Dave here with Tuesday's report from the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, and it's been my best day yet. Excited?
What is love? It's an age-old question, and you can probably guarantee someone's already made some sort of documentary on the subject. But that doesn't stop filmmaker Nicholas Jasenovec and comedienne Charlyne Yi from giving it their own shot. Paper Heart is a self-conscious quirky film that mixes actual documentary footage of Yi's journey around America interviewing various people on how they'd define love with a strange interpolated story of Jasenovec (actually played by Jake Johnson) picking up on the romantic seeds between Yi and Michael Cera (as 'himself') and filming every aspect of their blossoming relationship to see if Yi finally succumbs to this mysterious thing called love. This latter thread is really quite strange in how transparently fake it is, and it seems quite unnecessary when the interviewees provide much more entertainment, even if that probably wouldn't have been enough to sustain an entire movie. A dilemma, then, solved only by not having the film exist in the first place... C
The absorbing Mugabe and the White African takes a while to stutter into gear, but once it does it proves to be an excellent, and a terrifically important, piece of documentary work, marred only by a tediously dramatic score that too frequently zaps moments of their raw power. Charting the fight between Zimbabwean government, led of course by the dictator Robert Mugabe, and the remaining white Zimbabwean farmers that are standing their ground. As it progresses, the absurdity, and the horrific danger within Mugabe's racist politics becomes painfully apparent. Mugabe himself is, as you might expect, seen only via archive footage, and is heard menacingly announcing "Zimbabwe... is mine" as he wins an uncontested election. Filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson clearly recognized the international historical importance of this legal dispute, as they are with Mike and Ben Campbell from its earliest days, and while there's the occasional worryingly staged moment, this is for the most part a powerful, measured and gripping insight into one of Africa's most frightening regimes. B+
(The previous two films have already received a small US release, so look out for them on your televisions or DVD store of choice if they intrigue you.)
Samson and Delilah has just one connection to the biblical parable with which it shares its name - the chopping off of hair. But in Warwick Thornton's stunning film, the action is not a vengeful one, but one of grief. At different points in the film, both of the titular characters hack at their long locks with a serrated knife as a mark of a death, an act filmed each time with a painfully close intensity. Frequently the film reaches emotional spikes like these, but it's the strength of the film throughout that makes them so powerful. The story of two young Aboriginals living in a half-heartedly Westernized town, the film rests most strongly on the central performances of Rowan MacNamara and Marisa Gibson, who somehow involve you very deeply in the tragic unfolding, while remaining detached and volatile in character. If Samson and Delilah is a parable, it disguises it well. This is a powerful journey, a detached yet involving story about a pair you might not understand if you dissect their depiction, but gradually do on some basic human level. A- [See my extended thoughts on this film here.]
Tomorrow, as promised, it's the Fest's opening day, and I'll have a post dedicated to the chosen kick-off film, the world premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox.