Monday, 24 October 2011

LFF Day 13: The dark side

One of the overwhelming feelings from this year's London Film Festival is that the world isn't a very nice place. Sure, there have been a few moments of joyous relief (The Artist has been the bright point), but most films are grappling with very dark themes or genres. Here are notes on just five of them....

The Awakening
dir Nick Murphy; with Rebecca Hall, Dominic West 11/UK ***
A nifty twist on the standard ghost story, this British period drama starts extremely well and then slips into overwrought melodrama. And while the plot feels a little too gimmicky, at least it's complex enough to hold our interest... FULL REVIEW >

Martha Marcy May Marlene
dir Sean Durkin; with Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson 11/US ****
With a disturbing tone and skilful filmmaking, this insinuating drama completely unsettles us as it delves into the mental life of its central character. And it has a lot to say about how relationships affect us... FULL REVIEW >

Hors Satan
dir Bruno Dumont; with David Dewaele, Alexandra Lematre 11/Fr ****
Ever the provocateur, Dumont fills this story with religious iconography, blurring the lines between Jesus and the devil. It's about the thin line between good and evil, suggesting that positive actions must sometimes involve violence. And the filmmaking is both bold and elusive as it follows a drifter (Dewaele) along the French coastline as he has a supernatural impact on the villagers. Virtually dialog-free, the film is packed with eerie scenes that echo Biblical stories, from healing the sick to walking on water to exorcising a demon, so watching it is thoroughly unsettling. And while Dumont's central point is a little hard to find, it's rare that any filmmaker deals with religious themes. Especially one who knows how to push our buttons.

dir Oliver Hermanus; with Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan 11/SA ****
An intensely personal filmmaking style takes us deep into this darkly involving drama about a man who simply doesn't have the skills to deal with his inner desires. Watching it is a remarkably challenging, involving experience. It centres on a middle-aged man (Lotz) who is married with two grown daughters and a very dark secret: he's actually gay but can never come out in his rural society. This repression has left him unable to cope with his own urges, which makes his growing obsession with a young family friend (Keegan) increasingly worrying. But what makes the film so riveting is the way writer-director Hermanus tells this story in such an intimate way: we are right inside this man's mind all the way through, understanding his thoughts and actions. And the subtle skill in the way it's shot, edited and acted is simply astounding.

Into the Abyss
dir Werner Herzog; with with Michael Perry, Jason Burkett 11/Ger ****
Herzog departs sharply from the quirky tone of his recent documentaries to offer a startlingly astute and sensitive exploration of a horrific murder case. And more generally, he's also looking at the issue of America's death penalty. The case is genuinely disturbing, especially as Herzog talks to policemen, townsfolk, the victims' families and the killers themselves (Perry and Burkett), one of whom is awaiting his execution. What emerges are details that thoroughly disarm our expectations, quietly observing facts and emotions that challenge ideas of an-eye-for-an-eye justice. It's one of those films that gets deeply under your skin, and without ever preaching makes you examine your prejudices an probably change the way you think.

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