Monday, 24 March 2014

FLARE 2: Surprising connections

It was a weekend of parties at the 28th BFI Flare film festival - and they show no signs of stopping for the rest of the week. Much of this involves networking with filmmakers, critics and actors, which is great fun, and makes a nice change from the usual day-to-day business of watching movies then spending hours writing about them alone at my desk. But during a festival I have swathes of time to kill between screenings, so I enjoy getting to know people visiting from all over the world. Yesterday I even had a couple of hours to walk along the river in the sunshine and take in a gallery or two at the Tate Modern. Anyway, here are more programme highlights...

dir Bruce La Bruce; with Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Walter Borden 13/Can ****
Bruce LaBruce is working dangerously close to the mainstream in this gentle drama with romantic overtones. But even though there isn't a monster in sight, the film includes some of LaBruce's trademark jolts, not least in how the provocative subject matter is treated with unnerving honesty. It's about a young guy named Lake (Lajoie), who is startled to discover that he's attracted to geriatric men, specifically 81-year-old Melvyn (Borden, pictured above with Lajoie during a drunken game of strip poker). Intriguingly LaBruce frames this in an everyday style, focussing more on Lake's voyage of self-discovery than the transgressive sexuality. Even his girlfriend (Katie Boland) feels that this shift makes Lake a revolutionary saint. The film is a bit rough around the edges, but it's beautifully acted and shot and edited in a way that makes it thoughtful and warmly engaging.

The Passion of Michelangelo
dir Esteban Larrain; with Sebastian Ayala, Patricio Contreras 13/Chl ***.
With the aesthetic of a Pasolini film, this Chilean drama tells the true story of 14-year-old Miguel Angel (the astonishing Ayala), who in 1983 became nationally famous for his visions of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by a variety of miracles. But in the shadows he was being manipulated by Pinochet's government, which was trying to distract the populace from street protests. The film slightly muddles the story, forcing us to work to make much sense out of events that feel fragmented and a bit random. But as we think about it, the story worms its way under the skin as a telling exploration of misplaced religious fervour and cynical political manipulation.

The Punk Singer
dir Sini Anderson; with Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz 13/US ***.
Lively and insightful, this biographical documentary traces the life of feminist punk artist Kathleen Hanna, a strikingly strong voice in the music scene from the 1990s until her sudden retirement in 2005. The film kind of races through the story, but is thoroughly engaging and ultimately inspirational in ways we don't expect. What makes it worth a look is the way it tells the story of a musical movement that has never quite been in the mainstream, but has had a major impact on the rest of the pop world. And as its catalyst, Hanna is a staggeringly important figure whose impact is still being felt. There's also a strikingly moving sidestory about Hanna's marriage to Beastie Boy Horovitz, who has been at her side through a very difficult illness that also rarely makes the headlines.

Kill Your Darlings
dir John Krokidas; with Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan 13/US ***. 
Based on a shocking true story about celebrities before they were famous, this dark drama is strikingly written, directed and acted to recount a series of unnerving events while evoking a mood that would later grow into a movement. It's a clever approach to a complex group of artists, even if it feels somewhat mannered... FULL REVIEW >

Flare Shorts
I saw three shorts programmes over the weekend - 16 films in all ranging from 3 to 30 minutes long. Standouts include: Mathilde Bayle's The Swimming Trunks, a strikingly daring exploration of pre-sexuality; Christophe Predari's Human Warmth, a sensual, inventive look at lingering attraction; Mike Hoolboom's eerily moving Buffalo Death Mask, a nostalgic trip through the Aids epidemic; Stephen Dunn & Peter Knegt's Good Morning, a light morning-after comedy with a warm sting; and Mark Pariselli's Monster Mash, a hilarious riff on horror movies. Honourable mention goes to Laura Scrivano's one-man monologue The Language of Love and Karol Radziszewski's photographer doc Kisieland.

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Along with the festival, critics still have the usual releases to watch. Screenings this week included slightly uneven the franchise launcher Divergent, which at least has terrific performances from Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet. Two slightly underwhelming sequels were both sillier and less snappy than the originals: Muppets Most Wanted and Rio 2. And there was also the astonishing high school black comedy The Dirties and the involving but somewhat dense undersea Scandinavian thriller Pioneer.

This coming week, alongside BFI Flare, I'll also be watching Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic Noah, the Greek action epic The Legend of Hercules, the Pierce Brosnan comedy The Love Punch, Juliette Binoche in A Thousand Times Good Night, Kristen Scott Thomas in Before the Winter Chill, the British comedy Downhill and the Mexican drama The Golden Dream.

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