London Film Festival 2011 – Day 8

Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)

I adored Joachim Trier’s last film Reprise, a brilliant, understated drama about an academic rivalry between a pair of close friends in Oslo. His follow-up, Oslo, August 31st, is an equally impressive effort, again about some of the difficulties of educated, middle-class living.

Like Reprise, Trier’s new film stars Anders Danielsen Lie. Lie gives an astonishing performance as a recovering heroin addict, who has been in rehab for nearly a year. The film opens with him attempting suicide, before being allowed out into Oslo for a job interview. He takes the opportunity to see friends and family members.

The film is almost unbearably tense: we know he’s in terrible shape, yet his counsellors, friends and family don’t. We know his life is potentially at risk, and that he isn’t free of the demons that led to his addiction. We know that August 31st, in Oslo, is the day that will define his life.

The film is an incredible achievement, Trier is a writer/director of great skill, and the central performance is tremendous. Lie has an innate vulnerability and likability that lends incredible weight to his character’s plight. We see the guilt that he feels for the pain he has caused fighting with the need to allay the pain and loneliness of his own life.

There aren’t, it would be fair to say, a lot of laughs in Oslo, August 31st, but it is one of the year’s best, most intelligently crafted and emotionally raw films. — “Ron Swanson”

International Animation Panorama

"Ernesto"

If there was any justice in the world, then Jayne Pilling’s anorak would be as big an internet hit as Sandra Hebron’s boots. As the LFF’s resident animation programmer, her annual compilations are always a highlight of the festival. Here are some of the highs and lows from this year’s pair of International Animation Panorama programmes.

Student graduation films are the lifeblood of the British corner of the animation programme, and there are some fine examples this year. Corinne Ladeinde’s NFTS graduation film Ernesto takes a common but little-referenced childhood memory – that period at primary school when losing your milk teeth becomes a badge of honour – and gives it a surreal twist that turns it into a thing of pure joy. Meanwhile, the RCA is best represented by Yoonah Nam’s creepy Henrick, which transforms itself over five minutes from a simple tale of stalking to an existential nightmare.

Both of these films benefit from getting their business over in less than ten minutes. Rosto’s The Monster Of Nix  doesn’t work in this programme primarily because of its length: at half an hour, it’s like having a jukebox of your favourite punk singles suddenly interrupted by a prog rock double album. Sure, the technique of its CG animation is flawless, and the story it eventually settles down to tell has a neat post-modern twist or two in it. But the fantasy world that Rosto presents is so overstuffed with detail that there’s no room for the viewer in there. Neil Boyle’s The Last Belle is similarly plagued by overlength: it’s inspiring to hear how he made it over a period of ten years, but you can’t help feeling that if he’d taken some of the flatter sections out of his story of a first date gone wrong, it wouldn’t have taken him as long.

I’m much happier with the 13 minute adaptation of Oedipus by legendary Dutch animator Paul Driessen. Aside from the usual fun of his loose-lined style, the decision to have Oedipus relate his woes in therapy allows Driessen to do something even more radical – tell the entire story backwards. It sounds like a gimmick, but the countless reversed mini-stories within his main tale are hilarious to watch: and they require the viewer to engage with the film in order to make sense of them, something that Rosto’s sit-back-and-look-at-this-photorealistic-thing-I’ve-made approach doesn’t allow for.

Oedipus is my joint favourite film of this year’s collection, sharing that honour with Barry Purves’ much more serious Tchaikovsky: An Elegy. One of my favourite animations ever is Purves’ Next, in which Shakespeare himself performs all of his plays in the space of four minutes. His new film does the same for Tchaikovsky: like the earlier piece, it combines flawless puppet animation with a witty repurposing of its subject’s greatest hits. If nothing else, it makes better use of the Dying Swan than Natalie Portman ever did. — Spank The Monkey

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

I’m struggling to think of a sub-genre of films that I have less patience for than that of middle-class adults slowly revealing their prejudices and peccadilloes while thrown together in artificially contrived circumstances . This is, admittedly, not a massive list of films, but Roman Polanski’s Carnage is firmly in the middle of them.

Set in New York City, Jodie Foster and John C Reilly play the parents of a young boy, who is assaulted by a class mate. They arrange a meeting with his parents (Kate Winslet and Christopher Waltz) to discuss the best course of action.

Polanski and his actors are undoubtedly having fun, and each of the four give committed and entertaining performances, but the contempt for the characters sticks in my throat, and Polanski’s attempts to satirise the chattering classes is less effective than it would be if he showed some empathy. — “Ron Swanson

Headhunters (Morten Tyldum, 2011)

Sometimes, you just want a cheeseburger. After two weeks of solid festival filmgoing at the LFF and previously at Raindance, I hit a wall on Tuesday night during Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Cannes prize winner Elena, and I just couldn’t keep my mind on it at all (I do slightly contend that there wasn’t that much in Elena to keep one’s mind on, but I’ve used up my curmudgeonliness quota for the day on Twitter) . My culinary metaphors are all over the place here, but in that context, a straightforward midlist piece of genre hokum like Headhunters was exactly the palate-cleanser I needed.

And a gloriously silly romp it is as well. Despite its top-end Scandi-crime pedigree (it’s the first adaptation of any work by bestselling Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø), there are  no wish-fulfilment sado-sexual revenge fantasies involving autistic nymphomaniac goth hackeuses, no Kenneth Branagh blubbing in a tastefully designed kitchen about the evil of the world, not even an iconic chunky sweater. Headhunters is the story of Roger, a corporate recruitment executive (Aksel Hennie – who looks like the result of a genetic splice between Christopher Walken and Richard “the Hamster” Hammond), insecure about his limited height, who has a sideline in catburgling fine artworks so that he can afford a fancy house and expensive gifts: things he thinks he needs to hold on to his beautiful, statuesque wife Diana (pictured above, just so I can include the fun fact from the post-film Q&A that actress Synnøve Macody Lund was, before Headhunters, a film critic).

As is the way in this kind of film, when we join the story Roger appears to just about have everything in his life under control, but of course, all it takes for everything to start going horribly wrong is One Thing. Here, that thing is the appearance of a new client, played by Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – a man who has an original Rubens painting in his flat, and annoyingly obvious sexual chemistry with Diana.

What follows is a kinetic, twisty, comic thriller that owes plenty to Hollywood (and Hollywood will return the compliment by remaking it), doesn’t ask any more of the audience than to jump and cringe and laugh in the right places, and which really isn’t going to even slightly change anyone’s life. But sometimes, you just want a cheeseburger. — Indy Datta

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