Saturday, 15 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: HEAL THE LIVING - Dir. Katell Quillévéré

A synopsis can sometimes do a film no favours and describing the story in Katell Quillévéré’s third feature would bring to mind any number of hospital dramas. The key to the film’s power lies in the Quillévéré’s execution: finding the small moments of humanity amongst the enormity of the situation the characters face. It’s life and death, but not as the movies know it.

Adapted from an acclaimed novel by Maylis de Kerangal, Heal The Living introduces Simon (Gabin Verdet) climbing out of his girlfriend’s bedroom window to catch the early morning tide with two surfing friends. In strictest terms, he’s travelling through the night to stand in the sea on a slab of polyurethane, but it’s his passion for the surf that Quillévéré captures (through some quite breath-taking underwater and in water photography). Just hours later, Simon is declared brain dead after a severe car crash and his parents Marianne and Vincent (Emanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen) must decide whether to donate their son’s organs. There’s no extra special reason why we’re meant to care about Simon but we do care, simply because he was killed doing what he loved on the cusp of the prime years of his life.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: UNA - Dir. Benedict Andrews

The only thing I knew about Una beyond its main cast (the always interesting Rooney Mara and Ben Mendlsohn) was its origins as a play (Blackbird by David Harrower). Sadly, despite the best efforts of all involved, this story of sexual abuse can’t escape those origins to arrive on screen as a fully-fledged film.

BFI LFF 2016: WHAT'S IN THE DARKNESS - Dir. Wang Yichun

With a rarely seen perspective on the murder mystery genre, Wang Yichun’s debut film feels disjointed at first but gradually breaks free of expected genre trappings to deliver an unsettling look at an insidious and repressed modern China.

As a small rural town becomes engrossed by a spate of sexually motivated murders, teenage girl Jing (Su Xiaotong) begins to break free of her stilted family life and explore the wider world, stumbling across much that she isn’t ready for.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: ON THE ROAD - Dir. Michael Winterbottom

This late addition to the BFI London Film Festival line-up captures life on tour with London band Wolf Alice. Amongst the regular crew, Michael Winterbottom places a handful of actors to guide the audience along on the journey. The innovative approach breathes some fresh life into the rock tour doc but it ultimately paralyses the film from ever truly fulfilling its early promise.

There’s a good reason that the film is called On The Road and not Wolf Alice or the name of one of their songs; Winterbottom’s aim here is to capture the life of a touring crew, charging up and down the motorways from one venue to the next. In that regard, this film is a success. Having worked (for a time) a somewhat similar life in television production, the convergence of work life and personal life was immediately recognisable.

Monday, 10 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: ALL OF A SUDDEN - Dir. Azli Özge

When the last guest at his house party dies in mysterious circumstances, Karsten (Sebastian Hülk) faces scrutiny from his friends, family and the police. More questions are raised when he learns that no one at the party knew who the woman was or why she was there.

This premise could be the beginnings of a murder mystery but this finely crafted drama from writer/director Azli Özge examines the fallout from this one event and its widespread repercussions for those directly and indirectly involved.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: LA LA LAND - Dir. Damien Chazelle

In the opening of Damien Chazelle’s modern musical, the camera pans back along a traffic jam. A variety of modern notes and beats emerge from open car windows; travelling back through the years until the camera stops on the first soloist and kicks the film into life. It’s an opening that perfectly captures the film’s affection for the past but also acknowledging the passing of time since then.

In the traffic jam are Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone); the former scanning his tape player for the right song, the latter practising lines for her latest audition. Their paths are destined to cross, though perhaps not as smoothly as they could.

Since its Venice premiere, La La Land has been positioned as a firm Oscar favourite and it’s easy to see why. This is a top-tapping, finger clicking musical that was once the staple of Hollywood studios but is now normally reserved for the theatre. It gently mocks modern Hollywood whilst also showing a great reverence for it too. You can probably get longer odds on the likelihood of the sun rising tomorrow than you could on La La Land taking away the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical in December.

The film is undoubtedly harking back to musicals of old but any references (such as Gosling’s brief dalliance with a lamp post) are either accidental or so well integrated that they don’t overtly draw attention, miles away from the less than conspicuous references that have somehow become a point of praise in modern blockbusters.

Both Seb and Maria are passionate about dying art forms. Seb has a love of jazz and the endless creative freedom it brings whilst Maria has a love of old movies and the notion of sitting in a darkened cinema to savour them. This draws them together (after some persuasion on both sides). The opening stretches, covering the couple’s courtship, gallops at a relentless pace from one musical number to the next. The music and choreography work in tandem, making a mockery of many modern music videos and their arrhythmic limb waving. It’s a joyously witty game of call and response with Gosling and Stone tapping and swirling their way across a vibrant Los Angeles.

Anyone who’s seen Crazy, Stupid, Love. will be aware of the chemistry shared between Gosling and Stone and Chazelle trusts in their shared timing and delivery to keep the film flowing. Plaudits for his directing have been numerous, but it’s Chazelle’s skill as a writer that is the primary key to his success (his script for Grand Piano acknowledges the inherent ridiculousness of its premise without undermining the tension of the story). La La Land is chock full of wise cracks and jokes with second and third punchlines, all captured by an ever moving but never erratic camera. 

It’s all so dizzyingly wonderful but it’s also not surprising that the film can’t maintain this level razzmatazz and Chazelle doesn’t want to either. Unlike recent Oscar winner The Artist, this isn’t nostalgia for the sake of it and Chazelle confronts the fact that both Seb and Maria are longing for a time already passed. Their idols may have had their own favourite artists but they were visionaries and dreamers in their own right. Where the story goes is for an audience to discover. It feels a little sluggish here but perhaps that’s only in contrast to the earlier pace. The ending though is undoubtedly one for the ages: at once electrifying and yet tinged with the longing for a life not lived. I hope La La Land becomes the huge success it deserves to be; we really don’t deserve nice things in the future if we can’t be bothered to cherish this charming film.

La La Land plays at 60th BFI London Film Festival on Sunday 16th October 2016. It opens in UK cinemas on Friday 13th January 2017.

Visit the festival website for screening times and ticket details.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: THE NOONDAY WITCH (Polednice) - Dir. Jiri Sádek

Furthering the return to prominence of the “folk-horror”, most notably with Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Robert Eggers The VVitch, is the atmospheric The Noonday Witch. First time feature director Jiri Sádek delivers a captivating, if not entirely satisfying, blend of the supernatural and psychological to a story of a mother’s relationship with her daughter.

Eliska (Anna Geislerová) has left the hustle and bustle of the big city for the rural Czech village where her husband grew up, hoping for a fresh start with her daughter Anetka (Karolína Lipowská). With the sun bearing down on the parched land, the weight of a secret takes its toll on their relationship and the threat of the Noonday Witch looms ever larger.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

BFI LFF 2016: BARAKAH MEETS BARAKAH - Dir. Mahmoud Sabbagh

You can be forgiven for not being able to recall the last Saudi Arabian film you watched, such is mere handful of films that have been made there (Hafiaa al-Mansour’s Wadjda is a recent example). Set about changing that is Mahmoud Sabbagh with his debut film Barakah Meets Barakah.