Sunday, 9 October 2016

LFF 4: Take on the establishment

After launching the festival with his opening film A United Kingdom on Wednesday, David Oyelowo was back out again tonight for the premiere of Queen of Katwe, an inspiring true story from Uganda. Oyelowo has made quite a mark on the 60th London Film Festival, as he also hosted the launch of the BFI's Black Star programme exploring diversity in cinema. His speech made headlines, including the fact that only 13 percent of British films have leading roles for black actors. "The odd token thrown, the odd bone given is not going to do it," he said. "Don't pat yourself on the back because you made that black drama. Bully for you, but that's not diversity. It's got to be baked into the foundation of where the ideas flow from." Here are some highlights from Sunday...

Queen of Katwe
dir Mira Nair; with Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo 16/SA 2h04 ***.
While this fact-based film is low on authentic edge, it's bright and engaging enough to hold the audience's interest and deliver a terrific emotional kick. Abject poverty hasn't looked this colourful since Slumdog Millionaire, and this story also addresses big social issues as it follows a handful of likeable characters through an involving odyssey. And the movie is so entertaining that we hardly realise we're learning something.  FULL REVIEW >

dir Paul Verhoeven; with Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte 16/Fr ****
With a bold tone that's bracingly matter-of-fact, this outrageous comedy-thriller takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride with an extraordinary woman who refuses to just accept whatever life throws at her. It's a twisty, surprising story that takes several disturbing turns, offering Isabelle Huppert another wonderfully complex role, while director Paul Verhoeven adeptly plays with audience expectations.

dir Benedict Andrews; with Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn 16/UK **
Adapted by playwright David Harrower from his play Blackbird, this is a harrowing look at seduction and manipulation. But its gyrations feel somewhat contrived on a film screen, and the characters are oddly simplistic for a story that takes such a bold, complex approach to a difficult situation. It's worth seeing for some of the performances, and also for its ability to get us thinking. But it's never engaging. 

dir Steven Cantor; with Sergei Polunin, Galina Polunina 16/UK ****
This narrative doc traces the life and career of Sergei Polunin, often called the "bad boy of ballet" for his hard-partying lifestyle. But the film reveals a more complex young man whose innate gift made him the youngest ever principal for the Royal Ballet, while his family fell apart supporting him. It's a powerfully emotional documentary, even though it feels like it only scratches the surface.

Hermia & Helena
dir-scr Matias Pineiro; with Agustina Munoz, Maria Villar 16/Arg **
Indulgently experimental, this is the kind of movie that appeals to film students due to its clever references and artful juxtaposition. But the fact is that there is no plot to speak of, scenes simply don't hang together and it's perhaps too generous to call the acting uneven. There is some charm in filmmaker Matias Pineiro's loose, witty style, but in the end it's just too smug to have any resonance.

And another film I saw in Venice that's playing here in London is Terrence Malick's ethereal earth doc Voyage of Time

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