Monday, October 27, 2008

LFF: Country Wedding

Still from Country WeddingAnd to end this year's LFF in style, the Icelandic film Country Wedding would be hard to beat. A laugh-out-loud comedy of disasters about a wedding party on the way to the ceremony, it combines the road movie genre with knockabout farce to great effect. Director Valdis Oskarsdottir has collaborated with her cast on the screenplay, which is sharply revealing of human foibles, and she skillfully uses the device of two separate buses of guests to chart alliances, fallouts and bulging cupboards full of skeletons. It's not groundbreaking cinema but it is very, very funny.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LFF: Cold Lunch

Still from Cold LunchFrom Norway comes this oddity from Eva Sorhaug. An Oslo apartment building hosts an assortment of domestic dramas, from the abused young wife, to the dissolute young man scrounging for money. The structure is confusing, with a prologue that doesn't seem to tie into the story, which is divided into chapters. Sorhaug stages many impressive set pieces, especially a surreal sequence in which a flock of birds menaces a cafe peopled by the characters. But the ending comes as an anti-climax, and one is left wondering what it all means. Another film which seems to speak to the loneliness that unites humanity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

LFF: Ties That Bind

Still from Everybody Dies But MeAh, the agonies of youth. In Dying or Feeling Better (dir Laurence Ferreira Barbosa), Martial is a sulky French teen who has just moved to a new town with his newly single mother. A loner, he finds it difficult to fit in but becomes fascinated with a set of twins who are also outsiders. Falling in with them, he becomes embroiled in a series of power games that escalates to extreme danger. Quite a well-made film, even if the finger of blame seems to point at Martial's distracted mother (Florence Thomassin) for failing to keep him in check, as if she didn't have enough on her mind.

In 57000 Km Between Us, Florence Thomassin appears again as a flaky mother struggling to keep control of her family, especially her video-obsessed boyfriend and young daughter Nat. Here lives lived online provide a respite from the banality of reality. But it is Nat who recognises the dangers of living a virtual life well before her mother. Writer/director Delphine Kreuter has a sharp eye for detail and the film is a critique of the disconnectedness of modern living, in which people are more concerned about the number of hits on their websites than about the actual people in their lives. Kudos, too, for the depiction of a plethora of relationships, between adults and children and various genders.

The mutual incomprehensibility of parents and children comes under the spotlight in Everybody Dies But Me (dir Valeria Gai-Germanika), in which three Russian girls (see pic) risk everything to attend the school disco. What starts as a semi-comic slice of teen life quickly toughens into an exploration of conflicting loyalties, betrayal and self-destructive tendencies, as lived by teenaged girls. Grim but gripping.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

London Film Festival: Black Sea + Down on the Street

Still from The Black SeaThis year's LFF has not yet really caught fire for me, unlike last year's which featured some very memorable films. This year one finds a lot of biopics (Oliver Stone's W, Steven Soderbergh's Che, Uli Edel's Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) plus the odd attention-grabber (Quantum of Solace??!!! Why, why, why?).

Anyway, on to a small, European film called Black Sea (dir Federico Bondi), almost a two-hander, really, with Gemma, an elderly Italian widow, taking in a new carer, Angela, who is from Rumania (see pic). Predictably, they start off in conflict and then slowly warm to each other. But, really, there is very little dramatic tension: Angela is just so darned nice from the off, while Gemma is bitterness personified. It's really Gemma who has to make the character journey. The film moves extremely slowly and the last quarter is when things happen, as they travel to Angela's hometown to look for her missing husband. Overlong but with beautiful performances by the leads.

Also viewed: shorts programme Down on the Street, billed as "the lives of young people around the world" but which really should be subtitled: stupid boys with guns. And drugs. The exception was Midnight Lost and Found (dir Atul Sabharwal), a delicate tale of two lonely souls trying to reach out to each other across barriers.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Nico Tributes

Two tributes to the enigma that was Nico are planned for the coming week. In London, the South Bank is staging a tribute curated by John Cale on the 11th, while over in sunny Berlin, there is an event at the Volksb├╝hne on the 17th.

Not quite sure why these are happening now, although she did die 20 years ago. Nonetheless, it's good to see her getting her due. For far too long considered a bit of an empty vessel to be manipulated by alpha male Svengalis, Nico produced a wonderful body of work in music and film. She had her problems, as is well known, but perhaps now is the time to reassess her legacy.

Also on at the South Bank in London is a new Warhol exhibit, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Among the visuals on offer (42 TV programmes!) is a clip of the Velvet Underground rehearsing at The Factory in 1966.

There sits Nico, beatifully lit at the centre of the group, while her son Ari plays at her feet. While chaos swirls around her, she implacably taps a tambourine with a maraca. Then the police burst in to close it down.

Here is a live clip of her from 1983: