Dave here, still at the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, and apologising profusely for his absence - it's been a busy few days of film, and having an hour staring at Julianne Moore and ten seconds staring at Eva Green. (Both are as stunning as you've been led to expect.) There have been some big names and some big films the past few days, and so this is a triple-threat of things-you'll-actually-have-heard-of - and all this without The White Ribbon, thoughts on which are lingering on my computer, waiting for me to approve of them. For now, you'll have to make do...
By far the loudest applause I've yet experienced at the festival was given at the end of Precious. The film's status as a crowd-pleaser seemed odd to me - granted I'd avoided as much press on it as I could, but I knew the basic story. It seems obvious in retrospect that the harshnesses Precious deals with serve to make the audience investment that much deeper, and coupled with the generous, poignant amount of humour the film also emits, it's a hard film to argue with the pure love it might inspire. The education storyline errs a bit closely to the Dangerous Minds, Dead Poets' Society cliche, and the fantasy sequences and vibrant, distorted flashbacks are a bit too overtly flashy (even as these artistic choice makes sense narratively), but the performances are as powerful as you'll already know. Sibide and Carey project a subdued, painful honesty, while Mo'Nique's erratic, monstrous character sears through the screen almost too heavily - the film ends almost unbalanced in her favour. But reservations about the narrative construction and aesthetic flourishes seem churlish in the face of such emotion, such a refreshingly unpretentious attitude, and such vibrant human feeling. B+ [I know this is my show, but if you've yet to read Nick Davis' review of the film, it's one of the best pieces I've read in quite a while and says everything I wanted to, even things I hadn't yet understood I even felt.]
Jacques Audiard's A Prophet retains the nervy, lucid, enthralling energy of his previous films, and objectively speaking it's surely his most assured, controlled piece of work yet. It helps, of course, that newcomer Tahar Rahim is so superb in the central role, progressing from a nervy but proud young offender and, gradually, becoming a top dog. But the greatness of this film lies in the complexity of the arc - the Malik of the beginning is recognisable in the Malik of the ending, and there is no pretence that these experiences mean Malik is anything impressive or worthwhile - a notable conclusion here is of how narrow prison life is, as Malik's youthful wonder remains in his brief experiences of the outside world. And despite the intensely personal, close shooting style that really involves the audience with Malik's story, the story opens out wider, from the toweringly magnetic Niels Arestrup as a prison don to the tragic, intriguing figure of Adel Bencherif's ex-con who proves Malik's only connection to the outside world. The film's compass is more observant than incisively judging, a film that could be - and likely sounds like - a sprawling epic is instead a deeply engrossing personal story, lingering in the mind with its dark, inconclusive ending. A-
Leaving starts with the deadening bang of a gunshot. But as we flashback months previously to see how we reached this mysterious act of violence, we find that Leaving is anything but dead. It's almost too alive. Kristin Scott Thomas, acknowledging her English roots but once more making use of her French-language skills, stars as a married, bourgeois housewife who cannot resist an affair with a builder (Sergi López), much to the violent outrage of her husband (Yvan Attal). Catherine Corsini rattles through the cliched processes of affair melodramas so quickly it's vaguely absurd - "I can't live without you" is uttered about twenty minutes in - but this leaves plentiful room for such dramatics to be expanded upon. Leaving self-consciously seems to acknowledge, in the speed of its melodrama, the childish, impulsive attitudes of all three main characters. The actors, especially Attal with his torrid, merciless anger and Scott Thomas with her naive, wilful, rebellious passion, play up to the faintly hysterical tone, making Leaving both perversely enjoyable and oddly insightful. B