Tuesday, 28 October 2008

LFF13: Offbeat rhythms

It was another busy night on the red carpet in Leicester Square on Monday, with the charge led by Rachel Weisz for The Brothers Bloom, accompanied by writer-director Rian Johnson. Also out were Alex Gibney (Gonzo) and the Dardenne brothers (The Silence of Lorna). The festival is beginning to wind down in its final few days, although the pace hasn't slowed down at all.

Highlights from yesterday and today...

Synecdoche, New York ****
Charlie Kaufman moves into the director's seat with this bizarre comedy-drama, which is so surreal that it makes his earlier films (like Being John Malkovich or Adaptation) seem gritty and earthy by comparison. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good in the central role that we go with it, and he's surrounded by terrific actresses, including Catherine Keener (again!), the wonderful Samantha Morton, Dianne Wiest and a surprising Emily Watson. What emerges is a sublime and provocative examination of human pride and the fear of death. It's like Woody Allen meets David Lynch - you'll laugh and sigh and have your brain tickled, but you'll have no idea what it's about.

Che: Part One ****
Steven Soderbergh's ambitious biopic of Ernesto "Che" Guevara features a terrific performance from Benicio Del Toro as the doctor-turned revolutionary, a journey documented here in Part One (which is subtitled The Argentine). It's a very well-made film, cross-cutting between Guevara's trip to New York in 1964, where he was interviewed by a TV journalist and spoke to the UN, and his role in the Cuban revolution of the late 1950s, with a series of skirmishes in the jungle on the way to Havana. It's bold and relevant and thoroughly engaging. I'm seeing Part Two on Wednesday, and I think it's wise to split them!

Lion's Den ****
This prison drama from Argentine is so realistic that it's not always easy to watch. It picks up after a horrific crime, when woman (Martina Gusman) is arrested for her possible role in a violent murder and discovers she's pregnant. Setting a film in the maternity wing of a prison is especially clever, as it brings hope into a hopeless place. And the film is assembled as a journey that's utterly gripping from start to finish.

The Brothers Bloom ***
Thoroughly entertaining, this film is a bit too wilfully quirky for its own good, combining genres and time periods in extremely odd ways. But the central characters are hugely engaging: con artist brothers Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, plus their eccentric mark Rachel Weisz and their silent partner-in-crime Rinko Kikuchi. Being a wacky con-man romp, we know there will be a lot of twists and turns in the story, and writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick) certain doesn't disappoint us there. Although we're never quite sure if this is a comedy or a tragedy, so it's difficult to get in sync with the film's peculiar rhythm.

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