London Film Festival Preview 2

Leap Year

54th BFI London Film Festival

13-28 October 2010, various venues, London

LFF website

Mark Stafford gives us the low-down on the films he’s checked out so far.

Leap Year (Año Bisiesto)

A freelance journalist working from home in Mexico City, Laura (Monica Del Carmen) is lonely and isolated. She watches any couples with hungry eyes, deals with her distant mother by phone, indulges in a series of unsatisfying one-night stands, and crosses off the days on the calendar. But then the sadomasochistic Arturo (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) turns up. Alternately brutal and caring, he awakens something in her, and a weird relationship starts. He returns again an again, subjecting the willing Laura to ever more degrading sex acts, as spanking leads to choking leads to whipping, and the film takes a dark, strange turn… Australian Michael Rowe’s Leap Year is a claustrophobic, disturbing little gem, set almost entirely within Laura’s small apartment, with a tiny cast of characters. It’s made to work through a clever, ambiguous script, and Del Carmen’s fantastic performance: she makes Laura a wholly believable, complicated and troubled woman that you can truly care, and fear for.

Read our general preview.

Robinson in Ruins

I was looking forward to Patrick Keiller’s latest (after London and Robinson in Space) as I’m partial to the odd polemical psycho-geographical ramble, but Ruins frankly lost my attention in places, and I don’t think it adds up to a satisfactory whole. We are viewing a series of static tripod shots and listening to Vanessa Redgrave narrate the text, both words and pictures being the supposed work of the mysterious Robinson, who has left us the film canisters and notebooks before disappearing. So we see gasometers, lichen on a road sign, a post box and various architecture and agricultural landscapes accompanied by a monologue concerning oil pipelines, meteors, Iraq, the Captain Swing riots of the 1830s and the current worldwide economic crisis. Visual motifs slowly reveal meaning, sly connections and allusions are made, past and present enter a dialogue. It’s boring and baffling and fascinating. It feels more like an art installation than a piece of cinema, and the recurring series of long, silent static shots depicting close-up plant life or fields during harvest began to try my patience, feeling as if they’d wandered in from one of Abbas Kiarostami’s more gnomic efforts. Disappointing.

Other films worth checking out: Essential Killing, the new film starring Vincent Gallo by legendary Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski, and great documentarist Kim Longinotto‘s sharp and insightful Pink Saris, about a group of women vigilantes in northern India. More info on the LFF website.

The American

Anton Corbijn’s film is, as you would expect, beautifully photographed. It’s also well edited, scored and performed, it’s slick and sleek and European and is, overall, a class act. You may enjoy it. The problem I have with it is that I enjoyed it when it was Le Samourai, and Murder by Contract, and Day of the Jackal, and The Mechanic and any other of the dozens of hit-man flicks that have been recycled in its 104 humourless minutes. After a brutal, promising opening sequence, we are left with the tale of Jack (George Clooney), a taciturn, not especially charming killer trying to lie low in a gorgeous Italian village, unsure whether some vengeful Swedes are on his tail. While there he takes a job creating a custom weapon for a mysterious client (Thekla Reuten) and starts up ill-advised relationships with local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and local whore (Violante Placido). The priest/whore bit is just one of many big clunking signposts featured in The American: watch out also for some bloody obvious butterfly and cemetery symbolism, and be assured that Jack is told that he is losing his edge, and engaged in one last job. It all ends with the people you thought were going to die being killed, in kind of the way you thought they were going to die. If you’re unfamiliar with genre cinema from the last few decades, the film may work for you, but I still think you’ll find it a little ponderous. Personally, I’m baffled as to why these talents should have wanted to make this film.

The Peddler (El ambulante)

The Peddler is a documentary about Daniel Burmeister, an untrained jack of all trades in his 60s, who drives his ailing car from village to village in Argentina, making ‘hand-crafted’ films with the local population. Recycling the same four or five scripts, he has made over 60 features, shooting on old VHS equipment, roping in anyone and everyone who seems even vaguely willing. Casting the local priest as the priest, firemen as firemen and so on, he gets the community together to produce one of his ramshackle productions, then charges them pesos to see the result. We watch as he puts together another opus, ‘Let’s Kill Uncle’, assembling no-budget action sequences, constantly improvising when his cast drop out to do their day jobs, and wringing hammy performances from cab drivers, housewives and schools of children. Burmeister is an inspiration, an optimist who has ‘1001 solutions to 1001 problems’. He seems to be constantly on the verge of collapse, near homeless and penniless, but gets by on good will and charm. Which you could also say about El ambulante: it’s not especially deep or probing, and it’s occasionally stagy, but it tramples such quibbles into the dust with its sheer love of life, character and creation. Pretty much a big cinematic hug.

A Screaming Man (Un homme qui crie)

In which an ageing pool attendant (Youssouf Djaoro) in war-torn Chad betrays his son out of pride and misplaced priorities, and destroys pretty much every thing he values in the process. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man is ultimately moving, but it’s a very simple, tragic tale told very simply and very slowly, feeling a damn sight longer than its 92 minutes. It has wonderful moments, the widescreen photography is fine, and it’s clearly a quality piece of filmmaking, but I’d happily swap all this elegance and simplicity for a little urgency and flair. I’m shallow like that.

Living on Love Alone (D’amour et d’eau fraîche)

Oddly shaped film about survival in the modern world, which starts as an attack on the humiliations and idiocies of the job market, moves through family drama and ends somewhere in Gun Crazy love on the run territory. Anaïs Demoustier as Julie is a natural, easy screen presence in the lead, Pio Marmaï has charm as her dodgy lover, with whom she has half-baked plans to leave the rat race. The stuff about working for a hideously hip Paris PR agency is sharp and funny (Julie is fired for being ‘too spontaneous and not natural enough’). And in general the film has a loose unpredictability I found winning. But it does feel like a strange mish-mash of tones and genres, with strands of story that lead nowhere. Also, I had assumed the obligation on the part of young French actresses to get naked as often as possible and have sex scenes with much older men was a trope that would be confined to the work of ageing male directors. It’s nice to see Isabelle Czajka maintaining the tradition.

Mark Stafford

For more information and to book tickets go to the LFF website.

20 Minutes with Gaspar Noe

Enter the Void

Format: Cinema

Date: 24 September 2010

Distributor: Trinity Entertainment

Venues: Curzon Soho & key cities

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writers: Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Gaspar Noé

Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander

France/Germany/Italy 2009

155/137 mins

Mark Stafford talked to French provocateur Gaspar Noé about his latest opus Enter the Void, an ambitious, sprawling ‘psychedelic melodrama’ seen from the point of view of a dead man.

Read the review of Enter the Void.

Mark Stafford: In the screening I was at, there was one walkout, a lot of dark murmuring and a lot of people clearly thinking Enter the Void was something special. What’s the reaction been to the film?
Gaspar Noé: It’s funny, it’s gotten the best reviews of my career, and the worst reviews too. I had so many bad reviews in my life, I’m amazed by the bad reviews as much as by the good ones. My father, who lives in Argentina, is a painter (actually the paintings you see by the character Alex in the film are by my father) and he does drawings for the leftist national paper in Argentina, so he reads that paper every morning. He comes from a generation where the written press means something. Some people go to church, or the synagogue or the mosque and believe what’s said to them there, some people are raised to believe what the press say, and that recognition by the press is important. He came to Cannes for the screening of the movie as a work in progress. The following day he said, ‘Oh, your movie’s a masterpiece’, and then he read the review in the Argentine paper he draws for, which said, ‘This is the worst movie ever shown in any Cannes film festival, everybody in the streets, everybody at the parties and bars are saying, “this is the biggest piece of crap”’ and ‘how can the son of this painter…?’ The same day there was a great review in the New York Times: ‘Gaspar Noé is trying to reinvent cinema.’ So when the biggest paper that counted for my father gave me the worst review I’ve ever had I was happy, but he was saying, ‘Hey buddy, don’t worry, give me his address, I’m going to talk directly to this man, he’s gonna pay for this’ (laughter). I just thought it was funny. I imagine this Argentine film critic, every time the bell rings he’s thinking: ‘Maybe this time it’s Gaspar’s father, here to avenge the honour of his family…’

Did I read Throbbing Gristle on the credits?
Yeah, when Oscar enters the bar where he gets shot, the music is ‘Hamburger Lady’. There is also a sound I used when Oscar dies and the camera goes through the wall, which is from a piece Peter Christopherson made for a record called ‘Cold Hands’. I love his music. I met him and asked if I could use that piece, and he liked the film and gave me the rights to use it. I also asked about using ‘Hamburger Lady’ and he called his partners from Throbbing Gristle and I got the rights for not much. I was so happy because it’s so right and I’m a big fan of Throbbing Gristle.

I read the name on the credits and wondered, because of their history, if there’s anything subliminal in the noise or in the strobe. I know that people are going to drop acid and search the film for hidden messages…
It hasn’t happened as much with this one but people were telling me that Irreversible had a Throbbing Gristle feeling…

It’s the low bass frequencies… Genesis lived round the corner from my sister. Weird, charming bloke, I didn’t know him, but whenever I saw him live he dived into the crowd and started dancing with me… You know he’s got breasts now?
He’s still got a dick. He said he just wanted to get closer to his girlfriend.

He was supposed to go this way, she was supposed to go that way…
But he always said, I think, that he’d always keep his dick on.

Well, y’know, he’s attached to it…
Some people have extreme lives and straight people think they’re gonna be punished. But actually, having a very personal life is very rewarding, as long as you don’t fall too much into drugs. Some drugs open your mind, others are mental cages.

The psychedelic experience is commonly associated with feelings of euphoria. But Enter the Void is pretty much a solid bad trip.
It starts as a weird trip and then turns into a bad trip. But after having done some mushroom and LSD trips what you notice is that when it’s fun, it’s fun for a while, but there’s always a point around 7am when you want to stop the trip and you can’t.

You think it’s all over, you pick up a book and the words start swirling round…
The last time I did acid I mixed it with some other things. At the end of the night I was really wasted and somebody said, ‘do you want to see some colours?’ I think if I hadn’t been drunk I would have been more careful but… I took some liquid acid. When I got home it was like in Altered States, I would look at my arm and it was moving. I thought my arms were three times larger than normal. I kept thinking, ‘Don’t watch yourself in the mirror’. I was scared of seeing myself as those visions in Altered States. So ‘Don’t watch yourself in the mirror, don’t watch yourself in the mirror…’ I lay in my bed and I was watching my father’s painting, and the paint became 3D, it came out in four different layers, the colours at different distances from the canvas. I tried to make a phone call, but I couldn’t understand how the mobile phone worked, it took me two hours to work it out… I’m happy now I’ve had all these experiences because they’re all in the movie. So in the end, it was all professional research.

[SPOILER]

I’m bloody glad Enter the Void is not in 3D, you’d need a shower afterwards… There’s about 20 minutes difference between the cut that played at the last London Film Festival and the one I just saw, what did you change?
The one that screened at the festival was the full-length version, we had to transfer from high definition and remix the sound. The only difference is we changed the music on the credits. In England they are releasing two versions: the French/European version that was shown almost everywhere that’s 155 minutes, and the shorter version, which is 17 minutes shorter – a whole segment, or a whole reel of the movie is pulled out. That sequence is after the abortion scene. There were some additional astral visions, and then he dreamt that he wakes up at the morgue and he believes he’s alive and then his sister and his friends say, ‘he’s a zombie, we don’t want to take care of him’, but his friend Alex says, ‘you didn’t wake up, you’re just dreaming this, you’ve been burnt, you’ve been incinerated’. And you go back to the astral vision and see his sister throwing the ashes over water into a sink. That’s where the following reel starts. So I managed to have two different versions that were edited the same way but I pulled out the whole reel.

[END OF SPOILER]

I was going to say because the film is shot to seem like one continuous movement, I couldn’t see how the hell you’d cut anything out.
I managed to have a good cut between reels number 6 and 7 and 7 and 8, so you could go directly from 6 to 8 without noticing that a reel was missing. In most cinemas they’ll be showing the shorter version. And you can be sure that on DVD they’re gonna call it the ‘director’s cut’, but it’s really just the long cut and the shorter cut.

You’ve been working on Enter the Void, in different forms, for about 15 years. Were you waiting for technology to catch up with the visions in your head?
I was pushing hard to start the movie for years and years, and now I’m glad it was postponed many times because when we started preparing the movie for real I think it was the right timing. I had gotten used to Japan. I had found the right actors. I had found the right partners to make my movie, the people in the Wild Bunch and the digital company that could take care of the visual effects. Working with Pierre Buffin, who’s the VFX artistic director was amazing. Being able to shoot in Japan, although it was risky for the producers, was great. Things like the floating camera make me glad the movie was held back for years. Even though my main dream as a director was delayed for so long, once I started prepping the movie and started shooting I thought I’d been really lucky that I didn’t start before because the new technologies made it possible to make it look as it looks now. If I’d waited another two or three years I would maybe have had the opportunity to shoot it in 3D…

[SPOILER]

You’ve essentially made a film in which you’ve killed the audience and re-incarnated them…
Oscar dreams the whole trip. His soul really doesn’t come out of his body, at the end the Tokyo you see is not the real Tokyo, it’s the sculpture/model. The whole dream becomes more and more dysfunctional. When he sees his sister he sees the face of his mother. When he gets into the plane he sees himself as a baby with his parents. When he sees a vision of the future there are old Linda and young Linda in the same room, with the Twin Towers outside, which is not possible. At the very end, when he comes out of his mother’s womb, he’s remembering his birth, or he’s getting into a loop, he’s starting his meaningless life once again. His whole trip is based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but the movie does not promote the idea of reincarnation. You could say it’s an atheist movie.

[END OF SPOILER]

Where the hell do you go from here?
The dream I’ve been carrying for years is to do a good erotic movie. A good sentimental erotic movie.

Good luck. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie have just spent about 10 years of their lives trying to produce a decent piece of pornography.
It’s weird because it’s a huge genre, pornography. And you have so many good horror movies, good science fiction movies, so many good murder movies, but sex is the closest thing to real life. And sex, whether you’re in love or not, is pornographic. It’s something that happens every week, so why should something that seems so essential to me, to most people around me, why should it be something that’s never properly portrayed on screen?

Interview by Mark Stafford

Cine-Excess 2010: The Movie Orgy


Poster for Tarantula

Cine-Excess 2010: Corporeal Excess: Cult Bodies

Odeon Covent Garden, London

April 29 – May 1, 2010

Cine-Excess website

‘The 50s were a great time to be a kid, because the whole culture was so juvenile.’
Joe Dante

‘Go get ’em, midnight!’ says the scarred man, sending his trained horse down by itself to attack the two riders in the valley below. ‘Lousy cops, always crowding a guy,’ snarls a teen hoodlum anti-hero swerving his car to avoid a back projection. Later he’ll be beaten up in a clumsy cafe brawl that he starts with the line ‘you’re outta your class, throttle jockey!’ Alfred Hitchcock pops up, presenting something. Then there’s Naked City spliced with a stag reel. The Lone Ranger patronises Tonto, Nabisco cereals are giving away ‘Defenders of America’ cards with their shredded wheat, baseball cards depicting US submarines, planes and missiles to warm the heart of your little cold warriors. The sponsors of Robin Hood, Wildroot Cream Oil, proudly announce that it ‘contains lanolin and cholesterol’, and on it goes: George Reeves’s Superman, Abbot and Costello, Rin Tin Tin, Bufferin and Lifebuoy soap, Alpha Bites cereal and Lustre Creme….

This is Joe Dante’s Movie Orgy, a hand-spliced avalanche of mostly monochrome pop culture, adverts, TV shows, B-movies, and whatever else Dante could find, made in 1968 and then toured round college campuses for the next two years. Screenings were supported by Schlitz beer, and the full thing lasted for seven hours (Dante: ‘after the third hour it got funny’). I’m watching a 90-minute edit courtesy of Cine-Excess, the cult film conference, and then sticking around as the charming Mr Dante is interviewed by Kim Newman afterwards. There was only ever one print of The Movie Orgy, and it played 200 dates, constantly falling apart, being added to, cut and re-spliced. No permission was sought for the use of the Orgy footage, and it carries a sly 68 anti-Establishment charge; Vietnam hangs heavily in the background (a trailer for John Wayne’s The Green Berets is one of the few contemporary clips to turn up), and the sexual and racial attitudes of the 50s are repeatedly brought into question. You can almost smell the dope smoke as you watch it today.

The teen hoodlum flick is called Speed Crazy, the cheapo Western remains unnamed, a random pattern that continues throughout; we know that Teenagers from Outer Space and The Giant Gila Monster are in there, and devotees will recognise Bert I Gordon’s The Beginning of the End and Jack Arnold’s Tarantula, but for much of the rest we’re on our own in a world devoid of explanation, the only context being provided by juxtaposition. Whole features are hacked down to their essentials, mined for weirdness and hilarity, the stuff that Dante and friends found funny at NYU at the time, and the stuff that they thought was cool when they were nine years old. At times it resembles a teenage mix tape made with love, at others a scabrous unveiling of the American subconscious, and mostly it’s a goofy mess. With its hand-lettered titles, varying sound levels, clicks, pops and hisses, it’s a distinctly low-fidelity experience, but that adds to its crude power. It’s like Andy Warhol via Mad Magazine, and though it’s largely shapeless there’s a definite method in the madness somewhere. Dante recalls that the original epic ended with a solid 20 minutes or so of the closing moments of dozens of different old shows, and the whole ‘happy trails, buckaroos’ montage would reduce most of the hardy souls who had sat through the whole thing to tears. In a world without video, DVD or the internet, all this material, this 50s juvenilia, had disappeared from people’s lives, and The Movie Orgy dredged it up, sliced it into pieces and fed it back to the viewers, in what must have been a strange and heady experience. Dante had the idea for The Movie Orgy after noting the popularity of a college screening of a complete 1940s Batman serial over five hours. Without the week-long wait between episodes that characterised the original run the audience were made forcefully aware of the repetitions of footage, the outrageous cheat cliff-hanger endings, and all the absurdities and narrative contortions of the type of entertainment that they had doubtless accepted at face value when they were children.

Susan Sontag’s influential essay on camp had recently been published, and The Movie Orgy followed its lead: to be included, footage had to be played totally straight, otherwise it wasn’t funny, and it should ideally push the buttons of the baby boomers in the audience. Rules are made to be broken, and some knowing satirical clips appear amid the Howdy Doody and Puralin, but for the most part it’s an unpolished, disarming trawl through the cathode ray hinterland I only knew through Drew Friedman’s genius comic strips. Here they are, the aging music hall comedians, hard-sell commercials and nightmarish kids’ shows, a festival of hokey staging and stiff delivery. It’s baffling and alarming and hilarious by turns; one moment you could be watching an ad for the Little Hostess Buffet set ‘by Marx’, a toy full dinner service for the career-free little girl, the next you’re pitched into the sheer proto-Lynchian hell of Andy’s Gang, where a live cat and mouse (Midnight and Squeaky) have been strapped into torture devices so that they can be filmed playing Salvation Army drums from a variety of angles while a distressed-looking fat man warbles ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so’ over the footage. It’s a good thing that the kids in the Andy’s Gang audience are provided by stock footage, otherwise they would be screaming in abject terror, as I would have been had I not been laughing so damned hard.

I would love The Movie Orgy for this sequence alone, and there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s a social document from the heady days of revolution, it’s a post-war treasure trove, and for Joe Dante fans it’s a touchstone. This is where the strait-laced dialogue from Mant, Matinee‘s film-within-a-film came from; here’s the first evidence of the anti-corporate, anti-military creator of Gremlins, Small Soldiers and The Homecoming; hell, here’s even the puerile knucklehead who had a hand in Amazon Women on the Moon. It’s a gas. Now, let’s get the full seven-hour cut over, somebody score some Schlitz beer and home-grown, pull up a beanbag, let’s watch this bastard properly.

Mark Stafford

The Movie Orgy (Joe Dante, USA, 1968) screened at Cine-Excess on April 29.

Review of the Year 2009

Let the Right One In

The Electric Sheep team look back at the heroes and villains of 2009.

THE GOOD

Love Exposure
A four-hour long hymn to the redemptive power of love, Love Exposure creates a magnificently alien universe that careers from cartoony farce to serious drama. For all its oddness, the film has an epic, biblical quality, and there is a truth in the characters and their relationships that keeps us gripped despite the marathon length. ELEANOR MCKEOWN

Let the Right One In
This sweet and bloody subtle horror tale charts the relationship between lonely 12-year-old Oskar and vampire girl Eli. There is an ever-present sense of danger whenever Eli and Oskar are together and it is this threat underlying their love that makes the film so touching and melancholy, so real and unsentimental. Let the Right One In perfectly captures the nature of love as a delicate and dangerous balancing act, lovers poised for a fleeting, magical moment between need and defiance, trust and menace, sweetness and violence. TINA PARK

The White Ribbon
Violence is yet again the main subject of Haneke’s excellent The White Ribbon, which deservedly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. The White Ribbon is very much a German film, and it is impossible to ignore that the overly quiet and polite children depicted here are the ‘Nazi generation’. But, more than that, it is, in Haneke’s words, ‘a film about the roots of evil’. It is a didactic play of sorts, but one in which the names of the culprits are as irrelevant as any direct answers or lessons. The finely crafted screenplay, the stunning black and white photography, the aural landscape, the use of omission and silence make this nightmarish fable one of Haneke’s most accomplished films to date. PAMELA JAHN

White Lightnin’
Merging real-life events and unbridled fiction, writers (and co-producers) Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti have crafted a bold, nightmarish tale of Southern darkness and director Dominic Murphy takes the subject matter to cinematic extremes, using a hand-held camera, bizarre angles and repeated blackouts to convey Appalachian mountain dancer Jesco White’s disturbed state of mind. Intensely imagined and vividly directed, White Lightnin’ is a raw, rabid, howling hillbilly hell trip that doesn’t let up. PAMELA JAHN

Afterschool
If, as is usually the case, high school/college movies are intended as portraits of America in microcosm, then this is the most bilious, vicious picture of that nation I’ve encountered in years. The dark nature of the story is emphasised by visually inventive, oddly framed photography throughout, imitating both the lopsided compositions of amateur cameramen and the disaffected gaze of a sociopath, building a woozy, unhealthy atmosphere, a world viewed through the wrong head. Creepy and smart. MARK STAFFORD

Johnny Mad Dog
Set in an unnamed African country, Johnny Mad Dog opens with a shockingly brutal, surreally violent scene in which a pack of frenzied, coked up, brainwashed children attack a village. The film plunges us into their perception of the senseless chaos and madness of war, avoiding any simplifying, worthy platitudes about the situation. They are both terrible victims of the war and terrifying murderers, childish and vulnerable on the one hand and capable of the most chilling acts of violence on the other. A cross between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, this is an extraordinarily powerful film. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY

Moon
Duncan Jones’s independent debut feature is a fascinating and visually stunning sci-fi film that explores the alienation and bitter loneliness of space, as well as the very essence of the human condition. Filmed in little more than a month, and refreshingly making use of models rather than relying solely on CGI, the picture beautifully captures Jones’s unique vision, both aesthetically and philosophically. Moon is an instant classic of the genre, as well as one of the most impressive and original films to emerge from the UK in years. SARAH CRONIN

Big River Man
This unconventional documentary charts eccentric Slovenian swimmer Martin Strel’s extraordinary attempt to swim the Amazon. An unlikely champion, the rotund, hard-drinking, 53-year-old Martin combines a day job as a flamenco guitar teacher with a line in swimming the world’s most polluted rivers. The megalomaniac nature of the project, the strangeness of his relationship to his entourage and the spectacular Amazonian scenery make for one of the most enjoyable films of the year, a soulful journey into dark places, lunacy and the extremes of human behaviour that is at turns desperately farcical and profoundly affecting. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY

THE BAD

Antichrist
Watching Antichrist, one gets no sense of the artist grappling with his materials, trying to strike a balance between order and chaos. Instead, von Trier seems a confused and desperate director, whose latest film has completely evaded his control. Having made good work in the past, he may well make good work again in the future, and should he do so, Antichrist may come to be seen as an intriguing low in the director’s oeuvre. Considered on its own, however, Antichrist is utter nonsense, an irredeemable mess, and one of the worst films I have ever had the displeasure to see. DAVID WARWICK

THE UGLY

Synecdoche New York
We are asked to sympathise with an outrageously self-absorbed, self-pitying blob of a man who cannot get over the momentous tragedy of his own mortality. Caden’s fixation with death stops him from living life, making him the most bloodless, gutless, humourless, lifeless cinematic character I’ve come across in a long time, and there is no sense of distance or self-deprecation to help us through this bloated, indigestible whine-fest. Structural convolutions fail to fill the film’s empty heart or disguise its stunningly narrow perspective on the world – Kaufman is absolutely incapable to see beyond the confines of a peculiarly North American, white, male, middle-class, middle-aged perspective. Depressing beyond words. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY

53rd London Film Festival Round Up

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno

53nd LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

14-29 October 2009

LFF website

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.

Mother

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.

Metropia

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 SÉLAVY

45365

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

Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

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.

Paper Heart

If you can put up with that whole lo-fi home-made cutesy indie scene (Demetri Martin, check, Gondryesque cardboard puppet sequences, check, naïve 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 SÉLAVY

Lebanon

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

Kinatay

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

BEST OF THE 52nd LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Hunger

52nd LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

15-30 October 2008

The Electric Sheep team round up their favourite films of this year’s London Film Festival.

Hunger

A gripping, powerful and hauntingly beautiful film, Hunger is artist Steve McQueen’s slow-paced dramatisation of the last months in the life of Irish Republican Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in 1981 in protest against the British government’s refusal to treat convicted IRA members as political prisoners. Despite an arguably impressive display of physical violence, there are moments when stunning shots of artistic beauty lend the film a grim poetic atmosphere. The result is a mesmerising choreography that demands utter commitment from the actors (an extraordinary central performance from Michael Fassbender), and it is also an inventive bursting forth of McQueen the filmmaker. PAMELA JAHN

Waltz with Bashir

Ari Folman’s brilliant animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war was one of the best films at the LFF. This is a brave and powerful movie, both stylistically and in its treatment of Folman’s involvement in one of the most controversial episodes in Israel’s history, the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The animation beautifully conveys the depth and intensity of Folman’s story as he meets with fellow friends, soldiers and journalists in his attempt to counter the collective amnesia suffered by witnesses of the event. This is an astonishing, unmissable piece of filmmaking with one of the most harrowing and moving endings seen in years. SARAH CRONIN

United Red Army

Koji Wakamatsu’s latest film is by far the most complex, stunning and utterly demanding film I’ve seen in the course of this year’s festival circuit. In 190 visually and conceptually engrossing minutes, United Red Army traces the history of the Japanese militant left from its origins in 1960 to its escalation in the early 1970s. Basing his film on comprehensive research as well as his own memories and connections to some members of the Red Army faction when it was still active, Wakamatsu not merely reveals the gruelling events that took place at the time, he once again pushes the boundaries of filmmaking in almost every take, taking the story from docu-style drama to claustrophobic chamber piece into breathtaking action thriller in the final act. What remains is a profound and painful dissection of ideology itself, rendered with an impressive clarity that is rarely seen on the big screen. PAMELA JAHN

Afterschool

I found myself utterly stunned by Antonio Campos’s feature debut Afterschool. A class video project in an upscale American prep school accidentally captures a tragedy, and we follow the reactions of the school, its pupils, and particularly of the boy, Robert (Ezra Miller), who shot the incident, an alienated and unpopular student who becomes a source of anxiety for the institution. If, as is usually the case, high school/college movies are intended as portraits of America in microcosm, then this is the most bilious, vicious picture of that nation I’ve encountered in years. It’s a tough watch from the outset, with an unsettling montage of internet clips giving way to the face of Robert as he wanks away to some unpleasant porn, and never stops being unnerving thereafter. The dark nature of the story is emphasised by visually inventive, oddly framed photography throughout; imitating both the lopsided compositions of amateur cameramen and the disaffected gaze of a sociopath, it builds its own woozy unhealthy atmosphere, a world viewed through the wrong head. It’s creepy and smart and it may just screw with your head for days. MARK STAFFORD

Home

A happily eccentric middle-class family live in the ideal, open surroundings of the French countryside, right on the edge of a long unused motorway. However, when the motorway is suddenly opened to swarms of traffic, their lives become intolerable as the noise, pollution and danger invades their lives. As the disruption to their normal routine eats away at their freedoms, they descend into semi-primordial behavioural patterns and bizarre somnambulant rituals. Beautifully filmed, with a superb, believable cast (Isabelle Huppert is outstanding), Home explores the deep ramifications of urbanisation and the impact of rampant capitalism upon the human psyche. On one level it’s a witty, modern-day environmental parable, and on another it’s a surreal descent into the subconscious fears and desires of the id. Birthed from the same otherworldly penumbra as classics like Weekend, Themroc and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Home is a unique and strange masterpiece where Kafka meets Ballard on the arid tarmac of the Motorway. JAMES DC

Hansel and Gretel

A South Korean grown-up reworking of the familiar children’s story, Yim Phil-sung’s Hansel and Gretel is a dark, surreal fairy tale weaving themes of lost innocence, dysfunctional families, revenge, trust and love. When a young man driving along a country road crashes his car, he is taken to a ravishing house in the middle of the forest by a strange, ethereal young girl. He is looked after by her family but when he tries to go back to his car the next day, and the following days too, he finds he cannot leave the forest. Forced to remain with the three children and faced with a series of bizarre occurrences, he gradually disentangles the web of mystery that surrounds the children to discover the truth about their identity. The enchanted house and forest are beautifully depicted, the children are suitably ambivalent and the film’s atmosphere is perfectly balanced between sinister and magical. A real treat. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY

Il Divo

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Il Divo sees director Paolo Sorrentino apply his trademark formal beauty to the life of one of Italy’s most notorious politicians. Seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was tried on several occasions for murder, corruption and Mafia involvement, but defended himself successfully each time. The characters accused along with Andreotti are many and difficult to distinguish – expect a re-edit before the theatrical release – but rather than try to establish the facts, Sorrentino chooses instead to focus on the aegis of ambiguity that Andreotti forges for himself. In this character study he could have no better co-conspirator than his The Consequences of Love star Tony Servillo, who is hypnotic as Andreotti. ALEXANDER PASHBY

Momma’s Man

On paper, Momma’s Man doesn’t necessarily hold that much appeal: a thirty-something man visits his parents at their New York loft and finds himself incapable of returning home to his wife and baby in Los Angeles. But director Azazel Jacobs’ film is much more than a sum of its parts. Jacobs cast his own remarkable parents (influential experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and artist Flo Jacobs) and shot the movie in the same Manhattan apartment where they’ve lived for the last 40 years. Matt Boren puts in a great performance as their son, who’s desperate to be a little kid again. The location itself is terrific, packed with the eccentric ephemera collected over a lifetime, and while the film’s laid-back pace demands some patience, this funny and poignant film has that indefinable something that marks out the most memorable films. SARAH CRONIN

Beautiful Losers

Pulled from this year’s EIFF line-up at the very last minute, Beautiful Losers was a welcome addition to the small number of worthwhile documentaries included in the LFF programme. In an unashamedly nostalgic but extremely likeable fashion, co-director Aaron Rose looks back in affection at his own achievement, New York’s Alleged Gallery, and the loose-knit group of American artists who became involved in the creative movement that grew around the small storefront space in the early 90s. It features artists such as Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Ed and Deanna Templeton, Jo Jackson, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills amongst others, with Harmony Korine being no doubt the most weirdly charming contributor. PAMELA JAHN

Not Quite Hollywood

Not Quite Hollywood is music promo director Mark Hartley’s affectionate no-holds-barred-pedal-to-the-metal salute to Ozploitation cinema, charting its rise in the late 60s, fall in the late 80s, and recent resurgence with the likes of Wolf Creek. It rounds up an impressive roll call of talking heads from the scene, who, in true Aussie style, are refreshingly blunt about their experiences and each other, and intercuts them with a generous helping of clips from the films. It’s great fun: Hartley seems to be terrified of boring his audience and packs out his 102 minutes with insane stunts, montages of naked Sheilas, automotive carnage and explosions, and countless outrageous stories, all edited to a zippy sprint. The archive footage of Dennis Hopper scrambling for his life from his burning stunt double would justify your time and money on its own. It’s divided into three sections, sex, horror and action, and the movies can also usefully be divided into three types: familiar late night /video library classics (The Long Weekend, Patrick, Turkey Shoot, Road Games, and of course Mad Max ); films that you can safely avoid (Oz sex comedies of the 70s look just as toe-curlingly Christ-awful as British sex comedies of the 70s, which is some kind of achievement); and, and here is where NQH really scores, the numerous neglected, lost and largely forgotten films which the film makes you desperately want to see. As well as having a high population density of insane stuntmen the country was also clearly never lacking in spectacular outback scenery or 70mm lenses to shoot it with, and from the clips included here alone, the likes of Fair Game and Dead End Drive-In all look glorious. If I must quibble, I’d say that the pacy style of the film excludes any real discussion of the social context, aesthetics or especially the grisly sexual politics of ozploitation cinema; which is sorely needed, especially when the inevitable Quentin Tarantino keeps popping up enthusing about one woman-bashing scene after another. Hartley’s default setting is breathless, shameless celebration over analysis, and NQH often seems to actively avoid deciding whether the films are actually any damn good or not (Though I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Howling 3: The Marsupials sucks koala cock). Apparently, the director has launched his own line of ozploitation DVDs so any viewers wishing to familiarise themselves with some authentic Australian sleaze will soon be able to judge for themselves. Happy hunting. MARK STAFFORD

A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews