Sunday, October 25, 2009

LFF: Time To Grow Up

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

7 comments:

NATHANIEL R said...

ooh three definite highlights of the fest it sounds like.

I really have liked all of Audiard's films so I'm very interested to see Un Prophete. Such a bummer that they're withholding it from us Americans until February. and then if it doesn't get nominated, watch them hold it back even longer.


so aggravating.

thanks for pointing out Nick's Precious review. really good stuff if any of you haven't read it.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I hate that Kristin continues to tease me with these little French films which are good enough but still not enough to contain her formidable presence. At least this time around I won't go around hoping she's getting nominated like with I've Loved You So Long. Look where that got me.

I'll just look ahead to The Seagulls.

Chris Na Taraja said...

What are "french skills"?

NATHANIEL R said...

i believe that refers to her multilingual qualities. If I were an actress French would be the first language I'd try to master because they're many times more likely to give juicy roles to the over 40 set than Hollywood is. It's like job security. Keep working if your french is fluent ;)

NicksFlickPicks said...

That's incredibly kind of you, Dave. Thanks so much for the mention, and keep up these terrific LFF reports! (I loved attending that festival last year, so on top of their being such great reading, your posts have the added virtue of helping me vicariously pretend to be back there.)

Robert Hamer said...

"[Nick's review] says everything I wanted to, even things I hadn't yet understood I even felt."

His reviews have a tendency to do that, I've noticed.

Dave said...

Chris: Apologies for that, I'm sure there was at the very least meant to be a "language" sandwiched in there. Amended.

Nick: You've very welcome, and I'm so glad you're enjoying my reports! I'm a bit too overawed to comment but your CIFF reports are keeping me engrossed at the moment too.