Thursday 31 October 2013

Drilling DEEPER into the BFI London Film Festival #lff (Part 2)

Continuing my very intuitive London Film Festival 2013 taxonomy...


Where would you find a film festival without a handful of films on this eternal theme? Three excellent ones here, a very controlled performance in Nebraska from Bruce Dern as an old, semi-alcoholic grump who is convinced he’s won a million in a lottery and wants to go to claim his prize. His son David takes the path of least resistance and decides to take him on a road trip that explores and redefines family ties with humour but without cloying sentimentality. 


Like Father, Like Son, the latest from Hirokazu Kore-eda takes a hypothetical situation, two boys swapped at birth, and tries and tests tests the two very different couples through what it means to be a parent as they contemplate exchanging their six-year-olds.  

Like Father, Like Son
A terse and contained British prison drama from David Mackenzie, Starred Up avoids the genre clichés through the strength and brutal detail of its opening scenes. Eric, a young offender is sent to adult prison because he is uncontrollable. His father happens to be banged up there and a conflict arises between the tensions in their relationship and progressive attempts to rehabilitate him through group therapy. A tough watch that only slightly dilutes as the plot moves towards its resolution.


 In which case the speculation is what happens to dialogue? Does the character talk to him or herself? Do we get interior monologue? Will it be a silent film? Three notable cases at the LFF: lost in space drama Gravity which delivers its very own 3D roller coaster ride, Locke (which I regretfully didn't see but is Tom Hardy in the interior of a car, driving from Wales to London for the duration of the film) and All is Lost in which Robert Redford is a yachtsman adrift in the Indian Ocean in a leaky vessel.

All is Lost


Computer Chess
Cinematography is the crucial element here, spectacular widescreen photography in Nebraska to convey the vast open spaces of midwest America and the closed, monotonous structures of small town life; in the US Indie offbeat comedy Computer Chess to simulate early 80s grainy video; and to stunning effect in the glittering, deep focus landscapes in the Polish biopic of 20th century Roma poet, Bronislawa Wajs, aka Papusza, a revelation, though there were barely 30 people in the audience at the public screening I attended.





There were three Greek films in total, of special interest to me; I sought them out. Two of them - The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas and Luton - could be classified as Greek 'weird wave' films following in the footsteps of Dogtooth, Attenberg, The Boy Eating the Bird's Food though the young director of Luton repudiated this categorisation in his Q&A.  They reflect, as you might expect, a troubled and fragmented society and eschew a conventional narrative story-telling. The third, The Enemy Within, was similarly dystopian but in straightforward revenge thriller form. I was delighted to run into Margaret, formerly Flicks in the Sticks promoter at Garway, at the Luton screening at Vue Leicester Square. Her verdict on Luton was 'pretty hard to take', unremittingly grim social and personal relations, long, long sequences and not much indication of where the film was headed. Or indeed why it was called Luton. The director explained that the airport had something to do with it: a mundane place where not much goes on (?) that is a gateway to London where everything is happening. Thus the episodes depicted in the film.

The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas



  • 12 Years a Slave - a tour-de-force from Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame).
  • Gloria
  • Papusza
  • Like Father, Like Son
  • Ilo Ilo -  fresh, low budget Singapore family drama which won Anthony Chen the Sutherland Award for best first feature at LFF as well as Camera D’Or at Cannes.
    Ilo Ilo
  • Exhibition
  • Nebraska
  • Sacro Gra - surreal, in the sense of bringing out the extraordinary in the everyday, this documentary that skirts around the margins of Rome's ring road won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Would make intriguing double bill, a long one, with The Great Beauty.
  • The Epic of Everest - unseen since it was a box office draw in 1924, this restoration from the BFI National Archive of Mallory and Irvine's tragic attempt to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world is fabulous, down to the lyrical but occasionally dodgy inter-titles.
    The Epic of Everest
  • La Belle et La Bête - restored and simply magical. It seems likely this will play at Borderlines 2014 so come see and bring children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces (it's a PG) to catch the bug of cinema. 
    La Belle et La Bête

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Drilling deep into the BFI London Film Festival #lff (Part 1)

You really know that down time for Borderlines is over when the BFI London Film Festival comes around, 9 - 20 October this year. A decent proportion of its 200+ films are likely to open in the lead up to our own festival so it's a good opportunity for some concentrated viewing (topped up by a weekend of Independent Cinema Office screenings in early November) and to catch a few of the far-flung films that will only get very restricted cinema windows. 

Being there ('be here' is the LFF's 2013 strap line) is a pleasure, but a grinding one. So much to choose from, endless jiggling and juggling, so many unknown quantities. 

A rather well-worn copy of the Press Screening schedule
Press and industry screenings have multiplied this year so that instead of three choices in any given time slot there are now six or seven, housed for the first time in Cineworld, Shaftesbury Avenue, deep in the bowels of the Trocadero, an uneasy cross between an enfeebled version of Pleasure Island in Disney's Pinocchio and a cavernous modern stage set for the musical of Dante's Inferno.

Pleasure Island or the Gates of Hell? Trocadero
In addition, you have to submit requests for up to four public screenings the day before and this can be a strategic exercise, calculating how much time it will take to trot from Leicester Square over the Hungerford footbridge to BFI Southbank, or down Piccadilly to the Curzon Mayfair. And will you be able to fight off sleep for a 9pm screening of a film that will creep over the 100 minute mark, especially when followed by a Q&A with the director?

Hotfooting over Waterloo Bridge
How do you glean what's worth seeing? The official write-ups in the brochure are a guide to content but naturally imply that every film is a masterpiece. Word of mouth, interrogating other delegates on the hoof, in queues, on escalators, in adjacent seats, crossing roads, at the entrance to Underground stations and acting on their recommendations can be productive, along with snatching a moment to read a smattering of often contradictory reviews and Tweets.
Chance plays its part too. The festival is preceded by three weeks of press screenings at BFI Southbank and, refreshingly, you get what you are given, just three films per day from 10am to 4ish, a few gems, a bit of dross, and in between, much of interest that you might well overlook. 

One example during my three day's worth of pre-festival viewing was a curious Indian film called Fandry (Pig) that castigates the caste system through the story of an 'untouchable' teenage boy who, fuelled by a major crush on a fair-skinned classmate, Shalu, a girl from a much higher caste, strives with a bright optimistic enthusiasm to improve his lot. A final climactic scene of public humiliation as he and his whole family are forced to round up a herd of stray pigs, an 'unclean' job that no other villager will undertake, dramatically thwarts his efforts.


So, how to assimilate the 50-odd films seen over about 15 days? It's natural to group them into clumps, not necessarily along the lines of the now established LFF strands: LOVE, LAUGH, THRILL, DARE, JOURNEY... - a friend suggested
WINCE as an alternative - each with its own gala.

LFF Brochure
Here are my own categories:


The new Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive, with Tilda Swinton, white-haired, white clad, and Tom Hiddleston, black-haired and black clad, as a pair of languid and symbiotic 21st century vampires, fell into this category. I found it smug, static, pretentious and boring, others revelled in its wittiness and cool. 

Only Lovers Left Alive

British director Joanna Hogg's third feature, Exhibition, provided an intriguing counterpoint; another reclusive couple, both artists, played by non-actors, Viv Albertine, former Slits guitarist and Turner Prize nominee Liam Gillick, live within the dispassionate spaces of a modernist London house that they are about to sell. This one I inexplicably liked; the detachment of the characters left room for thought and speculation, but I can see that its slow pace and introspection may well irritate, if not alienate, audiences.


 One thing that struck me quite early on during the Festival was the high count of strong middle-aged or older female protagonists, often women on their own, many, many divorcées.  The BFI Statistical Yearbook 2013 reveals that, for the first time in 2012, the largest proportion of the cinema-going public over 15 is now the 45+ age group (though it makes no mention of the divorce rate), accounting for 36% of the box office. Is this beginning to reflect in the content of the films themselves, across national boundaries?

One of the most glorious of these is Gloria, a Chilean film about a divorced woman in her late fifties with two grown-up children, who loves disco and dabbles in the singles scene, meeting a man who seems to promise emotional and sexual reassurance but turns out to be not quite what he seems. Intimate, colourful, unsentimental and absorbing, Gloria offers a marvellously resilient portrait of the eponymous heroine from Paulina García.

Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener, offers another appealing 'older woman' role for Julia-Louis Dreyfus as a masseuse who meets a man (the wonderful late James Gandolfini) at a party. Though not immediately attracted to him, the two (both divorced) have great rapport, reflected in the comic agility of their exchanges,  and an intimate relationship develops before coincidence and Eva's doubt-fuelled anxieties seep in to undermine their closeness.

Eva (Enough Said)

Back in Romanian cinema, a heroine of a different calibre in the winner of the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale, Child's Pose. Cornelia is a formidable matriarch, a professional woman (not divorced but her husband comes across as a shadowy, emasculated figure) who knows everyone worth knowing, at ease in bourgeois society but fretful about her feckless grown son. When he, Barbu, kills a boy in a hit and run accident, Cornelia summons all her power, influence and steely composure in order to keep her son out of prison.

Cornelia (Child's Pose)

There were a couple of films in this category that veered towards the ludicrous. The very first film I saw, Adore, showed two childhood friends (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) growing up together in an idyllic Australian bay to become middle-aged but sensationally attractive mothers (status: widowed, adulterous/divorced) who end up son-swapping - in the full carnal sense. 'Who is this for?' I kept asking myself. The answer came back pat, 'For older women, as a kind of sop that these days they can have it all, that their sexual appeal will not diminish with maturity and they will still be able to magnetise younger men.' There was not a glint of reality, irony or conflict in this film and I found it rather distressing to see the talents of Ben Mendelsohn and James Frecheville, both last seen in the dark recesses of Animal Kingdom, frittered away on this supposedly subversive bit of fluff. Here is some sample dialogue:
One mother: 'What have we done?'
Other mother: 'We've crossed the line.' 

Roz and Lil (Adore)

Labor Day was a bit confounding too. I was expecting if not wry humour, then a degree of dark dryness from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air). What we were served up with was decidedly squidgy.  Drained, reclusive, yes, and a divorcée, Adele (Kate Winslet) finds light and her own repository of fantasy in the form of intruder and fugitive from justice, Frank (Josh Brolin), who ends up being deliciously handy about the house in every conceivable way.

Adele (Labor Day)

Futher classification to follow...