London Film Festival 2011 – Day 15

Target (Alexander Zeldovich, 2011)

Have you ever been cornered at a family gathering by an 8 year old boy, high on Mr Kipling, Coca-Cola and Ben 10, who wants to tell you a great science fiction story he’s just made up? Have you struggled to stop your eyes from glazing over while he introduces a breathless sequence of new ideas, and doesn’t develop or explore any of them, only to drop each for the next? Have you struggled to keep track of who all the characters in this epic story are, as they run around all over the place, doing things that make no sense, for no reason? Congratulations! You are now prepared for the experience of watching Target.

For the full simulation of watching Target at the London Film Festival this year, of course, you’ll have to wait until you’ve already been at the party for hours, because little Alex can’t start until Uncle Nani Moretti has finished telling his Pope-related anecdotes to the grown-ups in the front room. It will be gone midnight before the story finishes, but you’ll stick around to hear it because you’ve been promised a mind-blowing ending. You may be somewhat disappointed by how unmindblowing the ending turns out to be, and then you’ll have to get a cab home.

I’ve seen Target described as ambitious, but really, people need to distinguish between ambition and empty grandiosity. I don’t really have the energy to précis the plot here, but it has something to do with an abandoned experimental nuclear facility that lends people immortality (the time span of the story being maybe a few months, so, er…), a pair of techno-glasses that can show the wearer the difference between good and evil, and some romantic complications among characters who never once register as people, but – this being a Russian movie – do occasionally quote the poetry of Lermontov, for fuck’s sake. Oh, yeah, unlike little Alex’s story, there’s a bit of raping and woman-beating in there to liven things up. And there’s some satire as well (Zeldovich has said this is a story about the first decade of post-communist Russia). You can tell it’s satire because characters who are not otherwise in the film turn up to debate communism v. capitalism while having a food fight with heavily symbolic foodstuffs on a show that looks like a filmschool dropout’s idea of Fellini doing Ready Steady Cook. For some reason.

As well as Fellini, the (preposterous) festival programme entry cites Tarkovsky, The Matrix and Minority Report. To which one could add Anna Karenina, Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, Buñuel and Bulgakov to the list of things Target is obviously influenced by, while remembering that having interesting influences is fruitless if one has no talent or intelligence. — Indy Datta

This Must Be The Place (Paolo Sorrentino, 2011)

Get past the stunt casting of Sean Penn as an Ozzy Osborne-alike mumbling former rock god, and you’ll find precious little else in Paolo Sorrentino’s movie. The Italian director of Il Divo, The Family Friend and The Consequences of Love has chosen an odd trifle of a film for his first English-language effort.

Penn plays a former rock-star, who now lives a life of near-solitude in a massive house in Ireland. He lives with his wife, played by Frances McDormand, and has a friendship with a local teenage girl. When he finds out that his estranged dad is dying, he decides to fly to the US in order to reconcile their differences.

Upon arrival, however, he learns of his father’s abiding hatred for the concentration camp guard who tortured him as a youth, and decides to track him down, leading to a cross-country journey of discovery. The film has the same shambling gait as Penn’s lead character, and your enjoyment of the film will depend on enjoyment of Penn’s extraordinarily mannered performance. It didn’t work for me, it’s merely a step above the worst performance of his career in I Am Sam, while this is far and away Sorrentino’s worst work as a director. — “Ron Swanson

The House (Zuzana Liová, 2011)

An occupational hazard of film festivals is that one can get a bit jaded towards the end. You can even find yourself, as I did, taking my seat to see The House wondering what ever possessed you to buy a ticket for this particular film in the first place, and if you really shouldn’t be trying to catch up on some sleep instead. The House, the debut feature from Liová, might look at first glance like the definition of an identikit festival movie (being the gently moving, beautifully filmed story of an emotionally closed off small-town Slovakian patriarch learning to let his adult daughters live their own lives, and coming to terms with the modern world) and … to be fair it looks that way at last glance as well.

But it really is beautifully filmed, with unobtrusive skill. It really does have charm, humour and genuine feeling to spare. It really does have absolutely unimpeachable performances across the board (Miroslav Krobot as said grizzled patriarch never puts a whisker wrong, Judit Bárdos as the flighty younger daughter is also great). If it was on general release, I’d recommend it without hesitation. — Indy Datta

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