Sunday, October 23, 2011

LFF: Difficult Second Feature

Three eagerly awaited films playing at this year's London Film Festival are from second-time feature directors.

Marjane Satrapi, having left Iran in her teens, lives in France and her new film Chicken with Plums follows Persepolis, an adaptation of her comic strip. The first surprise is that it is live action, not animation, although it features a similarly starry cast in small roles: Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, Chiara Mastroianni and Golshifteh Farahani (another Iranian exile) among them. However, the lead role is the family patriarch, played by Mathieu Amalric, and his is an unsympathetic character, a self-obsessed musician detached from his children and resentful of his wife, whom he married without loving her. Although there are comic moments, I found myself growing restless before the end.

Still from Where Do We Go Now?Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? follows the enormously enjoyable Caramel and doesn't disappoint, expanding the cast of characters from the workers in a Beirut hair salon to a village in a remote area. The main conflict is the interference of the outside world on this small village where Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for generations but where violence is always threatening to break out and news coverage is viewed as a threat to peace. Labaki takes a back seat, allowing her ensemble to shine and shine they do, especially the women who take centre-stage pretty quickly. While the comedy is broad, there were plenty of belly laughs and the subject is oh-so-topical.

If Labaki is broadening her horizons, Miranda July seems to be shrinking hers, retreating from the ensemble that held sway in her debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, to focus on two people, a floundering couple inhabiting a flat in the Los Angeles suburbs, in The Future. July plays two roles, one half of the couple and a cat that provides a voiceover. Yes, indeed. But, you can do that when you're the writer-director. It's a bold move and I didn't mind the cat's narration. It was more confusing when it all went a bit Donnie Darko three quarters of the way through. Most curious.

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