Film Festival itself, a unique meeting point of people, art and culture, all unique but whose value can be appreciated by all; a means by which to discover new territories – to learn from and to debate with, and most of all, to enjoy that journey, and those that follow thereon.
So as the 49th Times BFI London Film Festival draws to an end, one can only begin to imagine what new and wonderful celluloid tales the festival organisers have waiting in their darkened room for next year – the all-important 50th!
With such an extraordinary range of films at the London Film Festival (LFF) this year it seems churlish to choose favourites. When the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) presented Mike Leigh with an award at the screening of Luis Bunuel’s classic Los Olvidados, perhaps numerous spectators were wondering how long it would be before some of the films shown this year would also be considered ‘treasures from the archives.’ It’s easy to be cynical about the film industry generally but the LFF shows that cinematic innovation, originality and integrity still exist and Mike Leigh’s shambolic speech on accepting his award was a pleasing reminder that not everything in the industry is vacuum-sealed.
Of the higher profile screenings The Proposition was excellent. A startling film seemingly made, like Moby Dick was written, with a gale howling through it. Yet in the primal heat of the Australian outback where stillness seems to reign, that ferocious storm can only be clearly perceived in the eyes and actions of fabled killer Arthur Burns (Danny Huston) who embodies the chaos that threatens civilisation. That civilisation is personified by Ray Winstone’s sly and sanctimonious lawman Captain Stanley. Like Ishmael to Ahab in Moby Dick, Willard to Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Stanley sends Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) to his elder brother Arthur to kill him. The cast is uniformly excellent, including a superbly malevolent John Hurt, but the standout is Danny Huston who has his father’s genius for playing the devil and whose lyrical psychopath prowls the dusty plains ruminating upon poetry when he isn’t eviscerating his luckless adversaries. Huston is becoming an actor to watch. Pre-eminent is musician Nick Cave’s script and score, which create moments when silence breeds in the desert and the film touches myth.
Other highlights, perhaps less demonstrative but no less impressive, were Lebanese film A Perfect Day and Hal Hartley’s latest The Girl From Monday. The former is an evocative distillation of a society trapped between the pressures of a harrowing past and an uncertain future. Lead character Malek signs the paperwork that confirms his missing father as another casualty of the Lebanese civil war on the same day that he chases his ex-girlfriend Zeina through the streets in the hope of winning her back. A film about absence, Malek briefly rejoins Zeina in a nightclub where a generation come to lose themselves, rekindling a relationship that can only exist in the moment. A Perfect Day, despite the irony of its title, is wonderfully redemptive, ambitious and visually resplendent. The Girl From Monday on the other hand is an object lesson in how to milk quality production values from a miniscule budget. Taking his stylistic cue from Jean Luc-Godard’s Alphaville, maverick US filmmaker Hal Hartley imagines a future dystopia in which the market has become the all-pervasive force controlling people’s lives. Timely and possibly prescient the film disguises its low budget through imaginative camera angles and locations, creating a look that trumps some multi-million dollar sci-fi films, as well as convincingly depicting a society where individuals are commodities and their market value depends upon factors such as self-esteem and sexual activity.
Among the strong showings from films with a realist aesthetic this year there was Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane standing tall as a riveting study of a man riven by loss and compelled to return again and again to the bus depot where his daughter was apparently abducted. Throughout the film the camera remains centred on British actor Damien Lewis’ expressive features in a performance heartbreaking in its unwavering intensity. Clearly Lewis is another actor to watch. Kerrigan very wisely does just that, literally resting the entire film on the shoulders of his leading man. The resurgence of realism, including Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher 3 (latest in an outstanding series) and The Death of Mister Lazarescu, is no doubt tied to the similar upsurge in quality documentaries and political cinema. With that in mind it seems apt to again mention Los Olvidados, one of the granddaddies of realist cinema making a hugely welcome return in a brand-new print. One of only four films on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register of protected cultural artefacts, it sets a high standard of artistic integrity and cinematic virtuosity for today’s filmmakers to aim towards.
For release dates and full reviews of these and other films screened at the 49th Times Bfi London Film Festival, be sure to check
www.close-upfilm.com each Friday.