Friday, October 29, 2010

LFF 2010: Zero Hours Remain

David from Victim of the Time with one last report from the 54th BFI London Film Festival.

Craig gave you a packed wrap-up earlier today, but I couldn't let you go without getting in another word myself. I caught near to 50 films during the past month (give or take a couple I, er, nodded off during), and I'm happy to say there were an abundance of highs and a general lack of lows - maybe I just chose well, or maybe the programmers did. My standout film remains Kelly Reichardt's menacing Meek's Cutoff (review), while the festival practically brimmed over with stunning female performances, from Michelle Williams' two-hander in Meek's and Blue Valentine (capsule), to Jeong-hee Lee's damaged optimism in Poetry (Nat's review), to Lesley Manville's jittering sorrow in Another Year (capsule). Huge thanks to Nathaniel for hosting Craig and I, huge thanks to the festival for putting on such a great show, and huge thanks to you for reading.

For my final post, let's stick with the positivity, since the year's closing film proved a surprising package from a director I usually dislike...

127 Hours may give you a headache, but Aron Rolston had to hack his arm off, so maybe you I should stop complaining. Danny Boyle rather pre-empts the inevitable intensity of witnessing someone detach their arm with a blunt penknife by assaulting your senses from the very first moment; it’s all split screens, fast edits, impossible pans from inside kitchen units, close ups of taps dripping, and so forth. This is all rather disorientating and it barely lets up, but the film is enclosed in some vague, meaningless allusion to the speed of modern life with shots of commuters that resemble Koyaanisqatsi, and so the headrush of Boyle’s direction is a very straightforward interpretation of living in Rolston’s world. Once he gets trapped in the crevice, these stylisations barrage instead into his mind, continually taking us on flights of delirious imagination and memory.

Trapped in a limited space, this approach cracks open the film to a freewheeling, if no less intense than you’d expect, experience. The ‘realer’ scenes are kept vital by a dynamic use of sound to express the physicality of the situation. 127 Hours is a rather aggressive experience, but even if the schizophrenia of the visuals makes you put your head between your legs, the generous sense of irony and humour the script exudes, and that the playful James Franco expresses so engagingly, keep the film alive. Though maybe cover your eyes when he removes his contacts. (B+)

Coming-of-age dramas are ten-a-penny, yet the festival threw up a fair share of superbly imagined gems of that specificity. South Africa’s Oscar entrant this year is Life, Above All, where the adolescent Chanda deals with a useless, drunk stepfather, an ill mother, a rebellious friend and the judgmental gazes of her entire neighbourhood. Khomotso Manyaka is a vibrant, perceptive anchor for the film, never characterising Chanda either as burdened by or martyring herself, and importantly maintaining a sense of innocence and childlike fun in her gait and attitude. The script’s heavy emphasis on social judgment is intriguingly endorsed by the intensity of the style in these sequences, hammering home the point to such an extent that it takes on an extra layer of the camera’s judgment; it doesn’t merely observe, but judges the judgers. But specially, Life, Above All is a nuanced, powerful and engaging drama that eschews the ‘poverty porn’ that most African exports seem to engage in, without severing itself from the depiction of the nationhood that inspired that stunted idea in the first place. (A-)

More literally coming of age is Anna (Clara Augarde), centre of Katell Quillevere’s intriguing Love Like Poison. It initially seems set up as a reticent period story, in the 1.33 aspect ratio and dangerously cosy country settings. Very rapidly, though, we see that this is a modern story, with a handily unjudgmental and open attitude. Familial dynamics are skewed – Anna’s mother ashamedly confesses to being jealous of her daughter’s burgeoning sexuality; and Anna reveals herself to two very different males with markedly different intentions – and their tangle with the essence of religion is a set of thematics dealt with by the script on an unpredictable, deeply complex level. More essentially, Quillevere’s film has an innate sense of what the realisation of sexuality is like, and the repercussions it has on the people closest to Anna prove amusing, surprising, depressing, and memorable. (B+)


NicksFlickPicks said...

I saw Love Like Poison at the Chicago festival and just adored it - it was my favorite "below the radar" title to recommend to local friends, especially since I've no idea if it will make it to a proper American release. So glad you enjoyed it!


Not sure I agree that the agressive visual/sonic experience of 127 HOURS doesn't lessen its intensity (i mean, it amps it up in some ways but definitely dilutes its overall dread)... but agreed that Franco is engaging and playful and that the humor is well handled.

also was good to read a bit more on South Africa's Oscar entry.

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

I just saw 127 Hours and thought it was pretty terrific actually. It was suprisingly energetic for a movie about a guy stuck under a rock for 5 days.

I really would like to know how James Franco got the part. He looks a bit like Aron Ralston I guess, but I'm just glad they didn't go with, oh I don't know, Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson or something.