Tuesday, October 13, 2009

LFF: Hearts Made of Paper, Stone, or Perhaps Petrol

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.


gabrieloak said...

Though I agree with you that the lead actors in Samson and Delilah were fine I found this film relentlessly grim and almost monotonous. I had high expectations for the film and they weren't met.

Robert Hamer said...

Gee, Paper Heart is self-consciously quirky and transparently fake? Who saw that coming?


i am more and more excited about samson and delilah and enjoyed your fuller take on it.

every week i expect distribution news but...


and for a second there i thought the samson and delilah photo was from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. ;)

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Samson and Delilah has a gorgeous, beguiling first act, a slightly monotonous second act, and a really forced-happy-ending copout for a third act. It's beautifully shot/sound-designed and stands out against the rest of contemporary Australian cinema in a way you want to encourage other films to. But the closing scenes are just so silly and unrealistic, and weirdly misjudged in the context of the rest of the film. Also, while the leads were likable and sweet-faced, they were very limited.

Glenn said...

Gabrieloak, you didn't find the beautiful coda turned the admittedly tough film into something altogether different? The scene in the bath is just a stunner.

I must admit that I feel there is something in S&D that could be hard to come across to foreigners. In that aboriginal culture is seen in such a odd way a lot of the time and something as honest and daring as this is a rare moment.

The two scenes of Delilah showing her paintings to the cafe crowds is just so potent.

Nathaniel, I so hope you do get to see it soon.

Glenn said...

Goran, while I agree that Rowan McNamara was indeed limited, I did think Marissa Gibson was outstanding.

And, obviously, I had a different reaction to the ending. Not misjudged at all since it would have been so easy to just go grim finger-wagging lefty on us.

Aaron said...

Paper Hearts has to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. It couldn't have been more than 90 minutes, yet it felt like 4 hours.

Samson and Delilah looks great!

Dave said...

Nat: I wouldn't be surprised if I'd slipped in a '... Wild Things' shot. It's on the brain. Mostly because I'm angry we have to wait two more months over here.

At others: I did have a few reservations about the coda, but not enough to taint my view of the film overall. As for being "relentlessly grim", it certainly descends into being very grim, but I found the early passages had a gently humourous feeling, until the first tragic event occurs. (But Glenn's fielding all this already, and doing a better job that I could ever do.)

gabrieloak said...

I agree that the scenes with Delilah showing off her art and then the following scene when she she shows her black canvas were powerful. Also the various scenes when she is hurt and then injured were devastating.

But I went into this film expecting much too much I guess. It was the one film I saw in Toronto that made me want to stop seeing films for a few days.

(But I had a ticket a few hours later for Up in the Air and had to go to that.)