Friday, October 29, 2010

Femme Fatalities

Poster for Femme FatalitiesLadyfest Ten presents... Le Cinema des Femmes: FEMME FATALITIES Halloween Horror Movie Double Feature!

Indulge in some HANGOVER HORROR this Halloween Sunday and join us for a film double bill featuring our favourite fiendish femmes and grotesque grrls!

Ginger Snaps + Jennifer's Body

Get zombied up, neck down some Bloody Marys and get ready to hide behind the sofa cushions!


And a very special DJ set from the gruesome GIRL GERMS!

Sunday 31st October
From 4pm
The Victoria Inn, Mile End
£4 suggested donation – all proceeds go to Ladyfest Ten

Thursday, October 28, 2010

LFF: Power, Lies and Corruption

Still from CaranchoMy final instalment from this year's London Film Festival focusses on two very different films that highlight the dangers of the abuse of power.

Sabina Guzzanti's excoriating documentary, Draquila, Italy Trembles, takes as its starting point the devastating 2009 earthquake that led to the abandonment of the Italian town of Aquila. But, as the film makes clear, much of the devastation was due to the incompetence or possibly abuse of power of the country's Civil Protection Service, under the direct control of controversial prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Guzzanti's disaffection with Berlusconi is well-known, and she has satirised him on numerous occasions. This film, though a polemic, is well-made and forceful in its criticism of his government's actions or, rather, inaction, in warning the town's residents of impending disaster and then effectively requisitioning the town for development, using emergency powers. The film then delves deeper into Berlusconi's construction background and unsavoury connections. Reminiscent of Michael Moore's salvos at ex-president Bush, the film is by turns funny and very, very sad. Clearly, Guzzanti feels Berlusconi is destroying the fabric of Italian society and her conclusion is not optimistic.

From Draquila to "tranquilo", the much-repeated interjection in Carancho, the latest drama from the Pablo Trapero-Martina Gusman team, he directing, she producing and starring. While I very much enjoyed Lion's Den, another collaboration by the couple, Carancho fell short of my expectations. Starting out as a tense character study of Gusman's ambulance worker and Ricardo Darin's "vulture" (ambulance-chasing lawyer), the film degenerated in the last quarter into an absurd bloodbath, with gun battles and multiple car crashes that defied credulity. A shame. But, it also made clear the insidious influence of crime bosses on the burgeoning compensation free-for-all in Buenos Aires, in which poor people are pushed into staging accidents in return for paltry sums. The Trapero-Gusman message in this film seems to be that inhumanity is only a step away for even the most superficially honest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

LFF: The Kids Aren't All Right

Still from Release the Flying Monkeys
No, I didn't attend last night's Gala Premiere of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, sadly, but I have viewed several films that detail complicated teenaged lives.

Spork (dir JB Ghuman Jr.) is a quirky US slacker-ish comedy, curiously '90s in feel, with an outsider heroine, bullied at school for being dorky and intersex. Her tormentors include a group of Britney-alikes (very Heathers), while her few allies number the fat Asian kid and the sassy black chick. A bit pat, that, but there is some originality to be had, as Spork (the name cruelly bestowed by the bullies) tries to regain some self respect via the unlikely medium of krumping. An utterly implausible ending doesn't quite spoil the film's charms, grotesque humour chief among them.

Elisa K is much more sombre in tone, its heroine burying memories of a childhood rape by a family friend, until she reaches adulthood and suddenly remembers. Her breakdown quickly descends into bathos, and the ending is left unresolved.

Pretty Girls Make Graves, a shorts programme featuring convention-defying girls, was disappointingly uneven, but, for me, the clear standout was the comedy Release the Flying Monkeys, in which two Albanian girls perform exorcisms among the sinners of London, hoping to bring them closer to Jesus. Laugh-out-loud funny and irreverent, the film punctures religious posturing in engaging style. Most of the other films I found a bit too self-consciously arty to be fathomable, but That Thing You Drew also drew laughs, as an uncomprehending girl causes havoc in her school with her choice of artistic subject. Kids, eh?

Friday, October 22, 2010

LFF: Female Empowerment

Still from PuzzleA spate of films has focussed on the put-upon woman, the wife or mother who is taken for granted, the servile worker or the discarded woman. Interesting.

Among these is the Argentine drama, Puzzle, in which Maria spends her 50th birthday party picking up after her nearest and dearest. It is only the next morning that she gets around to opening her presents, among them a jigsaw puzzle that catches her attention, with its image of Nefertiti. Perhaps seeking a bit of the queen's power, she immerses herself in the world of puzzles, eventually hooking up with (in multiple senses) another puzzle aficionado. Beautifully shot in rich sepia tones and with a subtle performance by Maria Onetto as Maria, this is a quiet film to savour.

Not so the knockabout French farce, Copacabana, featuring Isabelle Huppert as a boho out-of-work mother beset with an ungrateful snob of a daughter (Huppert's daughter Lolita Chammah) and seeking to make amends by taking work in unlovely Ostend flogging timeshares. The mother-daughter relationship is fraught with perils and Huppert is clearly enjoying throwing herself into various undignified scenarios that mortify her priggish offspring.

Sawako Decides is an odd film, ostensibly a comedy but for the first two-thirds a rather grim depiction of the life of a Japanese slacker, Sawako, who leaves an unfulfilling life in big-city Tokyo to move back to her small village to salvage the family clam-packing business. In tow are her unbelievably dull boyfriend and his semi-mute daughter. The early scenes of Sawako behaving much as a doormat are rather excruciating and one waits and waits for the promised "female empowerment" of the press notes. But.... two scenes very late on are worth the wait. One, in which Sawako rewrites the company song for the female workers to sing, is a moment of cinematic genius and should be excerpted as a music video. The other, the denouement, features much scenery chewing and unorthodox distribution of human remains. Grotesque humour, female rivalry and a rather twee central performance from Hikari Mitsushima make this a tough but rewarding journey.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

RIP Ari Up

I was quite shocked to check my emails this morning and learn of the passing of Ari Up, singer with The Slits. Legendary band, legendary singer and so full of life, it seems incredible to think she could be gone at only 48. I only saw her perform once, but she was an extraordinary character, following her muse and her dreams all over the globe. Not many can say that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

LFF: The Arbor

Still from The ArborJust back from amazing film sort of based on the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her writings. The Arbor combines real-life interviews with her friends and family, with readings from her play The Arbor. But it is done in such an artful and moving way, that it is completely gripping. And the story of her eldest child, Lorraine, is heartbreaking. I almost didn't see the film, but am still pondering it several hours later.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

London Film Festival: weekend one

Detail from The Taqwacores
Five days into the festival, I can't yet say how it is shaping up. But the standout for me so far is definitely The Taqwacores. Adapted from Michael Muhammad Knight's novel about a group of punky Muslims living in a shabby group house in Buffalo, the film is a multifaceted look at how people negotiate "mismatching disenfranchised subcultures", as Mohawked punk visionary Jehangir (Dominic Rains in an astonishing performance) puts it. As naive student Yusuf moves into this house, he encounters many stripes of Islam, from strict adherents to the rather startling character of Rabeya, a burqa-clad Riot Grrl-ish character. Quite the eye opener for him and the audience. What is most interesting is that an actual taqwacore scene has emerged as a result of Knight's imaginings, and some of the bands that appear in this work of fiction are actually real performers.

Somewhat less rebellious is the doc on Creation Records, Upside Down. While I was quite looking forward to seeing the now-dead indie label recounted, I was not really looking forward to seeing footage of Oasis. Or Boo Radleys. Or indeed 18 Wheeler or Arnold. And, actually, there was no mention of either of the latter two bands touted by label co-founder Alan McGee, long since mythologised as a tastemaker of the highest order. Even though he signed Oasis. The film is largely a hagiography of McGee, featuring endless shots of him sporting a ridiculous fedora, the most ill-advised piece of baldness-hiding headgear since The Edge discovered his beanie. While truly visionary bands such as My Bloody Valentine are given short shrift, McGee's chum Bobby Gillespie is lionised as some kind of genius. Nonsense.

Also viewed were Howl, the rather limp docudrama on Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem. The film can't decide if it's a courtroom drama depicting an obscenity case or a stream of consciousness riff on artistic inspiration. And it works as neither, despite the striking animation that backdrops the rather dull recitations of Ginsberg's poem by actor James Franco. Most disappointing.

Considerably upping the nailbiting stakes is The Orion, a tense guerrilla-shot drama depicting the consequences of a sexual encounter between two unmarried people in modern Iran. As the couple struggle to "undo" the damage to their reputations via backroom surgery, they come up against the very restrictive law at work in the country. Truly disturbing.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Recycled Words

Just back from a brief road trip on the boneshaker, testing out if I can still ride the thing. I picked a good day--sunny, mild, a gentle breeze and very impressive foliage changes taking place. I also diced with death, ducking under the 5 foot head railway bridge on Coppermill Lane. Definitely this should be entered as an Olympic sport. Imminent decapitation would add an element of thrill-seeking to the cycling events. Now weak at the knees and in need of a soak.

Oh, tomorrow is the 82nd anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf's novel, Orlando, which I celebrated in my radio show this week. In the course of my research, I found some archive audio of her speaking about words. I might not chosen some of her Victorian-era language, but her thoughts are fascinating.

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Callout for films for Ladyfest Ten

Ladyfest Ten has issued two callouts for film. One is a general callout for short films.

The other is for archive footage from previous Ladyfests.

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of Ladyfest, Ladyfest Ten takes place 12-14 November in London.