Day 9 - A Girl at My Door, Altman and Foxcatcher #LFF

Well into the home straight now (booo!) and day 9 brings a whole new side of alcoholic police chiefs, the story of a legend and a billionaire wrestling aficionado. Honestly, we really don't understand wrestling....

July Jung's A Girl at My Door is probably one of the more quietly effective movies we've seen at this year's festival. It tells the tale of a Seoul police chief, banished to a backwater coastal town (for reasons that take time to become clear). Doona Bae (known to western audiences for her work on Cloud Atlas) is chief Young-Nam. Attempting to stay under the radar on her superior's instructions in a small town, she spots a young girl by the side of the road. Later, she witnesses the same girl being variously abused by her evil grandmother, alcoholic father (and local gang boss) and school mates.

Young-Nam's reluctance to ignore this abuse for the sake of her career leads her to take the young girl in when the grandmother is discovered dead at the bottom of a cliff, having apparently veered off the road on her obviously dangerous motorbike. The two establish an uneasy and crucially, unsanctioned relationship, as the chief attempts to get to the bottom of the psychological damage brought upon the young girl by her mother's abandonment and her alcoholic father's beatings.

Jung's movie manages to be both subtle and intimate whilst never shying away from the horrible abuse suffered by the young Do-Hee (a wonderful performance from youngster Sae-ron Kim). Populated entirely by characters flawed for a variety of reasons and with no straight moral core (the chief being one of the most damaged by her experiences), this makes for very interesting viewing. Doona Bae's performance as the chief brilliantly portrays the damage largely suffered in silence of both alcoholism and a deep undercurrent of intolerance in the police force. Despite its dark, serious themes, A Girl at My Door is not without its humour moments and the image of Do-Hee dancing by herself on a pier is wonderfully uplifting.

Any new time we can spend in the presence of this great man is a bonus and Altman definitely delivers on that. In search of a framework for his documentary, Ron Mann came up with the idea of framing the movie with a variety of actors attempting to define the phrase 'Altmanesque'. So we get a chronological trip through the director's works, from his early days in TV all the way through to Gosford Park and his final movies, punctuated by usually one line talking heads from actors as diverse as Elliot Gould and Robin Williams. And over this, we have a wonderfully written narration provided by a number of members of his family, most notably his wife of many years Kathryn Reed Altman.

It's easy to forget just how influential Altman was as a director, particularly during the glory years defined by movies such as M*A*S*H (still his outright masterpiece in my humble opinion) and his oh so seventies take on The Long Goodbye (one of Gould's finest, mumbling performances) but this movie powerfully reminds us of this. To it's credit, it also doesn't skimp on the failures, of which there were many.

But Altman isn't so much a forensic examination of his work, more an affectionate stroll through it. With access to Altman's entire back catalogue plus a good number of unreleased short films and home movies, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the man or arguably, anyone interested in cinema full stop.

We had somewhat conflicted views on picking out Foxcatcher from this year's programme. On the one hand, is that really Steve Carell? On the other, a movie about professional wrestling? Really? Fortunate then that we ignored our wrestling ignorance and pressed on with the Steve Carell angle. Based on the true story of American billionaire and heir John du Pont, who, amongst other things decided to establish his own wrestling facility for team USA in order for them to replicate their showing from 1984 at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Carell's du Pont is absolutely Oscar bait but that shouldn't detract from what is an astonishing transformation. Pale, slightly overweight and puffy of face, Carell is borderline unrecognisable. His du Pont is mortifyingly lonely, spoilt and forever in the shadow of his elderly mother. Picking up Channing Tatum's down at heel gold winning wrestler mark Schultz by dazzling him with facilities and helicopter rides, the two make a horribly dysfunctional pair. One, cowed under the weight of loneliness brought about by unimaginable wealth, the other forever feeling beholden to a caring brother and fellow wrestler who brought him up from a child.

Despite its Oscar worthy ambitions, Foxcatcher is certainly not a showy movie. At its heart it's a story of crushing loneliness, even amongst a tight knit family. It has little to offer beyond its three main characters (Mark Ruffalo, beefed up and bearded completes the trio as Mark's brother David), Sienna Miller is given almost nothing to do as David's wife and although hugely significant to the plot, we get to see very little of Vanessa Redgrave as Jean du Pont but that's not entirely a criticism. A movie not afraid to take its time and one that avoids showy set-pieces, this is well worth your time.

Si