Day 2 - Black Coal, Thin Ice, Excuse My French and Men, Women & Children #LFF

Day 2 then and the rain cometh. You can pretty much guarantee ropey weather for the red carpets, even the Talent isn't immune from the British weather. Talent in this case being Jason Reitman, Kaitlyn Dever (in a wonderfully couch-cover inspired dress) and Ansel Elgort (in an impressive slimline eighties affected suit). Check them out opposite, don't they all look nice..... 

Black Coal, Thin Ice is Yi'nan Diao's first feature since 2007's Night Train. It follows Zhang Zili (Fan Liao), a detective in a provincial (in all senses of the word) town in China. When body parts start appearing nicely wrapped in coal processing plants across the entire province on the same day, Zhang is sent to investigate.

The very definition of a flawed cop, we first meet Zhang receiving his divorce certificate after one last encounter with his now ex-wife. He doesn't take this well and the undercurrent of sexual violence bubbles away in his character throughout the movie. After a comedically brutal screw up of an arrest that leaves everybody at the scene dead with the exception of Zhang (who is badly wounded), we spool forward six years to find Zhang blundering through his security job either drunk or hungover. It's not long before the body parts start to reappear.

As dark as the title suggests, Black Coal, Thin Ice won the Golden Bear at this year's Berlinale. For a westerner who sadly doesn't get to see as many Chinese movies as he'd like, it's endlessly fascinating with a nicely seedy performance from Fan Liao. To be honest, it wanders a little too much and you have to think the ending is born out of a director who had no clue how to finish his movie but it's never dull. Stuffed with odd characters, catastrophic police work and some properly 'wha????' moments, definitely recommended if you're looking for something different.

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Excuse My French probably has one of the more unintentionally misleading titles at this year's Festival. Born out of an Arabic habit of appending 'No offence' to the start of an offensive statement, I'd be the first to vote to have it changed back to the literal translation which works much better.

Title not withstanding, Saudi / Egyptian writer / director Amr Salama's is a wonderful experience. Taking more than four years to get through a variety of government censorship bodies (three changes of government / revolutions etc), it tells the tale of Hany, a Christian kid who enters the Egyptian state school system after years of private education when his father unexpectedly dies. The only Christian in his class, he hides his religion from the other kids in an attempt to integrate.

The semi-autobiographical Excuse My French covers a lot of ground with regards to sectarian issues and growing up and it does so in a tone that is just the right side of flippant. It gets away with bouncy music, a broadly humorous approach and the overall feel of a musical without the songs because it's clearly written from the heart and it doesn't shun the consequences of the divisions within Egyptian society.

And finally for day 2, we have Men, Women & Children. Jason Reitman's (Juno, Up in the Air) take on relationships in the twenty first century and the pervasiveness and invasiveness of social media and technology. We start out with a hugely entertaining Emma Thompson narration, taking in the Voyager spacecraft's journey out of our solar system before finally settling on Don Truby's (Adam Sandler) attempts to access porn on his malware infected PC.

The majority of Reitman's movie is very familiar territory, to the point that although I enjoyed it hugely, I wonder if either technology is just helping people act exactly the same more easily or whether the movie has just entirely missed the point. It makes some good points about the enabling of obsessive behaviour through easy access to a world of information but I'm not convinced it really makes any new points.

The leads are all great though. Thompson's narration, though it drifts in and out without any real prompt is hilarious, Sandler plays it straight and consequently puts in his best performance since I don't know when and the teenagers are all spot on. In particular Kaitlyn Dever is wonderful as the teenager suffering under the constant surveillance of her obsessive mother (Jennifer Garner). Well worth seeing for the laugh out loud moments, I'm just not convinced that Men, Women & Children is as profound as its aiming for.

Si