London Film Festival 2018

This year, I was able to spend more time than previously at London Film Festival, and my thoughts on the films I saw can be read over at The Movie Isle.

You can also see my ranked list of the films at Letterboxd – I managed 17, and if I lived in London I would definitely have seen more!

My top film was Capernaum, with Girl coming in a close second.


The White Girl (2017)

I had a meeting at relatively short notice in London last week and, knowing it would mean an overnight stay, headed straight to the London Film Festival website to see what options were still available for the evening in question.

Well, The White Girl had me at Christopher Doyle.

The master of cinematography has co-directed this film alongside Jenny Suen, a first-time feature director from Hong Kong.

The eponymous white girl is played by Angela Yuen, and is a lonesome young woman isolated from most of her fishing village due to a sun allergy which means she has to keep away from bright daylight and keep her skin covered. She’s bullied at school, shouted at by her fisherman father (with whom she lives), and misses her mother who she was told died when she was a baby. She’s an outsider in her own village.

Into this world comes a young man, an artist who moves into an old derelict property nearby. He’s alone and mysterious, and (although it took me a while to realise) doesn’t speak the local language.  The young man and woman find some kind of bond through their broken English.

Another strand is the appearance in the economically unstable village of wealthy developers from mainland China, who have some nefarious plans to buy what remains of the village to develop a huge tourist spot.

I did enjoy watching The White Girl, but I must admit that had it not been introduced by director Jenny Suen herself, I would not have grasped the significance of most of the references. I’m sure that to people from, or who have a connection with, Hong Kong this would not have been a problem. I hadn’t realised that in 2047, just 30 years from now, Hong Kong is set to lose its own government and laws, and revert to being just another part of China. With this knowledge, then all the visitors to the tiny village take on greater significance, as does the father’s over-protectiveness of his daughter. It also wasn’t obvious to me (as I have little knowledge of Asian languages) that the artist is actually Japanese – I figured it out part way through.

It seems as though, in her enthusiasm and passion for her project, the young director simply tried to put too much onto the screen at once, certainly for someone like me to fully appreciate.

However, unsurprisingly, the cinematography is the star of the show. The framing, the light, the observations – they all have Christopher Doyle’s fingerprints on them and it is beautiful.

If you haven’t heard this BBC World Service interview with Doyle, made while he was shooting The White Girl, then I urge you do so. The section where he talks about potentially losing his sight is quite extraordinary.


Columbus (2017)

I was wondering how to start writing about this film, so I turned to the IMDb blurb for inspiration. It says:

A Korean-born man finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, where his architect father is in a coma. The man meets a young woman who wants to stay in Columbus with her mother, a recovering addict, instead of pursuing her own dreams.

And this is indeed the basis for the film. However, it’s also a film which is so much more than that premise.

Despite the range of strong emotions being experienced by the characters (guilt, grief, anger, despair), it’s an incredibly still and calm film, full of a sense of longing and hope which reminded me of some of Wong-Kar Wai’s work. The stillness also emanates from the impressive selection of architecture on display. Who knew that looking at beautiful mid-20th century buildings would be so soothing? The young female character not only has an interest in the local architecture, but seems to become grounded when she’s in its presence. Scenes are shot straight on, or through door frames, windows, mirrors, and have an oriental feel in their stillness, reminiscent of Yasujirô Ozu. And as first-time feature director Kogonada was writing a PhD dissertation on Ozu prior to becoming a filmmaker, this is not really a surprise.

In amongst the buildings, the beating heart is the exquisite pairing of Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho. There is such warmth between them and the relationship always remains genuine, never sleazy despite the age difference. Cho should really do more different stuff like this. He’s an excellent presence on screen and I enjoyed watching him a lot.


Le Fidèle – Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

This is a strange one. I thought it had finished twice before it finally got there and found it a little all over the place in clarifying which strand of the narrative was important for plot and which was supposed to be exposition. And yet it was still very enjoyable.

I could hear some perplexed sighs as the end credits began, as it leaves the audience to work out for itself what might have happened at the end. But I don’t mind that.

Le Fidèle is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, who also directed Bullhead and The Drop, (both also featuring Matthias Schoenaerts), which will give you an idea of the general mood of the film. It’s therefore no surprise to discover that Schoenaerts’  character is very much ‘him’ – part Jacky from Bullhead, part Eric from The Drop – it’s right in his wheelhouse in other words, but he does it well.

This is the first time I’ve seen Adèle Exarchopoulos in anything since Blue is the Warmest Colour and I felt she was a little one dimensional. There is something about her face, attractive though it is, that seems to lack expression. Maybe it was the character that didn’t afford her the opportunity, so I will give her the benefit of the doubt (just).

There’s one scene, however, which was a real stand out and I’m dying to know if it was one shot. It certainly feels like it when you’re watching, as the camera circles vehicles and criminals, backwards and forwards, as they hijack a security van. If it isn’t one shot, then bravo to the editor. If it is, then wow.

Overall, an interesting idea which gets a little mixed up in the middle trying to sort itself out, ending intriguingly. But, Matthias Schoenaerts so all is well.


Stronger (2017)

Cards on the table – I was anticipating this was going to be a ‘trauma victim overcomes the odds to become a hero’ story, and the only reason I chose to see it was because Jake Gyllenhaal, whose films I don’t avoid.

The fact that this is a very different survivor story is not only refreshing, but it makes for really interesting viewing. Having sustained life-changing injuries in the crowd when bombs were detonated at the finish line of the Boston marathon, Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) struggles with physical recovery, not dealing with PTSD symptoms, pressures from family, friends and the city to be a role model – and he simply isn’t ready. Apart from the trauma that he suffered, Jeff is one of those men who still has a lot of emotional growing up to do. He’s not obvious hero material, and this is what makes his situation, and his coming to terms with it, all the more interesting.

The performances are also crucial in truly elevating Stronger to something different. Tatiana Maslany as Jeff’s girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as his mother are completely believable as two very different characters clashing over how Jeff should be recovering.

But it is Jake Gyllenhaal himself who deserves huge rewards for his portrayal of Bauman. He should have not only been nominated but should have won for his role as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, and this would be some consolation for that.

But Jake with brown eyes is very odd.


Mudbound (2017)

Absolutely no denying that this film, once it reached its climax, was emotional, brutal, devastating.

It did take a while to get there though. So many strands, lots of characters, all introduced to us at the very start, so that it felt like it took a long while to get going.

I’m not the biggest fan of voice-overs (film noir aside), and this film has made the choice to have multiple, from several different characters, which (for me) made it tricky to keep up with for the first hour.

And there’s a lot going on – so much, in fact, there are probably two films-worth of events, each of which would have been equally thought-provoking – whether it was the return of the young black character from the ‘freedoms’ of war to the land of the KKK, or the post-war camaraderie between two men from very different backgrounds, sharing a brotherhood in the horror of their overseas experiences.

Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell are very good in their roles, Carey Mulligan has a thankless task as long-suffering wife, and Jason Clarke looks more like Miles O’Brien every minute.

A lot to unpick.

Tigre (2017)

Viewed at TIFF ’17

A collection of women of different generations find themselves sharing space in a run-down house on the Argentine delta. The men around them (sons, boyfriends) appear to lack the strength of conviction and personality that the women possess – it makes for some really interesting scenes between the women, and a couple of rogue threads in the story featuring the younger men/boys which seemed to belong elsewhere.

Screening was followed by Q&A with directors Silvina Schnicer and Ulises Porra Guardiola.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Viewed at TIFF ’17

The man waiting in line for tickets next to me confided that he’d been told this is Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkest film. My immediate thought was that it would have to go some to live up to that statement. And to be honest, it’s not far off. It’s certainly as dark as Dogtooth, the film that brought him to wider attention.

Lanthimos builds worlds for his narratives in which the weirdest premise seems normal, and if you find yourself looking for explanations for the world instead of just being in it with the characters, then it’s a struggle to enjoy.

In the world of The Killing of a Sacred Deer , Colin Farrell resumes his collaboration with the director, this time as surgeon Steven Murphy, husband to Nicole Kidman and father of two. We also see him having sensitive, discreet conversations with a young man, whose role becomes clearer as the narrative progresses. As a result, Farrell finds himself in a position where he has to make a life-changing decision, which seems totally logical in the movie’s world – but which is utterly horrific in ours.

The dialogue is, with rare exception, delivered in a monotonous tone which will be familiar to audiences who saw The Lobster, so that even the most intimate conversations are matter-of-fact and merely transactional. This includes Farrell and Kidman’s sexual activities, and their daughter’s puberty, and results in the audience laughing both at the absurdity of the situation while at the same time cringing at the events unfolding.

This is the world of Yorgos Lanthimos – we can laugh heartily while still realising that something unbearable is about to happen. When the inevitable finale arrives, the mixture of laughter and gasping proves that he has got it right again.

The cast rises to the challenge perfectly, with Farrell and antagonist Barry Keoghan delivering the best performances.

Lanthimos fans will not be disappointed by his latest offering.

The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Yorgos Lanthimos, and actor Barry Keoghan.

Cocote (2017)

Viewed at TIFF ’17

Alberto has a job at a rich family’s mansion and is a man of few words. He returns to his rural home for a few days on learning of his father’s death.

Apart from the opening and closing scenes at the mansion (a static wide-shot of the swimming pool), the rest of the narrative plays out in Alberto’s village, and the contrast could not be greater.

But there are also divisions in the rural setting, which form the main focus of events. There is friction between traditional religion and Christianity, between what is expected of Alberto and what he expects of himself, between men and women, between what different people think is right and wrong.

It’s a fascinating, intense drama filmed with an almost documentary touch, and a couple of really good performances which carry the film to its unexpected (and yet also inevitable) conclusion.

The director, Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias, was scheduled to give a Q&A after the screening, but was unable to be there due to being stranded in his home in the Dominican Republic following the hurricanes.


Arrebato – Rapture

I’ve just about picked my jaw up off the floor. I was not expecting anything like that! That’s what happens when you book tickets weeks in advance, then don’t check up on what you’re going to see.

In the pre-screening introduction, I learned that Arrebato was a movie which had immense difficulties in filming, had a short run, and disappeared into oblivion before becoming something of a cult.

It’s a film which can’t properly be described, as it needs to be seen – or better, experienced – first hand. It’s certainly nothing I would have picked out on my own, but that’s the beauty of film festivals.

Filmmaking is a drug. Filmmakers are vampires.