This year's London Film Festival came to a close on the weekend, after 12 days of the usual eclectic mix of new films from around the globe. Here we take a look at some of our highlights:
Whilst it may be less abstruse than previous Haneke offerings, Amour is no less thought-provoking. The film follows the quietly devastating decline in health - both mental and physical - of Anne (played beautifully by Emmanuelle Riva) and the toll that her condition takes on her and her devoted husband Georges (French veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant). Never shying away from exploring the brutality old age and ill health can inflict and the subsequent erosion of dignity, Amour is very much Haneke's film, the director deftly telling a heartbreaking story whilst stringently steering it away from sentimentality. Masterful.
Less than 10 years ago, anyone unfortunate enough to have experienced the film Gigli would have been forgiven for not singling Ben Affleck out as someone likely to turn into one of the most exciting filmmakers working in Hollywood, but that's exactly what's happened. If Gone Baby Gone and The Town were impressive, Argo marks Affleck (who also stars) out as a truly talented director. The film tells the true (if somewhat embellished) story of an audacious CIA plot to rescue a group of American hostages from Iran in the early eighties by setting up a fake film company and pretending to be scouting Iran as a potential location. Ambitious, excruciatingly tense and occasionally very funny, with lovely performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin who clearly had a whale of time, Argo is destined to be uttered repeatedly come award season. Near-perfect Hollywood filmmaking.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
First time director Benh Zeitlin delivers a stunning magic-realist film about a young girl and her father living in an eccentric community on the margins of America that becomes threatened by wild storms and rising seawater – not too unlike the Hurricane Katrina devastation. The film is told through the eyes of six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), whose imaginative, poetic and enduring outlook belies her reality: her mother has long gone, her boozy father Wink (Dwight Henry) gets sicker by the day and her farm animals, home and community (called The Bathtub) are washed away. This is a film with a lot of heart and originality, which has quickly and deservedly become the American indie film of the year.
Beware of Mr. Baker
The various people who appear in Jay Bulger's documentary on Ginger Baker - Cream bandmates Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce among them - to offer their opinion on the legendary drummer seem fairly unanimous on two things: that Baker is the greatest drummer of all time, and that he has pretty much no other redeeming qualities. As the film progresses, with one scene showing Baker attacking the film's director with a metal walking stick, it becomes apparent what they're alluding to. Beware of Mr. Baker follows the life story of one of music's more colourful characters, intercut with present day interviews with the man himself, but this is far from your average rockumentary. Now lively a relatively destitute existence in South Africa, Baker seems wholly reluctant to take part in the film - it's difficult to understand at some points why he agreed to - and is visceral and confrontational throughout. What emerges though is the tale of a man clearly devoted to drumming and 'time' as he refers to it, a devotion which has taken him around the world and involved a handful of failed marriages and numerous bad decisions.
If Compliance were wholly fictional, it would be very difficult to take seriously. The fact that it is not only based on a true story but that there were over 60 similar incidents reported across 30 states in the US between 1995 and 2004 is jaw dropping. Having received a call from a man claiming to be a policeman, fast food restaurant manageress Sandra is informed that one of her staff members has been accused of stealing from a customer and that she must carry out a search. The situation gradually spirals, with Sandra and several of those she has enlisted to assist her all under the control of the caller and his assumed authority. Effective, claustrophobic storytelling.
Tim Burton returns to a short film he made thirty years ago in this family-friendly comedy horror about young boy Victor who brings his beloved dog Sparky back to life with a science experiment. Overtly drawing on and paying homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel, this very sweet and at times touching tale also gives a nod to many of the great films and actors from the horror genre. It feels like Burton’s most personal film and is certainly a film that’s up there with his best. The voice cast includes Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara. Frankenweenie is the first stop-motion feature to be filmed in both black and white and 3D, melding old technology with the new.
Ginger and Rosa
English director Sally Potter explores the political and the personal in this tale of two London teenage best friends (Elle Fanning, Alice Englert), coming of age against the background of the turbulent Cuban Missile Crisis. Both personally and politically it’s a time of chaos, confusion, a seemingly lack of control over one’s life and, of course, it’s a time of high (borderline melodramatic) emotions. This is also a time just before the swinging sixties and before women had the choices we have today. You can almost feel that societal change is on its way, if only Ginger and Rosa can reach out and grab it.
A disturbing and superbly crafted film, Mads Mikkelsen plays divorced and lonely kindergarten teacher Lucas who is accused of sexually abusing one of his five-year-old students in Thomas Vinterberg’s Danish drama. The film opens with Lucas diving into freezing cold water and drinking with his mates, then through the course of the film shows how that community and mateship is shattered as Lucas becomes the target of mass hysteria and victim of mob mentality. Powerful, gripping and expertly done.
Rust and Bone
Marion Cotillard gives an Oscar-worthy performance as killer whale trainer Stéphanie, a fun-loving girl who loves hitting the dance floor as much as her job. She meets Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a struggling father and boxer who becomes one of her only friends when she suffers an horrific accident that leaves her wheelchair-bound. Although at times bleak and certainly violent, there’s tenderness too in this intensely emotional love story that avoids the usual clichés. The film saw director Jacques Audiard pick up Best Film at the LFF.
It's fairly futile trying to explain the plot of Seven Psychopaths, director Martin McDonagh's hugely enjoyable follow-up to In Bruges, which is fortunate since doing so would be tricky. Suffice to say that it involves screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) and his somewhat lacklustre efforts to write a script for a film entitled Seven Psychopaths (the title being pretty much all he has), aided by acquaintances Billy and Hans (brilliant turns from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken) who've got their own problems, having messed with the wrong dog owner (Woody Harrelson). As the seven psychopaths start to reveal themselves in Marty's real-life, dark hilarity and bloody carnage ensue. Great fun.
Reviewed by Kelly Griffin and Philip Goodfellow