Sunday, 16 October 2016

LFF 10: Close with a bang

And that's it. The 60th BFI London Film Festival came to a close tonight with the red carpet UK premiere of Ben Wheatley's Free Fire. Most of the cast were on hand (that's Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, Enzo Cilenti, Jack Reynor and Cillian Murphy, above), and I'm sure the party was a lot of fun. Not that I'd know: in the 19 years I've been covering the LFF I have never been invited to a festival party. But never mind - it's about the films for me, and here are some final highlights from Sunday...

Free Fire
dir Ben Wheatley; with Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley 16/UK ***.
With a bracingly simple premise and a screen full of hilariously quirky characters, Ben Wheatley plays a jazz riff on Tarantino in this riotous shoot-em-up. The plot may be under-defined and only barely developed, but the actors are having so much fun adding various shades of comedy and intensity to their roles that they keep the audience chuckling from start to finish.

dir Christopher Guest; with Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr 16/US ***.
Using his improvisational mock-doc style, Christopher Guest takes on the world of sports mascotery. As in films like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Guest's gifted ensemble provides a constant flow of verbal and visual gags, playing up the wackier aspects of this subculture. There's nothing particularly new here, no innovation to the format, but the movie is consistently hilarious.

The Salesman
dir-scr Asghar Farhadi; with Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti 16/Irn ****
Here's yet another almost overpoweringly perceptive everyday drama from Asghar Farhadi, putting a normal couple through a series of events that push them to the breaking point. The plot centres on unexpected conflicts that provide challenging comments on both morality and forgiveness. This is a subtle, personal film that holds the audience in its grip, unable to work out where it might be going next.

The Last Laugh 
dir Ferne Pearlstein; with Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman 16/US ****
Like The Aristocrats, this documentary explores the boundaries of what's appropriate in comedy. The specific topic here is when it's OK to crack a joke about a tragic event, specifically something as big and horrific as the Holocaust. What makes the film worth a look is how director Ferne Pearlstein strikes such a remarkable balance between the views of comics and survivors.

And finally, another film I saw in Venice was the Golden Lion winner The Woman Who Left, the riveting, nearly 4-hour drama by Lav Diaz. It was a last-minute addition to the London programme.

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