Saturday, 24 September 2016

LFF 2016 PREVIEW: THE SON OF JOSEPH


'Just lovely'
David Hudson, Fandor

'Green makes films for anyone willing to enter his peculiar universe of expressive purity and (mostly) suspended cynicism, to which "Joseph" reps one of his most beguiling invitations'
Guy Lodge, Variety

'As a film that's actually about goodness, Le Fils de Joseph is quite a rare beast'
Emma Myers, Brooklyn Magazine

If you're looking for a real European film festival experience, you can't do much better than Eugene Green. This most esoteric of auteurs has premiered films in Cannes, Locarno, Turin and, most recently, Berlin, where his latest, The Son of Joseph opened earlier this year. I'm guaranteed to see no other film quite like it at the London Film Festival next month, where it comprises one part of my 23-strong schedule. With good reviews from critics from the various festivals at which it has screened through the year, this is a title that I'm certainly looking forward to seeing, not least for the fact that it's a tad unlikely to ever arrive at a cinema near me!

REVIEW - FROM AFAR (LORENZO VIGAS)


Lorenzo Vigas explores the details of distance - physical, emotional, psychological - in From Afar, an ironically intimate insight into the lives of those whose own insight is stymied by society. Simmering underneath the film is the constant, oppressive drive of a societal machine that seeks to discard those for whom it has no particular use; bubbling to the surface are the painful results of such a process, as embodied by dislocated souls, as distant as they can possibly be from one another, yet connected by this common trait. Vigas observes his characters as though longing to connect with them himself, studying them for some sign of trust, a gesture or an action that might betray the thoughts and feelings to which they dare not admit. Under immense pressure, they relent, and From Afar thus builds a beautiful portrait of its characters in revealing both what they choose to reveal, and what they choose not to, yet cannot keep within. Enigmatic and sometimes narratively improbable, the film projects a great depth of empathy, triggered by the viewer's own empathetic tenure to its protagonists; Alfredo Castro and Luis Silva's sensitive performances provide an ideal inroad for us, in spite of (or perhaps due to) their roles' reticence toward openness and honesty. Vigas' exploration of distance is outstanding in its breadth and in his appreciation of how to realize it both thematically and formally. However, he lets himself down by employing a style that doesn't feel fully authentic, a kind of banal amalgamation of the outlooks of too many similar arthouse auteurs. He has tremendous talent himself, and ought to nurture it further, to a highly promising future in filmmaking.

Friday, 23 September 2016

LFF 2016 PREVIEW: AFTER THE STORM


'A characteristically gentle, affectionate and wryly amusing domestic drama from Hirokazu Koreeda'
Geoff Andrew, Sight & Sound

'It's hard to think of another filmmaker who maps the emotional landscape of divorce-torn families as precisely as Kore-eda'
Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

'[Kore-eda] remains one of the best filmmakers the world has'
Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice

There's pretty much no getting past Koreeda Hirokazu as a director. Are there any others who command such a faithful following in the international arthouse community, in such large numbers, and do so with such a commercially viable style? And who manage such a feat making roughly a film a year? Keeping up with Koreeda is an easy task for film fans, however, given the consistent quality of his output. The latest is After the Storm, which opened at Cannes to typically good reviews in May and will make my LFF 2016 programme next month. The drama about a fuckup father trying to rebuild relationships with his family stands a firm chance at being one of my fest favourites this year.

THE EYES OF MY MOTHER - TRAILER


Nicolas Pesce's debut film, on which he serves as writer, director and editor, all for the first time, is horror The Eyes of My Mother. It's had a healthy festival schedule through 2016 in English-language countries, kicking off with a Sundance premiere in January. Its final fest showing prior to opening in the US on the 18th of November will be at the BFI London Film Festival in October. Looks stylish and intriguing, and has garnered some great reviews already.

TRAILER FOR STEVEN OKAZAKI'S MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI


Boy oh boy has it taken a while for Steven Okazaki's Mifune: The Last Samurai to make its way out of the festival scene, or even back onto it! After screening in Venice Classics' documentary programme last September, the next engagement for the Mifune Toshiro portrait will be in London next month, more than 13 months after premiering! Okazaki's film features commentary on the great Japanese actor from acclaimed film professionals as well as Mifune's friends and family. Looks like an excellent doc, from a highly talented director, about an equally talented performer.

REVIEW - HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (TAIKA WAITITI)


A gleefully absurd, caustic Kiwi comedy from Taika Waititi, more than proving his worth again as a writer of great skill, and also as a director of unexpected perspicacity. Hunt for the Wilderpeople may be too devoted to the regressive cliches it employs, even if only to gently subvert or aggressively mock them, to reach the level of high art, but the comedic heights reached herein are compensation enough. All that this script needed, in truth, was an able cast and a sure hand at the helm, and Waititi's mildly inventive, emotionally astute direction smartly provides the latter. The former is equally solid, with performances registering all along the comedic scale, and the film's finest situating themselves somewhere around the middle; little known local actors Rima Te Wiata and Julian Dennison make terrific impressions indeed. Dennison in particular is a marvel, matching the tone of Waititi's dialogue perfectly, a young actor in apparently total, effortless control of his craft. And, as with all good comedies, Hunt for the Wilderpeople rollicks along on the strength of a crackling screenplay, a variety of memorable performances, and a clear, mostly unimpeachable sense of purpose. It suffers a little from possessing an indubitably male-centric perspective, and from taking an easy road in plot, theme and style frequently throughout; Waititi seems content only to lightly embellish his material with the kind of diversions and flourishes that might have augmented it further, though might too have blighted what brilliance it has already achieved. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fine, fun film overall, a wholly satisfying work of low art, and proud of it too.

BLUE JAY TRAILER


I shifted from one foot to the other during this Blue Jay trailer - appreciating its naturalistic sweetness one moment, resenting its affected whimsy the next. But the positive responses from critics at the Toronto International Film Festival deemed the trailer worthy of posting, and so here it is. Alex Lehmann's debut non-documentary feature opens in the US on the 7th of October, and stars Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

LFF 2016 PREVIEW: THE WEDDING RING


'Stark but surprisingly tender and beautifully-made'
Keith Shiri, BFI

'The chance to see a part of the world we'd otherwise never know'
Norman Wilner, Now Toronto

It'd be a slow weekend at the U.S. box office if only four new American feature films were released. But for Nigerien cinema, it's an entirely different matter. Since the turn of the decade, only four features have hailed primarily from the West African nation, so what a treat it is to be able to catch the fourth to date, award-winning filmmaker Rahmatou Keita's The Wedding Ring, at LFF 2016. Rare to get such a chance, rarer still when the film is also directed, written by, and starring women. Screening in the Contemporary World Cinema strand at Toronto earlier this month, where it received its premiere, and due to make only its second festival screening of the year in London, Keita's first non-documentary film tells the story of a Sahelian woman of noble birth and educated abroad, returning to her home in the Sultinate of Zinder, suffering from lost love and struggling to re-adapt to this more traditional way of life. It's certain to be one of the most unique and valuable viewing experiences at LFF for me this year.

REVIEW - NEON BULL (GABRIEL MASCARO)


The painter plays the poet in Gabriel Mascaro's Neon Bull, a conceptually sound and superficially daring film whose hollowness is both highlighted and elevated by its stylistic beauty. Mascaro uses his flair for striking imagery combined with the verisimilitude established by an otherwise-naturalistic mise-en-scene to legitimize the down-and-dirty travelling culture he depicts here, but if the film never sinks into poverty porn, there's a notable dissonance between topic and treatment. For all that each gorgeous tapestry of the make-do lifestyle may compel the viewer, marvelling at Mascaro's innovation and incisiveness in his lighting and blocking schemes, there's no sense that the film is achieving its purpose of illuminating this lifestyle, hitherto largely unexplored in cinema. Is it all merely a sumptuous distraction from the fact that Neon Bull actually illuminates very little on this subject, or would the film be more expressive were all its thematic and artistic intentions synchronized? One examines the action, lulled by its realistic rhythms and its honesty, corrosive yet charming; one then yearns for a deeper meaning to this action, and, upon discovering none, attempts to settle into this earnest, sensitive character piece; one's attempts are interrupted by Mascaro's insistence on putting style before substance - as crude a statement as that has now become in this medium, its relevance has not diminished over time. Explicit scenes of sex are wonderfully frank and unabashed, though they reveal practically nothing about the characters. The prevalence of sex and nudity in even the most mundane of scenes makes a more piquant, prescient point, though only slightly. The principal take-away from Neon Bull is that there's a lot to look at here, but only a little to actually take away.

REVIEW - BLAIR WITCH (ADAM WINGARD)


In the unceasingly inconsistent career of director Adam Wingard, one sees as clearly as anywhere else in cinema that a good movie is always, unfailingly reliant upon a good concept. The genesis of what eventually will show on our screens, the foundation for what a team of thousands will create - the movie itself is vitally dependent on its strength and quality, regardless of what wizardry that team may concoct to improve the experience. Indeed, Wingard is proof that a bad concept can inspire bad filmmaking, and vice versa. Blair Witch is a bad concept, I'm afraid, and you're correct to infer thus that it inspires bad filmmaking, but it's primarily just a really, horribly bad concept. 17 years on from The Blair Witch Project, it requires analysis as its own entity, yet connections and comparisons are inevitably rife; suffice it to say, briefly, that Wingard takes most of what worked in 1999 and either ditches or desecrates it. But even aside from its direct relation, Blair Witch is quite obviously a massive mistake - whether or not it purports to upend the cliches it employs most generously, there's nothing valuable in watching the same old scares recycled over and over. It's an incessantly familiar film, whether or not you've even seen either of its predecessors, and gains utterly nothing in ramping up both the scare quota and the volume to numbing levels - conversely, it loses a lot of its impact. Yet Wingard is proficient in manufacturing effective horror sequences, as trite as they may be. Blair Witch intends to increase the fear factor as it progresses, and, in spite of its frequent failings, its adjacent success in this regard makes this movie at least a little worthwhile. It also begs the question: with talent like this in his hands, why couldn't Adam Wingard have put it to better uses? A better concept, to start?