“Why would I go to London?! No way!”
A wry chuckle greeted this on-screen outburst during my first public screening of the 54th BFI London Film Festival. I may have already sat through two and a half weeks of press screenings, but in that moment I knew the energy had changed now the festival had kicked into gear. Without the abundance of eagerly-awaited premieres and the bidding wars that come with them, Britain's premiere film festival is fuelled mostly by a pure love of the art of film. It’s my fourth festival, my second as a press delegate (follow the ‘London Film Festival’ tag to delve into last year’s coverage), and my first as a resident Londoner, so it’s a strikingly different experience for me. I’ll be rolling out capsules reviews – accompanied by as many full pieces as I can manage over on my own blog – for the next two weeks, and Craig (who writes "Take Three" right here) will be joining the party in a few days. (And if you really want to keep your finger on the pulse, you can track my tweeted first impressions here.)
The Opening Gala film Never Let Me Go already hit and sunk over on US shores (my review) but I won’t dwell. Let’s start with something that’s unfortunately become rather infamous…
"you always hurt the one you love ♫ "
Not a love that has broken, but one that has deteriorated. Blue Valentine never grants us the path of this deterioration, instead splitting the film into two snapshots that mark the beginning and the ending of a young marriage. Despite the different energies to the two narratives, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are perceptive enough to make delicate connections between the two, and director Derek Cianfrance understands the inbuilt doubled effect of his techniques, knowingly entwining the two and cutting between them; the sweet sparkle of their chemistry in the happier earlier sequences will inevitably be coloured by the bitterness of the present tense narrative. Subtle elements of the filmmaking work to deepen the narrative - the camerawork between the juxtaposed narratives doesn't seem strikingly different, but the past is youthfully energetic, the present nervy and cautious. It’s hard, though, to really credit the film’s power to anyone but Gosling and Williams, both stronger than ever, translating aspects of their character that brought them together into ones that, perhaps inevitably, tear them apart. (B+)
There’s something oddly amusing about the catalyst for the admitted derth of events that unfold in Blessed Events; the stiff, awkward Simone (Annika Kuhl) is stiff and awkwardly dancing in a nightclub, and, in long shot, we see a man slowly but surely shuffling his rhythmic way over to her. She’s easily had, it seems, because within half an hour of this dry opening scene, she’s pregnant with Hannes’ (Stefan Rudolf) child and has set up house with him in a little country village. The complete lack of conflict seems intentional, and by the time the stubbornly cycling Simone crashes onto her large baby belly, even the rush of POV camerawork as she hurtles down the hill can’t raise our pulse into considering this a critical rupture. Complete disengagement from its simple characters – never do we plumb beyond the depths of Hannes as a cheerful father-to-be – is all very well, but the abundance of lame visual metaphors, comparisons and contrasts merely exposes the complete sterility of the project here. I hardly dare say that it’s a blessed relief when this is over. (D+)
Self Made. Make a different self. The seven volunteers chosen by artist Gillian Wearing for this intriguing British documentary appear to be from a fairly broad spectrum of British society, but there’s a reason they’ve been selected: there’s damage and insecurities to be exposed. Volunteers are, of course, willing, and the ultimate aim of the method acting workshop they collaborate on is to each make a short film where they can play themselves or a character that takes inspiration from their journey of self-discovery. It’s not the most inspired of filmmaking – inserts with Oxford English Dictionary exemplify the certain lack of imagination – but the main problem is in fact that there isn’t enough of a film here. It’s a tight running time that really needs to have been indulged, to let the individual journeys take on the significance that’s fleetingly seen in them. One participant is, for reasons unexplained, entirely unexplored, and some of the films we see are less inspiring than others. Yet once the nightmarish visions of the final participant start being unveiled, it’s hard not to be grimly fascinated by this glimpse into the sadder, dark side of the human experience. (B-)
To look forward to: Foreign Film Oscar submissions Uncle Boonmee, Of Gods and Men and The Temptation of St. Tony, pretty young people in Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, a screaming man in A Screaming Man, and demonic twinkletoes in Black Swan.