These days are going to seem somewhat confusing as Si and saw stuff differently at different time and not always in line with the festival or in a linear fashion. Got that? Good. So day 6 for me was hugely exciting as it had two films I was REALLY excited for. One of the films was VERY popular hence the queue picture......
Considering I live out of London and have two small children, getting in for a 9am screening really takes some work so I put quite a lot of expectation on films that I soldier in for (there have only been two, I’m being over dramatic for narrative reasons). Brooklyn was one of these, seduced by Ronan (Saoirse not Keeting) Gleeson (Dohmnall not Brendan) and Julie (Walters not Andrews) and the promise of romance and I have to say it delighted on every level. A quaint old-fashioned love story with a cracking script and some gorgeous central performances, Brooklyn was a delight from start to finish.
It’s 1950 and Eillis Lacey (Ronan) is a young woman living a simple existence in a small town in rural Ireland. She barely has enough clothes to fill a suitcase, exactly the reason her beloved sister Rose organises her a passage to New York, by way of a priest, and a job in a posh department store. Rose is trying to save her from what she knows is her own fate.
Eillis arrives in New York the simplest of girls, shy and close mouthed and we are terrified she may not make it but she does, she blossoms finally, not without the help of meeting Tony, an Italian American and the tow fall madly in love. A tragedy takes Eillis back to Ireland where she sees everything through new eyes and another begins to catch her heart. The lure of home or the notion of what home even is anymore is what Eillis must decide so she can choose where hers will be, and with whom.
Adapted from the novel by Colm Tobin by Nick Hornby it’s a lovely script, funny and sweet, romantic and sharp, Hornby has done a great job. Likewise John Crowley, director of the wonderful Boy A, has captured all the romance whilst just staying on the right side of non-saccharine. He wisely uses close ups of Ronan’s face a lot as she is possible of conveying a huge amount with very little.
Saiorse Ronan is just gorgeous as Eillis, we all know she’s a remarkable talent but nice to see her starring and owning something so entirely. The men in her life played by Emory Cohen and Dohmnall Gleeson are perfect and so different in every way. Cohen is utterly charming and heart breaking as Tony and Gleeson also heart capturing in a very different way. Julie Walters nicks all the humour at the dinner table scenes in a hilarious turn as landlady Ma Keogh and Jim Broadbent is a cuddle personified as kindly priest Father Flood.
I suspect there may be some who might not like the look of Brooklyn but I’d urge you to give it a chance. It’s not a ‘woman’s’ story; it’s a beautiful expansive romantic, funny tale. I cried a lot, laughed a lot and can’t wait to see it again.
So. I guess all festivals have a film or two that scream HOT TICKET – SEE ME OR YOUR LIFE WILL IMPLODE. The Lobster is one of these, certainly judging by the queue that snaked out of the door for the press screening and brought out the worst in some (yes you male journalist who refused to hold my space for three minutes so I could avoid wetting myself).
Anyway I made it into the screening and I was excited, this film is my type of movie. Quirky and romantic is how it is pitched. The line of journalists queuing up to say how offbeat and HILARIOUS it is almost as big ads the queue to get in. So I was excited, some of my favourite actors in the cast bring it. And it was….well it was alright. It’s definitely quirky and had some very funny moments but as a whole I have to say it didn’t get as far into my heart as I had hoped it would. Perhaps if I had wandered it to see it without knowing anything about it I may have held it in higher regard.
Colin Farrell plays David, man who has checked into a hotel where, if you don’t find love, you will turn into an animal. David has chosen a lobster and has 45 days to try fall in love with someone at the strange hotel where everyone dresses the same. David makes two friends, lisping man and nose bleed man. Each night they must go and hunt ‘loners’ for it is considered a crime to want to be alone in this strange dystopian world. It’s hard to go into it more without ruining the plot so let’s just say David’s first relationship ends badly and he finds himself out with the loners where a real love story begins.
Yorgos Lanthimos' first English speaking film is satire on our fear of being alone is certainly an original film and it succeeds on so many levels. The world of the hotel is wonderfully created and there are terrific performances by Farrell, Ashley Jenson, John C Reilly, Ben Wishaw (my favourite) and the inimitable Olivia Coleman as the stern hotel manager. Arian Labed is also wonderful as the maid. Rachel Weiss is fantastic of course as is another favourite of mine Michael Smiley. So a cracking cast and a beautiful setting and a highly original story. Somehow when David takes off into the woods the film starts to lose itself too, I found my attention wavering and I was sad this had happened.
Brave and interesting, I am glad I saw The Lobster; perhaps I’ll revisit it again later down the line.
For my money, The Lobster is a movie that the more you think about it, the more you 'get' it and the less interesting it becomes. Farrell's performance is charmingly off-kilter but the entire movie is so achingly quirky that I had to suspect it was doing a lot of what it did purely to maintain interest once it had got its BIG points out there. Worth seeing then but not one to fall over to get to.
Sometimes it takes a good dose of the absurd to put things in perspective and Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s unassuming (considering the top billing Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins) Balkan set movie is a winner on this front. A Perfect Day smashes the irony from the outset with the title but don’t let that put you off, this is a movie that, alongside bombastic music and a scenery chewing Robbins, can make some pretty impressive and subtle points on the way through.
Opening ‘somewhere in the Balkans’ Del Toro and Robbins are aid workers at the really mucky end. When we catch up with them, Del Toro’s chief of security for ‘Aid without Borders’ Mambru is attempting to extract a bloated corpse from a well with the help of a pretty rotten rope and local translator Damir (Fedja Stukan - expect to see this guy in more English language movies soon I suspect). At the same time, Mambru’s sometime partner in crime B (Robbins) is introducing idealistic Sophie (Melanie Thierry) to the vagaries of negotiating a suspected cow-bomb blocking the road.
And so the search for a length of rope to extract the corpse becomes the primary driver of the plot as we follow the two teams in what, in any other part of the world, would normally be a simple quest. Along the way, the team ‘rescue’ a local boy from some bullies who respond to Mambru’s demands for the boy’s ball to be returned with a pistol. As it turns out, the boy may know where some rope is….
A Perfect Day put me in mind of Three Kings and another movie that I cannot for the life of me put a name to in that on the face of it, it is loud and almost flippant in its treatment of a very serious subject. But, it’s thoroughly international viewpoint and stone cold attitude to humour mean that it ultimately comes out as much more. A thoroughly appreciated existential streak spans the entire movie and the day to day horror and pointlessness of conflict is driven home with a dry smile and eyes permanently raised to where the heavens would be. Witness the lone soldier, stranded in a shelled out guard post, his Kalashnikov leaning unused against the wall. When B spots the flag fluttering above the post, complete with length of rope, there seems to be hope in sight. As the guard patiently explains though, this is war. No flag, no territory. No territory, he has surrendered. He is kaput.
Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s movie is witty, dark and does incredibly well to highlight not only the futility of conflict but the myriad of unintended consequences that hit at the heart of international aid efforts.
We take a lot for granted in this country, certainly when it comes to journalism, so the thought of a country where even taking photographs is a crime is an almost bizarre one. But that was none the less the case in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s reign.
Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli’s documentary Frame by Frame follows a small group of photojournalists in the fledgling free country of Afghanistan as they establish themselves on the world stage with their work. Having lost the majority of people with any photographic skills during the years of the Taliban ban, Afghanistan is a country gradually re-learning how to photograph itself.
The ‘itself’ part of it is a very important note for this documentary. For once we actually get to not only see what life is like as a photojournalist in the new country, we also get a decent snapshot of what life is actually like for ordinary people now as the foreign troops begin to withdraw. There is a high level of uncertainty as people look towards the future unsure if the Taliban will reemerge or, more accurately, how it will reemerge. We follow Farzana Wahidy as she attempt to document the lives of women attempting to establish themselves in the new state. Her protracted negotiation with a doctor at a hospital that specialises in the many cases of ‘self immolation’ experienced by women is incredibly revealing. On the face of it, the doctor is happy for Wahidy to complete her assignment but it quickly becomes clear that he has no intention to allow her to photograph or talk to the women involved, eventually insisting that the story should be about men, not women. It later transpires that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the immolations are not ‘self’ at all but the result of domestic abuse.
Frame by Frame is an important movie in itself but also in respect of Afghanistan’s place within the world. A country that has constantly been invaded and liberated only for the liberated regime to be either as bad or even worse than the invaders. The directors do well to chronicle the struggles of the fledgling press and it’s vital that these stories are told beyond the country’s borders. Massoud Hossaini’s image of a child screaming after a bomb attack quite rightly won him a Pulitzer but, as this intelligent and astute documentary shows, that is only part of a much bigger and more complex story.
On the theme of important documentaries, Day 6 is clearly a winner. A million miles away from the issues in Afghanistan, Australia is a country struggling with its identity as a liberal, modern country. I’ve written about movies that tackle Australia’s issues with its horrific treatment of its indigenous people before and it’s a subject that, on the basis of this feature, I’m excited that director Maya Newell has stated she wants to tackle next.
For Gayby Baby though, Newell has drawn on her experiences as a child growing up with two mothers to bring together a wonderfully sweet and insightful view of a world where the ‘conventional’ family is not only non-existent but you also have to wonder whether it’s even the ideal. Following four families, all with very different social and economic standing, we get a child’s eye view of what it’s like to live in an unconventional family (I use that expression for sake of expediency more than accuracy).
Gus is an outgoing kid with an impressively open minded view of life, he loves wrestling and has two mums. Ebony is an aspiring singer, desperate to enter an arts college to further her ambitions but also because the family believe she will be judged less harshly for having two mums. Matt is an intelligent boy who struggles to reconcile his own doubts about the existence of God and his mum’s devotion to a church that doesn’t accept her sexuality or her family setup. Graham is an adopted boy who wasn’t reading or writing at all when he was adopted at five and must now face the cultural issues brought about by having two fathers and moving to Fiji where homosexuality, let alone gay families is not generally accepted.
All of which brings together a wonderful melting pot of issues, ideas, ambitions and experiences. Although this may sound like a call to arms (and indeed Newell sees it as this to a certain extent) for the benefits of unconventional families, I found myself constantly thinking that the issues the kids deal with here are just about as normal as they come. Which of course is a vindication of sorts for an unconventional family but also I think a far more meaningful statement. These are kids who struggle with all the same issues that all kids do….
Gayby Baby is a superbly honest portrayal of a wonderfully diverse bunch of kids who are light years ahead of the adults when it comes to their views on life. Seeing Graham and his family visiting then Australian PM Julia Gillard in an attempt to get her to reverse her opposition to gay marriage was a stark reminder that as a society we should be excruciatingly embarrassed (but sadly not surprised) when kids have more to teach our leaders than the leaders our kids. Newell is a personable director with excellent communication skills and I genuinely look forward to her future work. It’s also worth mentioning that a huge proportion of the budget for this movie was raised by Kickstarter backers (not the only movie at the festival that used this method of fundraising), an encouraging sign that crowdfunding is beginning to make movies happen that previously may have disappeared. As a final note, the movie was banned in schools across Australia, something that is so eye-rollingly dumb that I struggle to comprehend it. So long as that kind of stupidity exists, we should all be thankful that there are movie-makers like Maya Newell around.
More information on the project can be found here: thegaybyproject.com
A big day at the LFF was completed with a trip to a pub. Not a total surprise for anyone who has read any of this blog but for once the trip was in the interests of research. Our final movie of the day was Public House a documentary of sorts that chronicles the fight for the soul of a community, in this case in the shape of The Ivy House - a proper boozer in Peckham Rye. Or maybe Nunhead. Nobody is quite sure. Either way, as you can see from my excellent photography, it’s a not half bad place (it’s far bigger than the image suggests to).
Threatened with closure in 2012 when it was bought by property developers (boo, hiss!), the community rallied around and managed to purchase the site from the villainous Enterprise Inns (boo, hiss!) and it is now run as the first cooperative pub in the country. As somebody sat watching the steady gentrification of the majority of London and desperately wondering what the alternative is, this is a heartwarming tale in itself. What director Sarah Turner seeks to do in this spectacularly unconventional (there’s that word again) documentary is not only document the fight and transformation but turn the pub itself into a living, breathing character.
The approach is interesting and for the most part works, though there are sections where it does test your patience. But I’m more than happy to give it that as, considering this is a film about a pub, Turner has put together something of odd beauty here. Overlapping many voices from the locals and residents who frequent the pub, the director creates a soundtrack and a voice for the pub. The opening credits consist of this and a steady stream of people exiting the pub. On screen text isn't required as we can see the participants and hear their own voices in place of a dramatic score.
The overall result of this style is that we don’t really get a huge amount of facts about the pub takeover, more a feeling that we know the pub as a person and are incredibly glad that it is still in existence. The characters making up the pub are entertaining, funny and genuine in their not always positive talk about the area. Having visited The Ivy House, I can attest to it as a boozer, having listened to it speak through Public House, it becomes very clear how significant it is as a vital organ of a community. Where communities go from here in London is anyone’s guess, as some of the residents fret, what if all the residents slowly become bankers…..