Daily | London 2014

Michel Houellebecq in 'Near Death Experience'

Michel Houellebecq in ‘Near Death Experience’

248 features and nearly 150 shorts will screen at the 58th BFI London Film Festival and, while you’ll already know about quite a few of these titles, e.g., tonight’s opener, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, there’s plenty, of course, yet to discover—including the film that closes London 2014 on October 19, David Ayer’s Fury. For a quick overview of the many galas (each of the nine program strands and nearly every sponsor gets one) and competitions, see the entry I posted last month. Here, I’ll be gathering notes throughout the festival on films of particular interest that haven’t yet been written up in the Daily.

First, though, a quick roundup of recommendations. Little White Lies has asked the programmers to pick out titles that “might all too easily be overlooked”—and shouldn’t be. Time Out spotlights “25 films you need to see” and asks a dozen British critics for a few words each on the films they’re looking forward to. And so it goes, too, at the BBC and Dazed Digital. For Screen, Michael Rosser talks with festival director Clare Stewart about the changes she’s made over the past two years and with the programmers about a good number of films.

The BFI itself has posted a fun list of every film that’s opened the festival each year since 1957, when the honor when to Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. They’ve also announced that, at the awards ceremony, Stephen Frears will receive a BFI Fellowship, “the highest accolade the UK’s lead organisation for film can bestow.”

One of my favorite films at the Berlinale in February was The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, which won’t be in London, but another film featuring the French author will be. In the Financial Times, Nigel Andrews calls Near Death Experience “an essay in near-actionless non-cinema, even anti-cinema, by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern (Aaltra, Mammuth) about the suicidal thoughts of a mountain-rambling biker/hiker.” In a second dispatch from Venice, Andrews wrote: “It’s a baffler or bewitcher, depending on your response. Since I was bewitched I took the chance to sit down with the two directors and their lead.” For more on NDE, see Peter Debruge (Variety), Bénédicte Prot (Cineuropa) and Boyd van Hoeij (Hollywood Reporter).

Eliza Williams for the Creative Review: “Biophilia, Björk’s seventh album, came to us in many forms: as an album, app, concert, documentary, and a deluxe boxset with tuning forks.” And now we have Björk: Biophilia Live. “Directed by Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton, it is broadly a traditional concert film, with some added imagery reflecting the album’s themes and ideas superimposed around the musicians as they perform the final leg of the tour at London’s Alexandra Palace in September 2013.” Reviews so far have been upbeat: Stephen Dalton (THR), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B-) and Guy Lodge (Variety). Update, 10/17: Peter Strickland in the Guardian on working with Björk: “The main spark, when planning the movie, was our mutual love of Theresa Sauer’s Notations 21, a book of illustrated experimental musical scores, and of Hans Jenny’s cymatics experiments exploring audio waves. Björk had planned to incorporate these onstage in the basslines of ‘Cosmogony,’ ‘Hollow’ and ‘Moon,’ but the sonic vibrations that would be needed to make an impact on a big scale could potentially rupture eardrums.”

Update, 10/9: “In February 2005, the Scottish rock musician Edwyn Collins began to feel nausea, which he initially blamed on food poisoning,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “In reality, he had suffered a major cerebral haemorrhage. A few days later he had a further stroke in hospital, and underwent emergency surgery. Waking from a medically induced coma, his right side was frozen and his language skills had been erased by aphasia. He had to learn to read, write and make music again. In The Possibilities Are Endless, directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall transform this potentially harrowing story into an immensely moving and stylistically bold film about love and loss.”

Updates, 10/11: “When Martin Scorsese introduced his Film Foundation’s newly restored version of The Colour of Pomegranates at the Toronto film festival in September he told the expectant audience they were going to witness images and visions ‘pretty much unlike anything in cinema history,'” writes Tony Paley. “The 1969 Armenian film, voted 84th best of all-time in the most recent Sight & Sound magazine greatest movies poll, only gained a belated official release in western cinemas in 1982, but even the cinephiles and critics who have lauded the film with such extravagant praise since should now prepare to see Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece afresh.”

Also in the Guardian, Pamela Hutchinson: “The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927), directed by Walter Summers, may well be the greatest British war film you’ve never heard of. Made just at the end of the silent era, Battles changed the way that war films were made, and appreciated, in the UK.”

And Peter Bradshaw: “Carol Morley’s entirely absorbing new film is about a mysterious outbreak of mass hysterical fainting at a girls’ school in the late 1960s. The Falling is a non-sci-fi sci-fi, a deadly serious black comedy and a psychological drama in which psychological assessments are beside the point. It comes from the heart of a certain kind of Englishness: as murky, wet and luxurious as the water in which Millais drowned Ophelia. With its superb musical soundtrack by Tracey Thorn, it actually has a seductive prog-rock sensibility, with something of Nick Drake.” More from Danny Leigh in the Financial Times: “Morley has a gleeful eye for the minutiae of school life… But there’s something wilder at the heart of the film, the restless pace of scenes passing creating a giddy momentum that can’t help reminding you of the chaos of actually being young.” And more, too, from Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist, B-).

John Boorman on Queen and Country

At Electric Sheep: Pierre Kapitaniak on Aleksei German‘s Hard to Be a God (“this three-hour baroque and nauseous journey through mankind’s worst nightmares is a lesson in cinema and humanity that one is not likely to forget”), Mark Stafford on Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice (the “atmosphere, and the film’s off-kilter focus, make it linger in the memory”) and Virginie Sélavy on Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: “Rich in atmosphere, deliberately slow and stylized, the film is in the vein of Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nadja, using the vampire figure to dreamily evoke loneliness, desperation and the slim hope for a non-toxic human connection. With very little dialogue, the film uses a striking, luminous visual language of its own creation to tell the beginning of cautious new love.”

Update, 10/12: One out of five films in this year’s lineup has been directed by a woman. The BFI’s Sophie Mayer: “Twenty per cent representation puts London exactly in line with the figures in the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles’s 2013 report with the Annenberg Centre, and with representation at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, which was hailed by the Week as ‘the best platform for female filmmakers.'”

Update, 10/13: “To their credit, festivals like Zagreb’s excellent 25FPS—which this year celebrated its tenth edition—and sub-sections of more diverse events, like London Film Festival’s Experimenta strand, manage to select and arrange experimental shorts in such a way that each work is given maximum breathing space.” Michael Pattison writes up a survey for Sight & Sound.

Update, 10/14: “Jennifer Lawrence made a surprise personal appearance at the world premiere of Serena [on Monday], imploring the London Film Festival audience to embrace the movie with a good heart,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “‘And if you don’t, just don’t Tweet about it,’ grinned America’s Sweetheart. Lawrence’s pointed quip was perhaps a sly acknowledgement that Serena has had a long and rocky journey from page to screen. Adapted from Ron Rash’s shlocky 2008 bestseller, the project was initially earmarked as an Angelina Jolie vehicle directed by Darren Aronofksy. Then it passed to Danish director Susanne Bier… Lawrence and her co-star Bradley Cooper wrapped the film two years ago, sandwiched between their acclaimed David O. Russell collaborations Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. While it sat in limbo awaiting a festival berth and a U.S. distributor, Bier shot another movie, A Second Chance, which also has its British premiere at the LFF this week.”

At Vulture, Charlie Lyne suggests that “if Serena proved to be an unwieldy prospect for festivals, distributors, and audiences alike, it’s not because it’s a screamingly bad film, or even an embarrassment for its stars to sweep under the rug: It’s because it’s a wholly unremarkable piece of work.” But at the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton gives it a D-.

Updates, 10/15: “A smoky duet between double-bass and piano at the start of Christian Petzold’s Phoenix promises a dose of film noir,” writes Ryan Gilbey in the Guardian. “That promise is complicated, if not exactly broken, by what follows. But then, this is a movie all about disguises, reinventions and deceptive appearances.”

“Striking an elegantly sustained balance between intimacy and historical scope, director James Kent’s WWI-set epic Testament of Youth encompasses nearly all of the virtues of classical British period drama and nearly none of the vices,” writes Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter. “A respectful fileting of Vera Brittain’s hefty 600-page memoir, first published in 1933, the picture stars fast-ascending Swedish talent Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina, the upcoming The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as the indomitable Brittain, a young Englishwoman from a well-to-do background who experienced the horrors of war firsthand. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an impressively eclectic roll-call of relative unknowns (Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan), rising British stars (Kit Harington from Game of Thrones, Alexandra Roach from The Iron Lady) and veterans (Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson), all finely cast.” More from Fionnuala Halligan (Screen), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist, B+), Guy Lodge (Variety) and Naman Ramachandran (Cineuropa).

“Damian Lewis and Andrea Riseborough unleash their thunder on The Silent Storm, Corinna McFarlane’s well-intentioned feature debut, which shot on the remote Scottish island of Mull,” writes Fionnuala Halligan for Screen. “There’s plenty of scenery up there for the actors to chew on, but McFarlane’s story is too frail to stand up to the tempest she has created. An over-wrought score, filled with choral foreboding, further adds to the apocalyptic sense of a film that has slipped its moorings and may be heading catastrophically for the rocks.” THR‘s Leslie Felperin agrees: “Alas, a lot has gone wrong.”

Updates, 10/16: In his first dispatch to In Review Online, Calum Reed offers first impressions of Syllas Tzoumerkas’s A Blast, which “settles for striking momentarily harsh chords instead of creating a more eloquently tragic love story”; Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, “already [a] surefire contender for film of the festival”; Shonali Bose and Nilesh Maniyar’s Margarita, With a Straw, “proof that the lesser-known filmmakers on the festival circuit can produce valuable work, too”; François Ozon’s The New Girlfriend, which “can’t help but pale next to Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (2012)” as “a treatise on male gender confusion”; and Kristian Levring’s The Salvation, “a familiarly drawn revenge tale.”

“Shined-up studio remakes of grindhouse horror classics are usually best appreciated by viewers unfamiliar with the original films’ scruffy texture, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s tricksy take on The Town That Dreaded Sundown may be an exception,” suggests Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “As it riffs on the professed legacy of Charles B. Pierce’s shoestring 1976 serial-killer thriller, this tediously metatextual exercise conjures few inspired jolts of its own. Following a plucky teen on the trail of a masked maniac methodically restaging murders from Pierce’s film, the redesign is riddled with in-jokes, yet contains little of the Grand Guignol humor one might expect from Gomez-Rejon and his American Horror Story collaborator Ryan Murphy.” More from Stephen Dalton (THR) and Drew Taylor (Playlist, C+).

Update, 10/17: “On first impressions, Ewan McGregor appears to be channeling Russell Crowe in Son of a Gun, a punchy Australian action thriller from first-time feature director Julius Avery,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “Bearded and brooding in his early scenes, McGregor takes on a rare anti-hero role as a charismatic convict kingpin who becomes a manipulative mentor to a sensitive young fellow prisoner, played by the highly photogenic rising Aussie star Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent). Avery, who won a Cannes prize for his 2008 short Jerrycan, based the story partly on his own early life in a boondocks town.” Dalton finds that Son of a Gun suffers from “formulaic plot and character elements that pander to the action-driven mainstream.”

Updates, 10/18: “Four years ago,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, “Gareth Edwards’s Monsters sent a rocket into the indie sci-fi scene. Made on a tiny budget, with a tiny crew, and with visual effects completed personally by the filmmaker, it was a strange and ingenious picture, a sort of Before Sunrise at the end of the world, that proved that in this day and age, your imagination was pretty much the limit in terms of what you could achieve with a low-budget film.” The sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent, is directed by Tom Green—”not that one; he’s best known for cult series Misfits”—and “he certainly has the chops to follow Edwards, an executive producer here, into blockbusterland, but his feature debut is a long, long way from the home-run of his predecessor.” In THR, Leslie Felperin notes that “the environment looks unmistakably like the Middle East (it was filmed in Jordan) and there’s no missing the allusions, despite the futuristic setting, to current U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The misdirection is apt given the movie starts out like a gung-ho recruitment commercial and turns into something more liberal and ambivalent.”

Update, 10/19: “It may have received only a screenplay award at Cannes, but Andrei Zvyagintsev’s stinging satirical drama Leviathan came out on top at the 58th BFI London Film Festival,” reports Variety‘s Guy Lodge. The BFI’s annotated its complete list of the award-winners with comments from the jury members, so click here to see those. The rundown:

  • Official Competition, Best
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