The Giants (Bouli Lanners, 2011)
A joy, from the first frame to the last. Director Bouli Lanners will be familiar to LFF audiences from his apearance as a transsexual assassin in Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine’s anarchic Louise-Michel, and his last film, Eldorado, was one of our recommended obscure gems.
The Giants is the story of two teenage brothers (Zacharie Chasseriaud and Martin Nissen) who have ostensibly been abandoned by their mother to the care of their Grandfather in rural Belgium, only for the grandfather to die. We never see the mother or grandfather: the only adults we see are inexplicable figures of menace or compassion – the drug dealer they rent their grandfather’s house out to as a weed farm for much-needed money, the woman who takes them in and feeds and clothes them without expecting anything in return, not even gratitude.
The adults aren’t really the point, though – it’s almost as if they’re only there to show how alien the adult world is to these boys and their best friend (Paul Bartel; not that one). Lanners inhabits the boys’ point of view with exquisite sensitivity, while also sharply placing their perceptions in perspective, both narratively and through his careful, unfussy direction. As he repurposed the road movie in Eldorado, here he draws on and relocates another key fragment of Americana, repeatedly evoking Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Having invited the comparison, the film measures up. — Indy Datta
17 Girls (Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin, 2011)
When 16 year old Camille falls pregnant after a one night stand her friends, in an act of solidarity, or personal disaffection with their own teenage lives, decide to deliberately follow suit. Beyond the usual adolescent ennui on display, there’s precious little exploration into the psychology of the leads – which is a shame, as Louise Grinberg as Camille, in particular shone in a way that reminded me of Katie Jarvis in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. Sadly, 17 Girls seems to stall in the second act; an unsettling sense of Virgin Suicidal, hive-minded weirdness promises to take root, but never quite does.
The girls are great though, giving honest and natural performances, and there’s a palpable sense of sense of isolation of the small-town seafront community setting , but I kept wishing the Coulin sisters would tell me less, and show me more. — Ash Verjee
360 (Fernando Mereilles, 2011)
This may be the most curious choice of Opening Night Gala at the LFF that I can remember. It is the magnolia of festival films (the colour, not the PT Anderson classic, to which it may aspire to be compared).
You could toy with the idea of calling it offensively bland, but that suggests a level of distinctiveness it doesn’t really have. A film that attempts to ruminate on the natures of chance and choice, 360 chokes under the weight of its own limited ambition.
A cast of name actors – Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins and Rachel Weisz among them – portray a cavalcade of underwritten stereotypes masquerading as characters. Peter Morgan’s script never once delves deeper than an ‘ah! Ha!’ level of insight, and in attempting to deal with the sex trade and sex offenders, comes across as unbearably trite.
There are a number of odd scenes, but nothing stranger than Anthony Hopkins racing through a self-help monologue as if his car is at risk of being clamped. Hopkins himself is not possessed with the gravitas that he is credited with – and his performance here is little more than his voice; like the film, the rest is empty. — “Ron Swanson”
Unbelievably for a film with more than a dozen main characters, most of them huge stars, and with the action moving from Vienna, through Paris, London, Bratislava, Denver, Rio and Phoenix, ending up in Venice, this is boring. Really, really boring.
The unifying theme in each story is love, sex and infidelity. The moral message – flagged up plainly in a voiceover about action having consequences never really comes to anything, especially with the final story, which brings 360 unsatisfyingly back to its beginning. The performances are solid, but even Anthony Hopkins’ AA monologue about the pain of not knowing where his adult child is, failed to move me.
Little details vexed me: what penal system in the world would offer a released sex offender an escort to a halfway house an interstate flight away, and then turn up at the airport to wave him off? Why would the ‘good’ sister discourage the ‘bad’ sister from working as an escort, but be quite happy to accompany her to her audition and subsequent encounters, and happily spend her money? All that kept me in my seat was the hope that something noteworthy would eventually happen. It never did. — Susan Patterson
50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011)
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young man with a great job as a radio producer and a beautiful artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), so his life is looking pretty peachy. And then he gets spinal cancer. Writer Will Reiser wrote 50/50 based on his own cancer experience, and the parts of the film that seem to draw on that experience most directly feel honest, and are sharp, intelligent and unsentimental, although Levine’s direction is often not expressive or original enough to make the most of the material. So there are scenes that have the bitterly funny ring of truth, like Adam getting his diagnosis via his awkward, uncommunicative oncologist dictating notes into a dictaphone right in front of him, which can be followed in short order by off-the-shelf moves like Adam going home from the hospital in a dazed montage scored to Radiohead’s High and Dry.
But the real problem is not that, or the performances, which are generally excellent (Seth Rogen’s boorish-best-friend-with-a-heart routine won’t be to everyone’s taste), it’s that Reiser and Levine have overloaded their movie with indiewood bullshit because someone told them it had to have a plot. And the plot they chose is: Adam and his therapist (Anna Kendrick) have a protracted meet-cute over his cancer. That this doesn’t play as nauseatingly phony as, say, Edward Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs, is a tribute to Reiser’s snappy, witty dialogue and the actors who make it work, but really. Apart from anything else, this means Howard must be cast in the role of sacrifical bitch; her entire arc is visible from her first appearance, and is eye-rolling crap. — Indy Datta
Ash Verjee (@thefilmexciter) blogs at The Film Exciter