Saturday, March 30, 2019

BFI Flare: Fantasy + Reality

Just before I set off to visit BFI Flare on the Southbank yesterday, the news broke that the great Agnès Varda had passed. "Oh, No! I expected her to live forever!" was my absurd thought. But, why not? Cinema should allow its makers to live forever and Varda, who almost made it to 91, had a life full of extraordinary experiences and important work. I hope she gets all due recognition from upcoming cinematic gatherings across the globe. I spent this morning watching her turn at the 2017 Governors Awards and marvelled at how few prizes her films accrued from the big festivals. Quel dommage.

My visit to Flare was a mixed bag--couldn't get into Making Montgomery Clift; discussed Whigs and Tories in the reign of Queen Anne; and saw my last film at the festival, Marie Kreutzer's psychological puzzle, The Ground Beneath My Feet. If I say that everyone around me was abuzz afterward, it will give some flavour to this film. I would say it is my favourite so far, but that does not mean I understand it. I had seen some of Kreutzer's previous work, so knew that she does not make it easy on audiences. Her debut The Fatherless was a masterful family drama-cum commune portrait that grappled with memories and their impact in the present.  

The Ground Beneath My Feet wrestles with the pressures of family and work on the psyche while playing with reality and fantasy. What we wondered at the end was: "What was real?" Businesswoman Lola is constantly on the go jetting between Vienna and whatever city houses her current project restructuring failing companies. She has a secret affair with her boss Elise on the go but does not seem happy. Meanwhile her sister Conny has been sectioned after yet another suicidal episode and Lola treats her with disdain, making arrangements but offering precious little human emotion. As the film unfolds, she keeps receiving phone calls from Conny, improbable as this may be as the woman is locked up with no access to a phone. So, who is calling her? Cue Twilight Zone theme. Sadly, Kreutzer was sick and unable to attend the screening to answer our myriad questions, but I found the film quite gripping and at times witty in its delineation of Lola's tightly controlled life, with a scene in which she puts her sister's cat into pet care offering some much-needed levity. The scenes in which she is sexually harassed by clients and gaslight by her lover are grimly true to life. Agnès V would approve.

Knife + Heart
 My other big find of the fest is Yann Gonzalez's wild Knife + Heart, which improbably stars Vanessa Paradis as a lesbian producer of gay male porn in 1979 Paris. From the moment I heard Malaria's "Thrash Me" playing on the soundtrack in an early club scene I felt I would love the film, even if that song was released in 1983. Paradis plays the domineering but alcoholic Anne who runs a company churning out skin flicks while attempting to reconnect with her ex Lois who just happens to be the company editor. Cue mega dyke drama as Anne makes drunken phone calls and begs and pleads for Lois to come back. Anne ends up in an enchanted forest trying to track down a long-dead bird that may be connected to a series of murders. And then things get really weird. The film is wildly uneven in tone, referencing Cruising and a host of other films while paying hommage to both porn and the process of old school film-making: the cuts, rewinds, and grain of actual film. The credits reveal it was shot on Kodak, as should be the case. I loved it but I imagine others may not be so keen.

I also viewed Canadian drama Giant Little Ones, though I have no idea what the title means. Floppy-fringed teen Franky finds himself turfed out of his perch as one of the cool kids once a drunken fumble with best friend and alpha male Ballas becomes the talk of the school. While sidelining the plotline of whether Franky is gay, the film really zeroes in on toxic masculinity, peer pressure and the pleasures of finding friendship in unlikely places. Plus Kyle Maclachlan pops up as Franky's out dad. A pity Maria Bello as his mum isn't given that much to do, other than make reassuring noises. Franky's relationship with Natasha allows both to explore barriers and inhibitions and his dad gives sound advice when he says something like, "Pay attention to who you are attracted to and don't worry about putting a label on it."

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