The London Film Festival officially ended yesterday, and Flixist’s coverage along with it. In truth, it hasn’t been a stand-out year, as represented by the Festival’s official awards ceremony giving its top prize to Lynne Ramsey’s only decent We Need To Talk About Kevin, chosen from an equally uninspiring shortlist.
Nevertheless, even without any truly exceptional works on show, there were a huge variety of different cinematic experiences to be had and a few of them did manage to rise to a level worthy of your attention should they ever reach your shores. In addition to links to every film reviewed at this year’s LFF, follow the jump to discover the ones Flixist thought stood out – for reasons good and bad…
REVIEW HERE. Many of this year’s films were rather dour affairs, from the circle of dishonesty and prostitution that opened the festival in 360 to Michael Winterbottom taking on Thomas Hardy’s less than cheery Tess Of The D’Urbervilles in his India-based adaptation, Trishna. Norwegian thriller Headhunters, though, went ballistic on the fun factor, dishing out an constant supply of humiliating and hilarious punishments on its undersized, under-prepared protagonist. From being savaged by a supernaturally aggressive dog, having his car rammed over a cliff or literally put up to his head in shit, Morten Tyldum’s film barely takes a breath that isn’t recklessly exciting, utterly ridiculous and enormous fun.
Runner-up: Though the venerable Alec Kubas-Meyer did the review as part of his New York Film Festival coverage, The Artist had the biggest gut-laughs at the LFF by far, especially an inspired sight gag involving a glass of water, only missing out on this award due to a second half which veered too far into slightly indulgent melancholy. It’s definitely worth catching if you’re a fan of silent comedies, though, or to witness a grin you could spread on toast from star Jean Dujardin.
REVIEW HERE. Period dramas have a certain signature look, which Andrea Arnold discarded entirely for something starker in her adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic. This is a film obsessed with texture, from the prickle of a thistle, the grit of a smashed stone wall, or a scarlet coat billowing in violent wind. There’s a beautiful contrast between the rawness of rural life and the pristine elegance of the affluent manor-born, colliding them together to powerfully evocative effect. The film may not be perfect – some of the performances are a tad stilted and the passion that drives the story is never quite conveyed as intensely as it needs to be – but its visual style represents a brave new world for the genre, hopefully kicking out for good the fetish for colourful hats and corsets.
Runner-up: Michael Winterbottom’s otherwise flawed Trishna ran it close, but see below the film which claimed the silver…
REVIEW HERE. Graduating from the urban sprawl in La Haine, director and actor Mathieu Kassovitz (pictured) sets his gritty thriller Rebellion (L’Ordre Et La Morale) in the gorgeous tropical landscapes of the New Caledonia jungle, where protagonist Philippe Legorjus must negotiate the peaceful return of hostages from rebels demanding their island’s independence from France, even as political figures back in Paris seek to upset the situation for their own political gain. Recalling Apocalypse Now and employing a number of clever but unintrusive visual tricks, all credit to Kassovitz for making a film as stunning visually as it is intellectually stimulating, as a man sees his absolute belief in the power of dialogue to resolve any situation brought crumbling down around him.
Runner-up: Takashi Miike may not be someone traditionally associated with sober character dramas, but he took the genre by the scruff of the neck with his remake of the 1962 classic Hara-Kiri. In addition to being an intimately told story of a family struggling to survive in poverty, it is a damning indictment of the samurai society, which placed honour and tradition above the basic empathy of helping those in need. Miike has an anti-authoritarian streak a hundred miles wide, so he also doesn’t hold back in making links with the way modern Japanese society operates on a similarly restrictive basis.
REVIEW HERE. There were surprisingly few notable acting performances in any film at this year’s festival, but The Artist‘s Bérénice Bejo nailed the cheeky, big wink flirtatiousness of the best silent movie actresses, combining it with a natural gift for physical comedy – see her using the jacket of her idol, George Valentin, to wrap herself in a longing embrace. The best testament to how perfect she was is that every woman came out of the screening absolutely fuming about her, while every man had fallen head over heels. The only downside was that, given her character was named Peppy, she didn’t get to act out doing a barrel roll. Ah well, can’t have everything.
Runner-up: Kaya Scodelario, aka Effy from hit British TV show Skins, was supposed to be the main attraction in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, but despite not giving a bad performance, she suffered from having to follow the charming naturalism of the actress playing her younger self, Shannon Beer. The actors playing the young Cathy and Heathcliff showed none of the reservations that held back their older counterparts, meaning the film ultimately belonged to them.
REVIEW HERE. Kōji Yakusho is the heart of Takashi Miike’s tragic Hara-Kiri, a man who sees his family destroyed in front of his eyes by the rules of the samurai society he had always believed in. He’s given a difficult task, turning the man we see at the beginning of the film – steely-eyed, firm in his beliefs – with the figure we see later, barely able to control the rage burning inside him. As each new facet of his character is unveiled, Yakusho manages to make every one seem a perfectly natural part of a complex, downtrodden man who finally decides to take action and confront the people he deems responsible for his and his family’s suffering.
Runner-up: Bérénice Bejo gave a sterling performance in her own right in The Artist, but it was her chemistry with leading man Jean Dujardin which kept the film moving, even in its bumpier second half. Just as Bejo captured the flirty silent movie actress schtick, Dujardin has a ball going full cheese as George Valentin, Hollywood’s favourite actor… at least, until he is asked to speak. Playing every gesture way over the top, Dujardin’s comic timing and flair are second to none, making him a worthy successor to the physical comedians of the silent era. Also, dat grin!
PS: Special nod to Ben Foster in the otherwise deeply average 360 – with more screentime, he almost certainly would have run away with this category.
REVIEW HERE. This was a difficult choice. Even though I rated Headhunters slightly higher than my runner-up, it is a film more dedicated to ridiculous entertainment than artistic achievement, which will mean it will no doubt be seen as an unworthy winner by many. In the end, it came down to which film hit its targets better and while Headhunters will never be mentioned in any other Best Film category ever again, it did everything it set out to do with vast, bonkers aplomb. Artistry is a great thing, but that does not mean it should be valued higher than pure fun when both are done well. There is not a second when Morten Tyldum’s thriller isn’t throwing the kitchen sink at its audience – and his protagonist, probably smashing him over the head with it – and in a festival which often felt like it was sinking under the dramatic misery of its selections, Headhunters was a rare, hysterical highlight.
Runner-up: Mathieu Kassovitz’s Rebellion can be taken as the winner for everyone who doesn’t believe that excellence in entertainment is worth as much as thoughtful drama (though if you do believe that, what are you doing at Flixist?). Stunningly shot, perfectly paced and driven by the foreknowledge of the dreadful fate awaiting its protagonist’s doomed efforts to avoid a massacre, it occasionally comes across as a little too preachy for its own good, but is undeniably devastating stuff once its endgame sets in. Having been completely wasted in his attempts at forging a Hollywood career, it is a welcome sight to see Kassovitz back on track, channelling the same righteous anger which produced his breakout film, La Haine.
REVIEW HERE. I was going to do a couple of ‘Worst Of’ awards, but it quickly dawned on me that they were all going to end up in one place. Madonna’s fans might be quick to accuse detractors of going in with an agenda against her, but W.E. is a staggering work of pretension and inanity. Every shot is composed with the vulgar artifice of a perfume advert, the story – what little of it there is, or makes sense – sheds no light on the historical figure of Wallis Simpson, whose life the film mostly changes to suit how it wants to imagine her, or can offer any reason for the existence of the modern day character supposedly drawing inspiration from her life. (What Madonna sees as ‘inspiration’ is better labelled ‘insanity’ by any semi-rational human being). The performances are directionless and ridiculously broad, criminally wasting the talented Andrea Riseborough, and the constant cutting between storylines clunky and murderous to the pacing. Creatively inept in every conceivable category – without even being funny – if you want to know what W.E. really stands for, take a look at the banner above the photo.
FULL LIST OF LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2011 REVIEWS
360 – 52/100. “360 is not a dislikeable picture, just one that seems to be constantly working against itself. The soundtrack (selected by Meirelles’ wife) is appropriately varied and funky, the pace kept reasonably brisk, and Meirelles captures just enough of the flavour of each location to make the film feel properly international. (The overuse of the same CGI plane was a lousy decision, though). A shame, then, that no-one involved seemed entirely sure of what they wanted to say. For a story about people connecting, 360‘s biggest struggle was to do precisely that.”
Hara-Kiri – 70/100. “Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai is a beautifully made and evocative tale from the last man that Western audiences would expect to have telling it. Its storytelling and characterisation are a little too straightforward to hit the same heights as the 1962 classic, but if you can find a screening unblighted by 3D, it is worth strong consideration. Should 3D viewing be your only option, however, take it as a worrying sign of the technology starting to take its toll on proper art, rather than sticking with to likes of Transformers 3 where it belongs.”
Coriolanus – 58/100. “Like its protagonist, Coriolanus falls down on its inability to temper its principles and embrace everything that needs to be done to achieve its ambitions. As a modern adaptation of a 17th century play, its devotion to the word of the original work make it feel neither one thing nor the other. It finds insightful similarities to the modern world, but cannot unpick them from the politics of an age long forgotten. As the man himself says: “This double worship, where one part does disdain with cause, the other insult without all reason, where gentry, title, wisdom, cannot conclude but by the yea and no of general ignorance,it must omit real necessities and give way the while to unstable slightness: purpose so barr’d, it follows.”
The Artist (NYFF Review) – 81/100. “What makes the story work is not the overall premise (which I found to be very Singing in the Rain-esque) but the details. What happens that bring the characters up and down is really what makes the story enjoyable. The film takes opens up in 1927, spends some time in 1929, and finishes in 1931, and I appreciated the passage of time. The Artist, much like 50/50 (which The Artist is nothing like), is a perfect example of a dramedy. The comedy almost always hits a very high note (and I laughed out loud frequently, much more than the other uptight, fun-hating writers at the screening), and when the film gets dramatic… well, it succeeds there too.” (Alec Kubas-Meyer)
Headhunters – 84/100. “I knew very little about Headhunters going in, and possibly even less when I left. Sweden may be the go-to destination for thrillers right now, but judging by this film, Norway don’t seem to be taking their neighbours’ successes terribly seriously. Morten Tyldum’s film takes everything that made the likes of Dragon Tattoo a hit and turned them up to their most ludicrous extremes. It’s barely comprehensible, but all the more fun for it, like the Coen Brothers on crack, with a side-order of herring.”
Wuthering Heights – 73/100. “Because of the grown-up actors’ difficulty in conveying their characters’ raw, almost animalistic longing to possess one another, the film’s dramatic centre always feels one step removed from where it needs to be. Heathcliff’s agony is tangible – moreso than Cathy’s – but the intensity does not quite come through as it should. We get a better sense of that side of the characters through the camera’s obsession with texture and tactile sensation, lingering on prickly mountaintop fauna, different types of feather, the burning red of Cathy’s billowing coat, or a fierce rainstorm splattering off Heathcliff’s despondent face. Arnold’s presentation is brave and astonishing, a serrated edge interpretation of a genre that has been blunt for far too long. If only its heart pounded a little stronger beneath that hardened skin, it might have really conquered the Heights in the way it only threatens to.”
Rebellion – 82/100. “Rebellion is a terrific return to form for Kassovitz, his best film in years and one that comes from his once again opening up the same vein of bloody rage that produced La Haine. As an actor, he gives a nuanced performance as a man who realises quite how little control he really has. As a director, he contrasts the tropical beauty of the New Caledonia surroundings with the murky politics circling like vultures above the little island, waiting for new corpses to feed on. While hardly a balanced representation of a true story, it is compellingly told and a timely reminder both of what enormous talent Kassovitz has at his fingertips and how badly Hollywood has wasted him.”
W.E. – 25/100. “Only a scene in which Wallis and Edward liven up a dull film screening – oh, the irony – by spiking the champagne with benzedrine and dancing to an anachronistic Sex Pistols soundtrack is there so much as a hint at the film a younger, punkier Madonna might have made – even the sex scenes are tame and inhumanly staged. Instead, W.E. is a narcissistic monstrosity, the result of an eye so disconnected from reality that it can only see life through the kitsch pretensions of fashion campaigns and perfume adverts. The only time it even has the decency to be accidentally funny is in presenting Mohammed Al-Fayed as a man of deep thought and heart (seriously). It is a vision utterly lacking the finesse and meaning it so desperately believes it has mastered, and can only be called honest in how genuinely it confuses wilful delusions for truth.”
Trishna – 64/100. “Though it has problems as an adaptation of Hardy, as a story in its own right Trisha still hits many affecting emotional cues, not least in the slow degradation of a passionate young love turning sour by social imbalance. Winterbottom may not make us as enamoured of his heroine as Hardy did, but we feel for her when the pressures start mounting. Only the ending really fails to connect, because Jay’s character evolution is too jarring and Pinto struggles to match a difficult challenge, which Hardy purists will again point to as a moment which lacks the heartfelt sorrow of Tess’ ultimate fate. Trishna cannot match Hardy for passion or purpose, and lacks clarity as a story in its own right. As a sensory experience, lavishing in the changing sounds and colours of a new India, it is something to relish. A shame that its heart is so conflicted.”
See you again next year!