Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film was the joint winner – along with the Dardennes’ The Kid With a Bike – of the Grand Prix at last year’s Cannes film festival, and has since been widely acclaimed as his masterpiece. At the very least it is his most thematically expansive and formally ambitious work since his international breakthrough, 2002’s Distant. But as always with Ceylan, I find myself stranded uneasily between admiration and scepticism, dazzled by the technical mastery, unable to shake the suspicion that there’s less to the film than meets the eye, yet on some level aware that the failing is probably mine.
Concetta Sidoti rounds up our LFF11 coverage with a special report on the Italian films that played at the festival
For a couple of years, the most interesting Italian films in the London film festival have been about outsiders moving in – often ex-communitari (non-EU migrants) and clandestini (illegal migrants) – and the uneasy welcome they receive from a country more used to emigration than immigration. This year’s festival tackles the subject in films as different as Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma, the De Serio brothers’ Seven Acts of Mercy (Sette opere di misericordia) and Andrea Segre’s Li and the Poet (Io sono Li).
And so it’s over for another year. I think I’ve banged on myself quite enough over the last couple of weeks, so I want to largely hand this wrapup piece over to our other contributors, and also to some regular MostlyFilm Contributors who weren’t able to chip in during our daily reports.
There were a lot of abandoned kids in this year’s programme, most of my top films either tried to honour the power of love to rescue the forsaken, or the bleak possibility that they might encounter evil rather than love. It might just be me, but it started to feel like a theme, wrapped up in the larger theme of the atomised consciousnesses of people in the modern world, seeking some kind of connection with each other, or just with reality. My top films of the festival: Snowtown, I Wish, The Giants, Alps, The Kid With a Bike.
Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea is a quiet, delicate end to an odd London Film Festival. Based on a play by Terence Rattigan, it’s a period-set drama of doomed romance, which will evoke memories of Neil Jordan’s End of the Affair and Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven (both LFF highlights of years gone past).
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.
Sandra Hebron’s last choice as LFF surprise film proved hilariously divisive. As the cast, shot in gauzy cheap-looking HD video, deadpanned the first lines of Stillman’s arch, absurdist dialogue over Mark Suozzo and Adam Schlesinger’s preposterously kitsch underscore, I could feel the hostility in the room boiling over almost instantly. And, to be fair, Stillman’s film is deliberately alienating – challenging you to be on its decidedly obscure wavelength with an unpredictable mix of ultra-precious whimsy, deliberately unconvincing characters (most of whom, irony piling upon irony, are ineptly playing false roles within the film’s narrative), hilariously cheap gags and gimpy musical numbers (just to give you a flavour: Adam Brody and Greta Gerwig appear to dance on water in a fountain, to Gershwin’s Things Are Looking Up (from the P.G. Wodehouse-penned Fred Astaire movie, A Damsel in Distress) but the cheap-looking platform they are actually dancing on is right there in plain view). Although Stillman’s previous films were somewhat mannered and artificial, they also had one foot in reality, a concept which Damsels in Distress has no particular time for.
So, fair warning: Your Mileage May Vary. But I had a great time.
A 35-year on-screen veteran of film and TV, Dexter Fletcher makes his writing and directing debut with a warm, funny and tightly-plotted East End drama that adeptly mixes crime and family plot strands. Charlie Creed-Miles plays the Bill of the title (“More like Mild Bill,” as one wag obligatorily but unwisely observes at one point) – coming out of prison on licence after an eight-year stretch for a veritable portfolio of offences accrued while working as a low-level drug dealer, to find that his children, 15 year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11 year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams), are fending for themselves after having being abandoned by their mother, who has run off to Spain with her new man, and don’t really want to know him. Soon, Bill finds himself besieged on all sides: his probation officer (Olivia Williams) and the police want him to steer clear of his old crew; the old crew want him to slot right back into his old life or get the fuck out of Dodge; social services (represented by Jaime Winstone and Jason Flemyng) want him to stick around and take responsibility for his kids. And there are further complications as Jimmy finds himself sucked into the life his father is trying to leave behind.
An object lesson, in the perils of writing what you know, if what you know is partying with the young, rich, beautiful and boring, Lotus Eaters cares less about its story (apparently beefed up from McGuinness’s almost plotless first draft by co-credited Brendan Grant) and more about hanging out with its characters as they hop from bacchanalian party to Notting Hill café to gallery opening, in the hope that we’ll eventually come to feel their pain.
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.