Friday, October 19, 2012

London Film Festival: how soon is now?

Still from Tomorrow
Right. So, where was I? The festival closes on Sunday, and I have barely mentioned it. Yesterday was an interesting day as I attended a Filmmakers Afternoon Tea, kind of a speed-dating scenario for "talent" to meet press. My dates for the afternoon were shorts maker Kate Hardie and doc maker Andrei Gryazev, two very different encounters.

Hardie's film Shoot Me! is her riposte to the fashion and acting industries, as experienced by her heroine Claire (Claire Skinner) who nervously turns up for a charity fashion shoot and finds her worst dreams coming true as the photographer, renowned for his "sexy" pictures of young women, has no idea how to shoot her and only makes her feel more uncomfortable with his whacky patter and intrusive entourage. It's very funny, and Kate was quite chatty about the backstory to the film and her own experiences in the show biz and fashion worlds.

Then it was on to Andrei, director of Tomorrow. Never have I approached such a full table! I had expected Andrei's translator to be there, but there were also two representatives of Roskino, which is promoting the film in the UK, plus their laptops. I really don't like people sitting in on interviews. It ruins the intimacy for me, and thankfully, they moved to another table. As it was, it was a difficult enough interview, inasmuch as while I directed my questions to Andrei, he addressed his answers to Vitali the translator, who relayed them to me in English. With limited time, it was difficult to get a conversational flow going, and just as he really warmed to the thread, our time was up.  A pity, as I really would have liked to ask more about his approach to the film, which is a doc on Voina, the political art group, or "actionists", as Gryazev called them. I had expected a film showing serious, committed people protesting Putin's regime. What the film showed was three or four rather comically inept people shoplifting and practising flipping police cars, while carting around a toddler in a rucksack. More Stoke Newington than Moscow. Given the opening disclaimer that what is shown may not be reality, it's difficult to say how much was staged, but it was a bit disappointing for me. Even the title was a puzzle, until Gryazev explained at the post-film Q&A that it sprang from the question on everyone's lips ahead of the election: what will happen tomorrow?

I thought that was my festival done, but I was in time for an afternoon screening of Museum Hours. As I had left my festival guide at home, I had no idea why I had chosen the film, until about three quarters of the way through. This has to be the strangest film I have seen at the festival, in form if not in content. Jem Cohen is known as a doc maker, and while the film opens with a woman explaining to someone on the phone that she has to fly to Austria, the subsequent shots seem to set up a documentary. The characters speak in broken, unfinished sentences mimicking normal--not cinematic--speech, and I actually changed my mind a couple of times as to whether it was a drama or a doc. "Can't wait for the credits," I thought. I was puzzled as to why the lead character, a Canadian called Anne, kept breaking into song. And then suddenly it hit me: it's Mary Margaret O'Hara! That's why I wanted to see this film, to see the lost songstress as an actress. So, yes, it is a drama, but performed so naturalistically and shot so documentally, that many will be confused and annoyed. As a meditation on art and set in beautiful Vienna, it has its appeal, but it is definitely a Marmite film.

It is also quite slow-paced, which has been a feature of this festival. Perhaps it's a reaction to the MTV-style cutting and pacing that many decried in the '90s, but I feel this has gone way too far in the other direction. Many, many of the films I watched were glacially-paced and really tested my patience. A case in point: Punk, in which angry young French man seeks his long-lost father while wandering the streets of Paris. And wandering. And going to parties. And brooding. And yelling at his girlfriend. Until one despairs: why is he so angry, and why does it drag on so long?

Or House with a Turret, in which a very young Ukrainian boy takes a train ride that goes on so long, I wanted to throw myself under the train. Yes, he is on a journey and needs to reach his destination, but when half the film seems to be cut-aways of snowy buildings and people sitting outside, one wonders what the filmmaker's point actually was.

Keep the Lights On is a relationship drama in which an annoyingly whispery-voiced filmmaker tries to keep his whiny boyfriend off drugs. "Break up with him already!", I thought, after the fourth or fifth conversation-descending-to-argument. Tedious.

And then there's Tall As the Baobab Tree, which I anticipated with eagerness and was left grinding my teeth in frustration. Two sisters in Senegal fight to go to school rather than be married off in keeping with custom. Should be plenty of room for drama in that, and the filmmaker seems sympathetic to their plight, but again the pacing drags really badly, and the film ends up being a well-intentioned community project rather than a drama.
Still from Like Someone in Love

To end this dispatch on a note of confusion, let's try on Like Someone in Love for size. Abbas Kiarostami's first Japanese-language film, it features a bar hostess meeting a mysterious older man for an assignation outside Tokyo. Ignoring her visiting grandmother's pleading phone messages, she whisks off to meet him in his cluttered flat. An academic, he is more interested in talking than getting jiggy. The next morning he drives her back and witnesses her being accosted by her thuggish boyfriend, who mistakes him for her father and asks his advice. There is comedy in this, but it ends up going nowhere really, because the director is more interested in other things. And the ending is.... I don't know what.

Will give my final thoughts tomorrow.

No comments: