Sorry this has taken so long to post. I've been having trouble writing this week... the writers among you will know those days when nothing quite reads right... I've just had a few in a row.
The Cinema Europa and World Cinema strands are where LFF casts a wider net, covering some of the more offbeat and unseen narrative cinema of the year. It's here that you'll likely find those little festival gems; the treats you might not see again, and here that you may well spot the names you need to watch for in the future. For the full programme, CLICK HERE.
Notes: Within their strands films are listed alphabetically by title. Short synopses are taken from the LFF brochure.
3 Seasons in Hell
DIR: Tomáš Mašin
A young poet and his liberated girlfriend face a new reality when the Communists take power in Prague in the late 1940s.
Set at the time of the takeover of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1948, Tomáš Mašin's first film promises to illuminate - through what sounds like a high stakes romantic thriller involving the attempts of a poet and his activist girlfirend to escape the new regime - a period of history I know next to mothing about. It's apparently loosely based on a true story and advance word suggests that this is an engaging and well acted film.
DIR: Janus Metz
An intense and controversial documentary about a group of Danish army recruits, stationed in Afghanistan.
War often brings about advancements in media, and especially in reportage, and the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first that we've really been able to follow consistently at ground level. In 2009 director Janus Metz and his crew were embedded with a group of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan. It seems that this is an up close and personal documentary, and it's attracting fantastic notices at other film festivals. We've had a lot of films exploring and debunking the war on terror, it will be interesting to see one about the day to day experience of it.
At Ellen's Age
DIR: Pia Marais
When Ellen discovers her lover's infidelity, her life goes into tail spin, taking her into places and politics she never thought she'd go.
I've heard nothing but good things about, and am dying to see, Pia Marais' debut The Unpolished, interestingly, this second effort sounds almost like the flipside of that film, a coming of age film focusing not on a young character but on one in her mid 40's. The talented Jeanne Balibar takes the lead as Ellen, who leaves behind her old life when her partner gets another woman pregnant, and finds herself having all sorts of new experiences with work, politics, sex and drugs. Sounds tough, but rewarding.
DIR: Isabelle Stever
Emotionally honest and insightful account of a surprise pregnancy and its even more unexpected consequences by a leading light of Berlin's recent cinematic renaissance.
Germany has been producing some really exciting cinema over the last few years, and this account of two people's reaction to the pregnancy that results from their one night stand seems likely to be yet more evidence of the wave of talent coming out of there. From the available stills I can tell that director Isabelle Stever has an eye for an evocative image, and the promised underlying tension about the reasons behind the father's very enthusiastic reaction to this unexpected turn of events suggests a very different take on the established beats of the pregnancy movie.
DIR: Antonio Capuano
The aftermath of a rape seen through the parallel lives of the assailant and victim as they try to redeem and rebuild their lives respectively.
For me the interesting idea behind this film is that it explores the effect of a heinous crime (gang rape) from two angles; the experience of the victim, and that of a remorseful perpetrator. Whether Dark Love ultimately works will hinge on the leading performances of Irene de Angelis and Gabriele Agrio, if we believe them then this should be a provocative and fascinating piece of work. On a side note, it will also be nice to see the too infrequently used Valeria Golino again.
DIR: Jordi Cadena / Judith Colell
A sensitive, beautifully realised study of the traumas of child abuse from Catalan directors Judith Colell and Jordi Cadena.
It seems that the psychological ramifications of traumatic events is something of a theme in the Cinema Europa strand this year. This film, told in two chapters, shows first the immediate effect of child abuse on the young victim (the titular Elisa) and then how it continues to effect the grown Elisa when, 14 years later, she really acknowledges what happened. This is almost certain to be grim and challenging, but done sensitively it could be really striking.
Hunting and Sons
DIR: Sander Burger
The disturbing tale of a young couple whose marriage disintegrates when they become pregnant.
We still don't get to see much Dutch cinema (I'm pretty sure I haven't seen a Dutch film since Verhoeven's Black Book), but this one has certainly grabbed my interest. It's another film about the psychogoical effects of pregnancy, only in this case it seems it is driving a couple apart, largely due to the wife's body dysmorphia. These are compelling issues, and I've never seen the addressed in cinema before.
DIR: Olivier Masset-Depasse
Olivier Masset-Depasse's award-winning film is based on actual events and vividly depicts a grim reality for those retained in Belgium's detention centres.
There are few more sensationalised or poorly reported issues than that of asylum, hopefully this film (which is based on a true story), which takes us inside a Belgian detention centre will address its subject in a more honest fashion than the media tends to. It should help that Anne Coesens is playing the lead role of a mother seperated from her son and threatened with deportation, she's a gifted and interesting actress, and this promises to give her a strong role.
DIR: Sergei Loznitsa
A chance encounter leads to a nightmare journey into a Russian heart of darkness.
My Joy elicited a strong reaction at Cannes, where it emerged as probably the year's most disturbing film (which always has me intrigued, to be honest). It's also part of what seems to be a growing trend in Europe's former communist countries of cinema of an ever darker and more horrifying hue. Based on stories told to the director of life in present day Russia, this promises to be one of LFF's most confrontational pieces of work.
DIR: Benedek Fliegauf
Eva Green and Matt Smith star in an unusual love story, exquisitely designed and photographed.
At the very least, Womb sounds quite unlike anything I've seen before. It's the story of a woman (Eva Green) who is so heartbroken when her lover (current Dr. Who Matt Smith) is killed that she arranges to give birth to his clone. When the clone grows up and gets a girlfriend she finds herself torn between jealous and maternal feelings. It's a killer premise, and Green is a talented and daring actress, this seems a great match of talent and material.
DIR: Henry Joost / Ariel Schulman
A provocative and unsettling documentary about the impact of social media.
A documentary thriller? Certainly that's what the coy synopsis in the LFF brochure paints Catfish as. Social media has had a huge impact on our society, and effects good and bad, but Catfish is the first non-fiction film to really engage with the phenomenon, and apparently with its darker side.
DIR: Sion Sono
Sion Sono's outrageously splattery thriller, allegedly based on fact, shows an innocent tropical-fish seller caught up in serial murders and corpse disposals.
At least you can't accuse Sion Sono of being predictable. His last film was a four hour epic about, among other things, upskirt photography. It is, then, a fair bet that Cold Fish won't be just another thriller. It sounds likely that it will have as much familial comedy as it does splattery murder and body disposal. Different, at the very least.
Don't Be Afraid, Bi
DIR: Phan Dang Di
Six-year-old Bi doesn't understand his father's philandering or his aunt's crush on a teenage boy; a Vietnamese mixture of muscular poetry and sexual candour.
This sounds really interesting, taking events from the viewpoint of a six year old (who isn't really equipped to understand them) should bring a greater level of originality to what might otherwise be a somewhat familliar drama about infidelity and repressed sexuality. A lot will depend on the casting of Bi, if that role works then the film ought to. Vietnam hasn't produced many films that have got international recognition, so it will be interesting to see what filmmakers are doing there.
It's Your Fault
DIR: Anahí Berneri
An exhausted mother finds herself accused of child abuse in this arresting, tense drama from Argentine director Anahi Berneri.
It seems that Argentina is the coming force in world cinema, and this sounds like another strong slice of drama to folow the likes of XXY and Lion's Den. The idea behind this film; a young, tired, mother takes her child to hospital after a fall and is accused of abuse, is harrowing because it happens, and if Berneri can capture the urgency of that moment this should be strong stuff.
DIR: Michael Rowe
A bold, minimalist study of urban alienation, this outstanding debut feature from Mark Rowe earned him the Camera D'Or at Cannes this year.
Over the past decade or so there have been many films that have used extremely explicit, often hardcore, sex to explore their characters relationships, but so far none as really succeeded in making the explicit sex much more than a cry of 'look at meee'. The fact that this film, which apparently takes an unflinching look at a sadomasochistic relationship, won the Camera D'Or at Cannes suggests that Michael Rowe may be on to something with a little more substance here.
Smash His Camera
DIR: Leon Gast
Is pap photographer Ron Galella upholding the first amendment, or is he the price to be paid for it?
Leon Gast's documentary about veteran papparazzi photographer Ron Galella looks certain to ask some searching and provocative questions about what freedom of speech and privacy mean in this age of celebrity. It's a topic that grows more relevant with every non-story about what some D-Lister wore to whatever premiere last night.
DIR: JB Ghuman Jr
A young high-schooler attempts to win the annual talent show in this wonderfully surprising and subversive teen movie.
Last year one of my LFF highlight was an offbeat American teen movie called Dear Lemon Lima, hopefully Spork (despite its frankly horrid title) can be this year's model. It seems that it's a relatively generic tale of an outsider aiming to win the school talent show, the twist here being that the main character was born intersex. It has the potential to be funny, charming and uplifting.
The Tillman Story
DIR: Amir Bar-Lev
The latest film from Amir Bar-Lev questions simplistic notions of heroism, and emerges to be about far more than the one man at its centre.
Bar-Lev's last film; My Kid Could Paint That had a nice idea, but ultimately wasn't searching enough. Hopefully this one, which is about a young man who put a promising NFL career on hold, joined the Army Rangers, and was killed in Afghanistan, can ask the pertinent questions as well as telling Pat Tillman's story. The strong reviews suggest that it will.
Well, those are my thoughts on just a few of the films playing at LFF. Once I get my tickets I'll post my festival schedule, if any of you are attending I'd be glad to meet up for a drink and a chat.
PS: I may also have an exciting announcement about the LFF coverage. Watch this space.