Thursday, 20 October 2011

LFF Day 9: George in the house

Every year at the London Film Festival, there are at least two big new George Clooney movies, and this year's Clooney Mini-fest kicked off yesterday with The Ides of March, and a the charming actor held court at a mammoth press conference along with costars Evan Rachel Wood and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Today was Part 2 with The Descendants, along with director Alexander Payne and costar Shailene Woodley. This meant that the evening premieres involved hundred screaming fans camped out in Leicester Square to get a glimpse of their hero. And the films weren't bad either. Here are some more festival highlights...

The Descendants
dir Alexander Payne; with George Clooney, Judy Greer 11/US ****
Clooney has never done a role that was quite as emotionally resonant as this one. He plays a man whose wife is in a coma, leaving him to care for his free-spirited daughters, aged 17 and 10. Meanwhile, he and his cousins are considering selling off their ancestral land in Kauai. And then he finds out that his wife had been having an affair, and amid his anger and grief he makes a startling decision about the other man. The film plays out gently, with a profoundly humane script that blends strong emotions with earthy comedy. And the performances are terrific, delicately balancing the joy and pain of a variety of relationships. A seriously involving and entertaining film.

This Is Not a Film
dir/with Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb 11/Iran *****
There's something eerie about watching this playful documentary just a few days after filmmaker Panahi had his draconian prison sentence (six years) and 20-year ban from filmmaking upheld by an appeals panel. Because this, of course, is not a film. Essentially, the camera is just watching Panahi while he's under house arrest awaiting the appeal ruling. His friend Mirtahmasb is operating the camera, although sometimes Panahi provides reverse angles with his iPhone. And it's a hilariously surreal exploration of filmmaking, as Panahi tries to stay within the boundaries of his sentence but clearly can't resist the urge to tell stories. He even acts out scenes from one of his banned productions (after all, he's been banned from writing and directing, not acting or reading). But it's the film's serious subtext that makes it a hugely important document.

How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire
dir Daniel Edelstyn; with 
Daniel Edelstyn, 
Hilary Powell 11/UK ***

Edelstyn narrates the story of how he discovered a Ukrainian vodka distillery that was once owned by his great-grandfather and his efforts to launch an international vodka label out of it. Meanwhile, we see the story of his grandmother's departure from Ukraine amid the chaos of Russia's 1917 revolution. re-enacted by his partner Powell with the help of his friends and some eye-catching hand-made animation. It's a lively, enjoyable film that cleverly parallels the two stories to draw out some bigger issues, including personal ambition, government bureaucracy, international business and even impending parenthood. And what makes it so endearing is Edelstyn's personal approach: his grandparents' story is a lovely example of European migration through the 20th century, while his own journey is like a less-gimmicky, more-goofy Morgan Spurlock.

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