Sep 10, 2012

24FPS @ LFF 2012: Preview (Part 2)

In this part of the LFF preview we'll be looking at something new; the competition section.  I'm not a fan of the idea of competition at festivals, and when you do have it I think it's more fitting to have EVERY film showing in contention for awards (fairer, if not, with over 200 films on show, especially practical).  Anyway, there are 3 competition strands to this year's festival, and here are my personal picks from each.

Type in italics is from the LFF programme.

Official Competition

After Lucia
A harrowing and all too believable film looking at the relationship between a father and daughter.

I've been watching a lot of movies about teenage characters lately, in preparation for a podcast, and though, because it's about American films, I've been tending towards the upbeat with those viewings, my favourite films about teenage years tend to be the darker ones, and About Lucia certainly seems as though it will fit that mould.

The film follows a Father and Daughter who move after the death of the Mother, both are depressed, and they begin to grow apart.  When the daughter begins, after initially fitting in, to be viciously bullied both try to ignore it, but when she disappears her Father is shocked out of his stupor and into action.  This could go two ways really, and I'm hoping that director Michel Franco keeps his film's feet on the ground, rather than going the Taken route that the synopsis might suggest.  Certainly that's what I'll be expecting, hopefully backed up by a clutch of convincing (apparently semi-improvised) performances

Michael Winterbottom’s delicate new film tells the story of four young children growing up with their mother while their father is in prison.

In many ways, though their styles are totally different, I see Michael Winterbottom as the British Francois Ozon; both are prolific auterist directors, but both have an ability to hop from genre to genre, while retaining their identity as filmmakers.  This project, initially titled Five Years (why, when a title changes, does it always seem to be for a less interesting alternative?), has been shooting in bits and pieces since 2007, so that the four young children Shirley Henderson is trying to bring up while their Father, John Simm, is in prison will actually age as the film goes on.

I've been wanting to see how this experiment worked out since it was announced, and I still have my doubts over whether it will work.  Much will depend on the kids - Simm and Henderson are both reliable and capable actors - but there's also the matter of whether Winterbottom, a variable filmmaker who has as many artistic misses as he does hits, can maintain both tone and quality over such a long schedule.  At the very least it's likely to be interesting.

Fill the Void
A masterpiece of forbidden love set in the unlikeliest of surroundings in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community.

One of the things I have always liked about cinema is the way that it allows me to experience unfamiliar worlds.  Sometimes that might mean outer space, or some supernatural realm, but more interesting than that for me is getting a glimpse of other people's worlds.  The ultra-orthodox Jewish world is certainly one I know next to nothing about, so that's one thing that draws me to this love story, which, the synopsis suggests to me, will see a young woman having to choose between an arranged marriage and another man she has fallen for.

The trick will, of course, be in the telling, because the bones of that story have been picked over and over again for films good, bad and downright ugly.  Hopefully Fill the Void will treat the issues it is about in adult way, but without becoming - as many films set in fundamentalist communities can - simplistic or preachy.

Ginger and Rosa
Sally Potter's intoxicating coming-of-age drama, set in 1960s London.

There are so many different ways that I go about picking movies during a festival, sometimes it's the director, sometimes the synopsis, sometimes it's a cool title, or an intriguing still.  In this case it's one cast member: Elle Fanning.  I believe I've said before what a formidable talent I think the younger of the Fanning sisters is, easily surpassing her elder sibling.  I've seen quite a lot of her work, and I'm always struck by how natural and how unaffected she seems.

The test here, as well as the fact that a role as a teenager in the 60's, becoming politically active because of her fear of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear conflict, is pretty far from her previous roles, is likely to be whether she can pull off a convincing English accent.  The story sounds a little familiar; childhood friends (Fanning and newcomer Alice Englert) growing up and growing apart, teenagers rebelling against their parents, but the performances ought to be strong (the cast also features Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Benning and Oliver Platt) and the film will certainly look stunning, as it is shot by Robbie Ryan, whose work on Wuthering Heights was some of the most beautiful of 2011.

In the House
François Ozon's latest film is a coolly ironic adaptation of Juan Moyoraga's play The Boy in the Last Row.

If you've ever read this blog before, or spoken to me for more than... oh, let's say a minute, about movies then you know why I'm picking this film, it's the new film by François Ozon, who is, by some distance, my favourite working director.  I've now seen, and loved, all of his feature films and all but a handful of his shorts.  In the House seems to be a return to the thriller dynamics of the likes of  Swimming Pool, with an added layer of commentary on class that suggests to me that this might see Ozon nodding in the direction of the late, great, Claude Chabrol.

The story of a creative writing student, the family whose lives he inveigles his way into and  a teacher impressed by his work sounds like vintage territory for one of Ozon's claustrophobic theatrical adaptations, and the high quality cast (Fabrice Luchini and Ozon newcomers Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner) should mean that the tension is really seen in the way the characters relate to each other.  The trailer suggests a tense, darkly funny, work and another potential triumph for this brilliant filmmaker.  I'm a bit excited about it.

Teenager Lore and her four younger siblings are left to fend for themselves after her Nazi SS parents are taken into Allied custody.

You might think that by now the Second World War would be pretty much exhausted as something one which to base film, so many have we seen in the past, but filmmakers do seem to keep finding new angles (or repeating old ones).  Cate Shortland, whose last film was the much admired except by me Somersault back in 2004, is the latest director to take a look at this part of history, and Lore does appear to have an original approach.  Making the suddenly effectively orphaned children of arrested Nazi party members the central figures is an intriguing way to make us - hopefully - empathise with characters we usually give no consideration to, because of what their parents did.

This probably won't be easy, as Lore is apparently a pretty unlikeable character, something that seems likely to come to the fore when she and her siblings are forced to travel with a Holocaust survivor, who they have all been raised to hate and distrust.  As with Somersault early indications are that the cinematography is impressionistic and lovely, but I'm hoping to connect more with the story and characters.  One more thing that gives me hope; Shortland seems to have elected to tell this story largely in German, which seems wise as the story is so specific to that place and language.

Gael García Bernal stars in the final instalment of Pablo Larraín's trilogy of films set during the rule of Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Unfortunately I am yet to see Post Mortem, the middle entry in Chilean director Pablo Larrain's Pinochet trilogy, but I want to see both that and this final film in the thematically linked series on the strength of the first, Tony Montana.

No appears to be a much more nakedly political film than Montana, which really only addressed Pinochet, as far as I could tell, allegorically.  Set in 1988, the film focuses on an ad man (Bernal) who is hired to advertise the No campaign in a referendum which asked whether Pinochet should extend his rule for another eight years.

As well as being intrigued by the subject (I confess it's another of the many things I know very little about), I'm fascinated by Larrain's decision to shoot on period TV cameras, so that the film will match the archive footage he's using.  It's a fascinating visual conceit in these days of digital, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes off.

Rust and Bone
The latest film from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) is a moving and poetic love story featuring great performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.

Despite the fact that I wasn't as keen on A Prophet as most people were (I know, sorry), I could still see in it that Jacques Audiard is an interesting filmmaker, and someone whose work I can imagine liking, so I'm definitely on board for seeing this new film, particularly on the back of Cannes reviews that were admiring without ratcheting up impossible expectations, as they did for A Prophet.

Like Altman's Short Cuts this love story between a bouncer (Schoanerts) and a killer whale trainer (Cotillard) is based on a series of short stories.  I'm expecting great performances, especially from Cotillard, whose disabled character is just the kind of thing Oscar likes (if the film isn't too controversial anyway) and hoping, at last, to get fully on board with Audiard.

First Feature Competition

A heart-breaking, though never hopeless, portrait of the mores of modern youth.

If you know me or read the site with any regularity then the reason I'm picking Clip should be something of a no brainer.  I've long had a real fondness for European teen and coming of age movies, and they have provided recent festivals with highlights such as Everybody Dies But Me and Love Like Poison.  I'm also fond of exploring new territory in cinematic terms, and I've seen very little Serbian cinema (A Serbian Film, which I pretty much hated, is all that comes to mind).

The story of Jasna, who wants to escape from he complicated family life by entering into an intense relationship with a classmate, perhaps before either of them are really ready for it, sounds pretty familiar, but there's always been an inherent drama to being a teenager which is, I think, why I still like coming of age movies so much.  There's also the matter of the film's still in the LFF brochure, which conveys a certain down and dirty energy that appeals to me.

Eat Sleep Die
A warm and unique tale of “the new Sweden” seen through the eyes of Raša, a feisty but loveable 21-year-old tomboy.

There seems, at times, to be a cluster of good films coming from a particular place, and lately Sweden has been producing a lot of good work.  This film about a young woman who gets laid off from her job at the local salad packing plant sounds as though it might be depressing, but the brochure promises a 'warm' film.

Apparently the film draws on the personal experiences of debuting writer/director Gabriela Pichler and I'm looking forward to seeing how she balances a realistic and probably rather downbeat story with that promised warm tone and perhaps even some commentary on how the global recession is affecting people at the bottom of the financial scale.

The Samurai That Night
A man obsessed with avenging his late wife, mown down by a hit-and-run driver, threatens to kill the guilty driver... but will he find his inner samurai to act on the threat?

I'm really drawn to this film for a couple of reasons, the first is simply that I think the title is cool, slightly less shallow than that is the fact that I'm a big fan of vengeance movies.  I've always been interested in the subgenre because of the way it challenges its audiences to ask one question of itself: would I do the same?  The Samurai That Night certainly sounds as though it is going to provoke those sorts of questions as you watch it.

The other thing that draws me in here is simply my recent experience with Japanese cinema, which has thrown up some of the most extreme and most surprising films I've seen in recent years.  There are things in the description here that put me in mind of Sion Sono (especially Cold Fish), but hopefully stage actor and director Masaaki Akahori will carve out his own identity and style here.

Sleeper's Wake
This directorial debut feature boasts an exemplary cast and an unsettling quality.

There's a compelling idea at the centre of this South African film, which appears to be about two very damaged people - one a forty-something man who fell asleep at  the wheel, killing his wife and child, the other a teenage girls coming to terms with her mother's murder - who make a connection with each other.

The question is whether, given the rather taboo nature of it, and the fact that neither of these characters sounds as though they will be notably easy to like, we'll be able to empathise with their relationship.  The description hints at some unsettling thriller elements (as does the still), and I'm certainly intrigued enough to put this on my list.

A raw, invigorating and pertinent product of the appetite for protest evident in Russia today.

With the recent coverage of the trial and conviction of Pussy Riot, people around the world are becoming more aware of the growing protest movement in Russia.  That's certainly why Tomorrow, the first film to come out of artistic protest collective Voina (War), has my attention.

Hopefully Tomorrow will be more than just a political statement, because frankly I find films that simply preach an idea or an opinion at me without backing it up with some sort of narrative or characters dull, and often annoying.  In many ways this looks likely to be a fictionalised account of Voina's activities, hopefully we'll get an insight into the people as well as the politics behind it.

A charming tale of a young Saudi girl who will stop at nothing to earn enough money to buy the bicycle she craves.

It's pretty incredible that there is such a thing as a Saudi film.  Cinemas have been banned in the country for more than 30 years, and given the way the regime there regards women's rights it's even more amazing that this film is directed by a woman, who shot it on location on the streets.

I can only hope that the film itself matches up to the lofty achievement that getting it made in the first place is. What does appeal to me is the simple story.  The basic idea has a lot of potential to work simply as a touching story about a place that most people know very little about, but it is also easy to see how it can function as a prism through which director Haifaa Al Mansour can view Saudi Arabia as a whole.

Here's hoping that she can make those two things function together, if she does this might be one of the festival's little gems.

Documentary Competition

Beware of Mr Baker
The fascinating story Ginger Baker; the world’s greatest drummer, though a complex human being.

In all the footage and interviews I've seen with him Ginger Baker has come across as... what's the best way to put this... a bit of a bastard, but an extremely interesting and formidably talented bastard.  The greatest drummer ever?  That's certainly debatable, and hopefully this film will approach that debate and provide a picture of Baker as a person and as a musician.

Certainly it sounds like, against the odds given an irascible, erratic and uncooperative subject, director Jay Bulger has made a film that will give us some real insight.  I suspect the film will be sad, I also suspect it will have moments of levity; moments, perhaps, that will feel like Spinal Tap come true.  Baker is likely to be one of the least likeable and most interesting protagonists in the festival.

The Central Park Five
A significant and illuminating examination of an appalling crime and of the American justice system.

It is with no small measure of shame that I should confess to never having seen any of Ken Burns' films.  Burns is clearly one of the most important chroniclers of America, having made epic TV series' on the civil war, baseball, jazz and many other quintessentially American topics.

Here Burns and co-directors David McMahon and Sarah Burns turn their focus on a single court case in which five African-American youths were accused of raping and beating a woman within an inch of her life in Central Park.  I've never heard of the case before, and so I can imagine that this film, for me, might unfold like a thriller.  With a bit of luck as well as telling the story Burns and company will use it to explore the larger context of race relations in the US both at the tail end of the 1980's and look at where the country has now come to.  I often find crime stories fascinating and thrilling, and seldom more so than when they are true.

Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
Shola Lynch’s authoritative and gripping documentary portrait of one of the most significant figures of the American civil rights movement.

Last year at the festival I saw and enjoyed a documentary called The Black Power Mixtape.  There were many striking, charismatic figures in that film, so much so that I said that "any one of the stories it touches on could be it’s own 90 minutes".  Whether or not I agreed with her, Angela Davis was one of that film's most intriguing characters, and one of it's most forceful, and I'm very pleased that we now have a whole film about her.

Again, this is a subject I don't know much about, and I'm really interested in the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the politics and the personalities around the black power movement, and to see if I find myself more in agreement with Davis this time around.  Hopefully Shola Lynch has some searching questions to ask, because I'm sure if she does that Davis' answers will be riveting.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Alex Gibney documents one of the most appalling scandals of our times.

There have been other documentaries (notably Amy Berg's See No Evil) about the many child sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church in recent years, but with the sheer amount of stories out there to be told there should be more than enough room for Alex Gibney - who has previously made films about a case of torture in Iraq and the disgraced Governor Elliot Spitzer - to take on the issues.

Mea Maxima Culpa apparently draws initially on a single case (that of Father Lawrence C Murphy), but then uses it as a starting point from which to investigate and likely to rail against what seems to have been the policy of inaction that the Vatican had towards these cases.  This is likely to be a shocking and difficult watch, but also one that is - sadly - still very relevant.

The Summit
An attempt to understand what happened on a day that became known as the most tragic in modern mountaineering history.

Here's an interesting case; a film I'd really like to see, but I'm not sure that I can, not because of scheduling problem but because I am genuinely terrified of heights and the idea of watching a film about a lot of people dying one their way down a mountain - however fascinating the story may sound - fills me with dread.

On the other hand it does sound like a riveting story, that of 22 climbers who set out to conquer K2, and the events that killed 11 of them before the team made their way back down from the mountain.  It's debatable which will prove more harrowing; the eyewitness testimony of the reconstructions of the events out on K2, lensed by the brilliant Robbie Ryan.  I'm generally immune to being scared in movies now, but this sounds grueling.  Which is probably why I should see it.

West of Memphis
Director Amy Berg explores the case of three Arkansas teenagers who were convicted in 1994 of murdering three eight-year-old boys.

I generally go and see documentaries about things I know very little about but I, and I suspect most people who will see this film, will walk into West of Memphis knowing exactly what I'm going to see.  Through the three Paradise Lost films, and the campaign to free and exonerate them that grew out of them, the case of the West Memphis Three has become one of the most famous in the world, and so it is ambitious for Amy Berg, even with the backing of one of the WM3 and the resources of Peter Jackson, to attempt to tell the whole story in a single documentary.

I'll be interested to see if Berg can bring anything new to the table, but even if she doesn't, this story is jaw dropping, so aggravating, so much stranger than fiction, that any telling of it is likely to be enthralling and gripping (we'll likely test that theory again at next year's festival with Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot).  This time I'm glad I know the ending to a film, because I'm so relieved that it is (mostly) happy.

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