Sunday, 16 October 2011

LFF Day 5: Feeling a bit unsettled

The London Film Festival continues apace, with a busy weekend of screenings and events all over the city. I saw three films today, two of which were introduced by their directors and followed by Q&As - Giorgos Lanthimos (above right, with actress Ariane Labed and producer Athina Rachel Tsangari, photographed with my phone this evening) with Alps and Julie Loktev with The Loneliest Planet. Woody Harrelson and Oren Movermen were apparently in town for Rampart, but were too busy to attend the matinee, apparently. Comments about all three below...


dir Giorgos Lanthimos; with Aris Servetalis, Johnny Vekris 11/Gr *****
After Dogtooth, it's impressive that Lanthimos has actually upped his game with this remarkably involving drama. Once again, it's opens mysteriously, and takes a while to show us exactly what this group of people are up to: they call themselves Alps and pose as the recently deceased to help friends and family members ease into their grief. Where the film gets interesting is in its examination of how we all play roles in our lives, both at work and at home, and how telling the difference between who we want people to see and who we really are gets increasingly blurry as time goes by. Of course, in this case all of these issues are magnified, and what happens has a surprising emotional kick as the film takes several provocative twists and turns. Don't miss it.


dir Oren Moverman; with Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright 11/US ***
Harrelson reunites with The Messenger writer-director Moverman (as well as costars Ben Foster and Steve Buscemi) for this grim drama cowritten by James Ellroy about police corruption in late-1990s Los Angeles. It feels a bit too similar to Training Day for comfort, as Harrelson's character struggles to hold his fractured family together while covering up his dodgy activities as a cop. Addiction to prescription drugs and a tentative relationship with a lawyer (Wright) add to the mix, but as he spirals down into a hole it's difficult to care much about this cocky racist/sexist dinosaur. Are we supposed to feel sad that the olden days are gone in which cops could do whatever they want? As in Training Day, we lose all sympathy as the central character goes under. And the only saving grace is that Moverman resists the apocalyptic ending, going for something much more interesting.

The Loneliest Planet

dir Julia Loktev; with Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg 11/US ****
Set in the republic of Georgia, this offbeat film sends two intrepid foreign travellers (Garcia Bernal and Furstenberg) on a hiking trip through the spectacular Caucuses. The first half of the film feels completely improvised, as we relax into the easy relationship this couple has and the banter they share with their guide (Bidzina Gujabidze). Then something happens. In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty minor, but the underlying tension is nearly unbearable. It also makes us examine our deep-seated ideas of gender in a startlingly inescapable way. It's such a simple idea that it's amazing no one has ever addressed it with this level of complexity. And the film is so impeccably shot, edited and acted that it's gets hugely uncomfortable to watch - we know how we feel, and yet we also know that we shouldn't be thinking this way. And as events continue to unfurl, Loktev continues to challenge us while never letting the film boil over into melodrama. A skillful, subtle gem.

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