London Film Festival 2012 reviews II

Hot off the press, a fresh new batch of reviews from the London Film Festival. 

Rust and Bone

Reviewed by Ron Swanson

Rust and Bone is the quintessential festival film: French, with a ‘name’ director, a rising star and an art-house darling. It’s also muscular, brutal and frequently beguilingly beautiful. Jacques Audiard’s follow up to A Prophet was conceived as a response to that film; all open spaces and romantic entanglements.

Matthias Schoenearts (soon to be seen in the outstanding Bullhead) plays Ali, a Belgian man travelling with his young son in tow, heading to his sister’s place in the South of France. A former boxer, Ali goes through a variety of security type jobs. While working as a bouncer, he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), driving her home after she’s involved in a fight. After Stephanie suffers a terrible injury in an accident at work (she’s a killer whale trainer), her bond with Ali is strengthened.

As you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Rust and Bone, and the film’s biggest weakness is that it occasionally feels overwhelmingly stuffed. At two hours, you’d like a little more room to breathe with these characters. Audiard, however, doesn’t want the audience to breathe. He’s fashioned an outstanding melodrama, replete with a pair of powerhouse performances.

Audiard’s regular cinematographer, Stephane Fontaine does an extraordinary job in bringing out both sides of Antibes, the poverty and the beauty. It’s not something I’ve ever thought before about any other film, but the end credits here are the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Released on November 2nd, by STUDIOCANAL.

Beyond the Hills

Reviewed by Ron Swanson

Cristian Mungiu’s follow-up to the extraordinary 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days takes a little longer to grab hold of the audience, but once it does, it’s grip is every bit as merciless.

Like his earlier film, Beyond the Hills has a female friendship at its core. We quickly discover that Alina (Cristina Flutur) is visiting her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) in order to persuade her to leave her Orthodox Christian convent and move to Germany with her. It’s also obvious very early on that Alina and Voichita were once more than friends, having grown up in the same orphanage.

Mungiu’s interest in female friendships is perhaps only matched by his fascination and disgust at the strain that a repressive society can place on them. The end for these characters is as disturbing, devastating and disgusting as in his previous film.

It’s a slow, oppressive world that his characters inhabit. Voichita’s faith is almost treated as a betrayal by Alina, putting something between the two friends that even her kindness can’t remove.

Beyond the Hills is as effective a polemic about fundamentalism and the impact it can have on innocent bystanders as I’ve ever seen. Mungiu’s direction is implacable and assured. He shows his characters acting as per their faith, and his fairness in doing so is to the film’s benefit.

It’s never a comfortable or easy watch. The sense of helplessness that an audience feels for most of the film’s running time is almost unbearable. It emphasises and clarifies the director’s greatness, proving that 4 Months… was no fluke.

Broken

Reviewed by Ron Swanson

One of this year’s best surprises for me was the directorial debut of British theatre director Rufus Norris. Broken is a super film – a study of a summer in a suburban cul-de-sac (the film’s set in North London), through the eyes of a 12 year old girl, called Skunk (newcomer Eloise Laurence).

We focus on three families. We have the Oswalds, where a single dad (acclaimed stage actor Rory Kinnear) is struggling to control his rage, especially when it comes to his three daughters, the youngest of whom is the same age as Skunk. We have the Buckleys, where the parents care for their autistic young adult son, Rick. Finally, we have Skunk’s family. She lives with her dad, Archie (Tim Roth), a solicitor, her older brother (Son of Rambow’s Bill Milner) and their Polish housekeeper, Kasia, involved in a tempestuous relationship with local teacher Mike (played by Cillian Murphy) – the object of Skunk’s crush.

There are some slightly bum-notes in the characterisations of the neighbours. The Oswalds, for example are perhaps a little more stereotypically ‘Asbo’ than you would hope for in a film with so much quality. You could also argue that the film’s message is overwhelmingly conservative and reactionary. That should not, however, negate the skill or craft involved. I cannot think of a better performance in Tim Roth’s career, while Laurence is a sensation. Towards the end, the tension builds to an almost unbearable level. In one scene I couldn’t stop myself from muttering “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no…” (sorry to the lady sat next to me, of course). The equal of superb British films such as Keane and My Summer of Love, Broken should not be missed.

Boy Eating the Bird’s Food and The Capsule

Reviewed by Indy Datta

The feature film debut of Greek theatre director Ektoras Lygizos is a contemporary adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger – a novel whose strangeness is undimmed after more than a century, and which remains mysterious and impenetrable in spite of its reputation as one of the founding texts of psychological realism in modern literature. Lygizos’s protagonist, Yorgos, like Hamsun’s unnamed protagonist, is someone who has cut himself off from society for his own reasons, to the point where the only things that matter to him are fending off starvation, and keeping his pet canary alive.  Initially the film comes across as a Bressonian or Dardennish twist on the sly allegories of the Greek new wave, shackling the audience reactively to one character’s experience to reveal truth.  But after a while it sheds, in successive sequences, its trappings of social comment, satire, and finally psychological realism (for example, in a sub plot taken directly from Hamsun’s novel in which a pretty hotel receptionist, the object of Yorgos’s erotic fixation, appears to reciprocate his desire rather than run screaming). Finally, the film ends up a close cousin of Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane – an uncomfortably subjective evocation of the experience of a madman, except that in this case we have the knowledge that Yorgos’s madness is in some way willed. That in itself will make Boy Eating the Bird’s Food unfulfilling viewing for many. On top of that, one thing Lygizos has in common with his Greek contemporaries is a taste for provocation – the scene where Yorgos wanks into his hand and eats his own ejaculate prompted a few walkouts at my screening.

Boy Eating the Bird’s Food is screening at the festival with The Capsule, a new (30 minute) short by Athina Rachel Tasngari, the director of Attenberg.  Insofar as The Capsule has a story, it’s about a small group of young women (including Harry Potter’s Clemence Poesy) being put through a series of inexplicable exercises by a mysterious mistress (Ariane Labed, from Attenberg and Alps). It’s reminiscent of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s creepy symbolist girls’ school mystery Innocence (and all the antecedents of that film, from the Wedekind play it is based on, to Bunuel, to Suspiria), and also for me had disturbing visual echoes of Pasolini’s Salo. As in Attenberg, Tsangari uses the language of dance in her storytelling as much as the conventional narrative grammar of film, and The Capsule is full of arresting images, although I will need another viewing to have any idea whether they add up to anything. Still, it’s not every film in this year’s festival that gives you seven actresses in vaguely bondagey underwear doing a goofy song and dance number to America’s “Horse With No Name”, so there’s that, at least.

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