As always, the London Film Festival acted as an advance preview for some of the big releases coming out in the next few months – including Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, John Hillcoat’s The Road and Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control. We will have full-length reviews of those films on their release, so here we have to chosen to concentrate on the surprises and unknown pleasures of this year’s festival.
Following his success with monster movie The Host, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho returns to less commercial territory in his fourth and possibly best film to date, pouring his genre-defying talent into a dazzling psychological thriller that is both a disturbing family drama and witty detective story of sorts. Mother features a striking central performance from Korean TV actress Kim Hye-ja as the vigilant mother who will stop at nothing to protect her grown-up, mentally impaired son. When the emotionally fragile Do-joon is accused of murdering a high school girl and lazy policemen squeeze a questionable confession out of him just so they can close the case, the feisty widow sets out to prove his innocence, investigating the mysterious crime herself. Pushing past the bounds of conventional film noir, Bong elegantly wraps his superbly twisted narrative in stylistically assured, smartly composed scenes while creating an atmosphere that is somewhat ironic and wonderfully sinister at the same time. A festival favourite worldwide. PAMELA JAHN
Showing as part of the Bong Joon-ho retrospective at the BFI Southbank, London, on November 14.
Blending the acute paranoia of the best dystopian science fiction with the noir futurism of Blade Runner and Dark City, Metropia is a brilliant little gem. In a permanently dark Europe where life is mostly confined to the underground and cycling has become an extreme sport, an everyman named Roger starts following a beautiful and inevitably mysterious blonde woman who may be able to explain why he’s started hearing voices. The stunning, innovative animation creates a richly detailed world that is both fascinatingly strange and disturbingly familiar. VIRGINIE SÃ‰LAVY
Winner of the audience award at the SXSW festival, 45365 is a surprising discovery. A low-key but moving documentary, it weaves together the storylines of the inhabitants of Sidney, Ohio – from the high school kids on the all-important football team to the police in their patrol cars, the judge running for re-election and the local troublemaker and his damaged mother. Created by local filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross, the result is a subtle, intimate look at both the highs and lows of life in a small town. The film’s cinéma vérité aesthetic is brilliantly rendered; refreshingly, the young brothers reject the traditional narrative voice-overs and talking heads that so many documentaries rely on, instead letting the often lyrical visuals speak for themselves. It’s a tender, loving, and utterly captivating film. SARAH CRONIN
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
When I saw an ad for this last year, I was mystified. Now I’ve seen it, I still am, in a good way. How Werner Herzog ended up helming a kind of remake of Ferarra’s film, starring Nicholas Cage I don’t know, and don’t really want to. I prefer to think of it as a product from an alternate universe where Herzog does this kind of thing all the time. What you need to know: it’s a blast, and funny as hell, with Ferrrara’s gritty tortured Catholicism tossed in favour of wilful absurdity and a plethora of lizards. Cage is terrific, with a lopsided gait and a crackpipe laugh, torturing grannies and shaking down football stars, screaming one quotable line after another. I watched the whole thing grinning like a loon. It’s every cop show cliché reflected in a hall of mirrors – wholly indecent fun. MARK STAFFORD
The well-deserved recipient of the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes festival, Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth is an inventive and riveting film that blurs the line between the real and the utterly grotesque and is infused with a science fiction feel. The story (the less you know, the better) takes place almost entirely within the confines of a spacious family house, inhabited by a married couple and their three grown-up children, who have never set foot outside and are confined to the ludicrous universe created by their parents’ cruel games and peculiar educational methods. Opting for fixed, meticulously framed shots and a dazzling, yet unhurried visual style, Lanthimos gradually reveals the details of this twisted, self-enclosed world while crafting a consistently troubling atmosphere of hilarious otherworldliness and lurking evil. Full of amazing twists, dark, silly humour and irreverent spirit, Dogtooth is an obscure mini-marvel not to be missed. PAMELA JAHN
Planned UK release.
44 Inch Chest
Colin (Ray Winstone), is lying, drunk as a lord, on the floor of his trashed house, listening to Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, on repeat. His wife (Joanne Whalley) has revealed that she loves someone else and he isn’t taking it well. His crew of dodgy old geezers (John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, Ian McShane) decide something must be done, so they kidnap the young loverboy and arrange for Colin to administer justice. Malcolm Venville’s 44 Inch Chest has much going for it, a great cast on cracking form, crisp photography, a meaty script by the writers of Sexy Beast, a bravura cinematic opening, and… and I really wish it didn’t all feel like an unsuccessfully retooled stage play, mainly confined to a single room, full of unreal speechifying, and with an unsatisfying conclusion to boot. Still, just hearing these actors delivering this biblically profane dialogue is a pleasure, and the thing gets pretty damned trippy and intense as we go further into Colin’s fractured mind. MARK STAFFORD
UK theatrical release: 22 January 2010.
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot)
The long-lost raw footage of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unfinished 1964 big-budget psycho-thriller L’Enfer is still intriguing and dazzling to look at, infused with swirling lights and blue-lipped, cigarette-puffing fantasy temptresses. A real shame, however, that although director Serge Bromberg has managed to speak to quite a few members of the original crew, this behind-the-scenes investigation has so little to say about the reasons behind Clouzot’s failure to complete the film. PAMELA JAHN
UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.
If you can put up with that whole lo-fi home-made cutesy indie scene (Demetri Martin, check, Gondryesque cardboard puppet sequences, check, naÃ¯ve acoustic pop songs, check) More to the point, if you can put up with whiny-voiced scrunch-faced munchkin Charlyne Yi, then the neat central conceit of director Nicholas Jasenovic making a documentary about the search for true love destroying any hope of true love occurring by swamping a budding potential romance with his desire to film fake love clichés (kooky montages, walks on the beach, trips to Paris) will work for you. And a whole series of games with reality and illusion will open up. I can appreciate it’s a stretch. Aside from the ‘fake’ romance with Michael Cera (check) stuff, the ‘real’ documentary throws up some singular characters and amusing stories. Up to you. MARK STAFFORD
UK theatrical release: 6 November 2009.
Hollis Frampton: Hapax Legomena
The LFF offered a rare chance to see Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena series of seven films in its entirety. A central figure of American avant-garde cinema of the 60s and 70s, Frampton was a supremely sharp film theorist and a witty, cerebral filmmaker. Together with Zorns Lemma, Hapax Legomena is Frampton’s most well-known work. The first film, (nostalgia), from 1971, is one of his most accessible and pleasurable, presenting a series of photographs that are burned as a narrator recounts memories and anecdotes relating to each image. The twist is that the photographs and the narration are out of sync, allowing the film to explore the relationship between image and sound as well as the nature of memory. The following six films take as their point of departure a similarly formal set-up to investigate image, space, perception, consciousness and ultimately, life. VIRGINIE SÃ‰LAVY
The one-line sell for this claustrophobic little war movie runs ‘Das Boot in a tank’, and for once that’s pretty damn accurate. Based on writer-director Samuel Maoz’s experiences, it’s about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon (as seen in Waltz with Bashir), and we the audience are trapped with four ill-prepared and uneasy crew inside an armoured box dripping with sweat, muck, dog ends and soup croutons (don’t ask). We only know what they know, which is precious little, only see what they can see through their sights, and apart from the opening and closing shots of the film, we are very much inside the tank for the tight 92-minute running time. Tempers fray and victims mount, unwelcome guests are received and everything falls apart. It’s heavy-handed in places, and a little clichéd, but it feels authentic: grimy, stinky, delirious and chaotic. It works. MARK STAFFORD
Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)
After a disappointing venture into romantic costume drama in her previous film, The Last Mistress, Catherine Breillat returns to the festival this year with a gentler and more personal work than before – a younger sister herself, she focuses on sibling rivalry. Originally scripted and produced for French television, Bluebeard is a subtly suggestive retelling of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale about an ugly and extremely wealthy lord whose wives disappear after a year under mysterious circumstances until he falls for the much younger Marie-Catherine who agrees to marry him in order to escape the shadow of her beautiful, talented older sister. What makes this understated, low-budget film a pure pleasure is the bold, teasing dialogue between the two sisters in the film’s framing plot, set in modern time, in which Catherine, the younger girl, thoroughly enjoys terrifying her older sister Anne by reading her the infamous tale from a book in the attic. Playfully grim and increasingly disturbing, with a wonderfully cruel narrative that hints at the fiercely, sexually provocative spirit of Breillat’s previous work, Bluebeard slowly inveigles you before hitting you hard. PAMELA JAHN
Planned UK release.
Samson and Delilah
In a decidedly Third World aboriginal community in central Australia, we watch gas huffing ne’er-do-well Samson and dutiful Delilah start an awkward, almost wordless teenage relationship. Warwick Thornton’s fine film sets up a world out of repeating daily rhythms and rituals (a chugging ska band, ants, solvent abuse, an unanswered telephone, taking wheelchair-bound Nana to the health clinic), and then upsets it to devastating effect. Our young couple go on the run and end up on the streets of a nameless suburban sprawl, where bad things happen. Samson and Delilah is visually accomplished, funny and moving, putting the audience through tension, fear, and despair before delivering a moment of sweet heart-tugging release. And then it carries on for another half an hour. Ah well. MARK STAFFORD
If it hadn’t been for Antichrist, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s second feature Kinatay might well have been the most controversial Cannes entry this year. To a large extent filmed in real time and adopting a detached, observational style, Kinatay depicts the kidnapping, rape, murder and dismemberment of a drug-addicted stripper as seen through the eyes of a participating police academy student. This is certainly not a film for everyone, but it is a bewildering and uncompromising screen experience that explores very murky moral territory. PAMELA JAHN