SCREEN SHEEN

JA­SON SOLOMONS re­ports from the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val on a Bri­tish hat-trick and the re­turn of Pe­ter Jack­son

The New European - - News - BY JA­SON SOLOMONS

The best films of 2018 you have yet to see – high­lights from the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val

As the last post on the an­nual fes­ti­val cir­cuit, the BFI Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val has carved out a unique po­si­tion in Europe as a ‘best of the fests’ round-up, as well as a launch pad for vig­or­ous awards cam­paign­ing for the ma­jor movies of the months to come.

It thus looks for­wards as well as back, to the east as much as to the west. As such, it can of­ten feel like be­ing in a state of flux. But this year’s 62nd it­er­a­tion ex­uded an ad­mirable self-con­fi­dence in the face of mount­ing fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal prob­lems.

With Le­ices­ter Square’s tra­di­tional red car­pet Odeon venue closed for a re­furb, the fes­ti­val was left us­ing a few screens at the mul­ti­plex Vue and the gi­ant, un­wieldy ex­panse of the Cineworld’s screens at what used to be known as the Em­pire.

For a world-class, classy film fes­ti­val, th­ese are dis­tantly tawdry venues, so thank heaven for the BFI’S pop-up venue in Em­bank­ment Gar­dens which pro­vided at least some unique and be­spoke feel­ing, even if com­plete sound-proof­ing from the out­side world proved tricky – the whirr of he­li­copters over­head pro­vided an eerily apt sound­track to Al­fonso Cuaron’s ROMA, adding to the noise of that film’s vi­brant de­pic­tion of Mex­ico City in 1970. As th­ese par­tic­u­lar he­li­copters were polic­ing a march for Tommy Robin­son hap­pen­ing in Trafal­gar Square nearby, there was an at­mos­phere of a city con­stantly on the verge of vi­o­lent demon­stra­tion and so­ci­etal col­lapse... well, there’s an added irony that wasn’t lost on the fes­ti­val au­di­ence.

The BFI have been de­nied the cre­ation of a new Film Cen­tre on Lon­don’s South Bank – with po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty around Brexit cited as just one of the rea­sons for it not be­ing funded. So we’re left with a world-class film fes­ti­val still seek­ing a world-class home.

The pro­gramme couldn’t have made a stronger case for film as a vi­tal cul­tural and in­dus­trial main­stay, and I’m hop­ing this isn’t a last hur­rah be­fore the com­ing tur­moil. The Bri­tish films on dis­play seemed to be show­ing a real com­mer­cial sen­si­bil­ity and po­ten­tial. I was bowled over by Ray & Liz, the cinema de­but of artist Richard Billing­ham, pre­vi­ously Turner Prize-nom­i­nated for his pho­tographs of his al­co­holic par­ents in var­i­ous stages of bat­tle.

He’s made those iconic im­ages from the YBA hey­day of the late 1990s into mov­ing pic­tures now, with a film com­prised of vi­gnettes, all taken from his own me­mory of grow­ing up in a peel­ing coun­cil house in Thatcher era Birm­ing­ham.

Ray is a quiet, de­pres­sive al­co­holic; Liz is an an­gry chainsmoker. There’s an episode with an un­cle who comes to babysit but gets hope­lessly, dan­ger­ously drunk; an episode where a lit­tle brother vis­its Dud­ley Zoo, and a later fram­ing de­vice about Ray liv­ing alone in his

room, down­ing pints of home-brew beer just to be able to sit up in bed.

Like the col­lec­tion of pho­tographs on which it is based, this film rep­re­sents an ex­tra­or­di­nary mem­oir that bursts with pun­gent de­tail yet is suf­fused with af­fec­tion and sym­pa­thy. Ella Smith’s per­for­mance as Liz is par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful but it’s the over­all act of me­mory in mo­tion that is so im­pres­sive: it’s a film of unique tex­ture, with a bril­liant eye for the comic and tragic as­pects of Bri­tish poverty.

In bring­ing his im­ages and his mem­o­ries to dra­matic life, Billing­ham makes a stun­ning leap from pho­tog­ra­phy to cinema, har­ness­ing the pure emo­tional power of film at its best.

De­servedly, Ray & Liz won the IWC

Film Maker Bur­sary Award, the watch­mak­ers giv­ing £50,000 to the win­ner, which surely means we’ll see more film work from Billing­ham in the fu­ture – I wouldn’t rush your ex­cite­ment, though: this one took him six years to com­plete.

Billing­ham was up against two more in­ter­est­ing con­tenders, both set in Glas­gow. Harry Wootliff ’s Only You is a about a cou­ple who meet dur­ing a row over a taxi on New Year’s Eve.

Jake (Josh O’con­nor) is 26, while Elena (Laia Costa, so good in that one-shot Ber­lin-set thriller Vic­to­ria) is 35, and Span­ish; he’s a DJ and marine bi­ol­o­gist, she works at an art pub­lish­ers. They ex­pe­ri­ence a giddy love af­fair and we fol­low them as the harsher re­al­i­ties of modern re­la­tion­ships kick in.

To say more would be to spoil it, but it’s ten­der and charm­ing and its real vic­tory is in mak­ing it all feel very real. Wootliff ’s di­a­logue and style is nat­u­ral­is­tic, yet with a height­ened vis­ual po­etry, sen­si­tive to the var­i­ous lights of the sea­sons, the parks, the hills, the in­sti­tu­tions, the pubs and the night­clubs. Both ac­tors keep you watch­ing and wa­ver­ing, our sym­pa­thies rock­ing to and fro among them.

First-time di­rec­tor Wootliff clearly has a Euro­pean flair for this sort of thing – rather than any Bri­tish film, she with­stands com­par­isons to film mak­ers such as Eric Rohmer or per­haps Richard Lin­klater. But it’s a film that re­veals a sen­si­tiv­ity and hon­esty about the hu­man heart – and body – where the joy and pain of love is con­cerned.

Mean­while, Wild Rose had a more crowd-pleas­ing flair to it, the rol­lick­ing story of wannabe coun­try singer RoseLynn (ris­ing star Jessie Buck­ley), just out of jail and re­united with her two pri­mary school-age kids. But what Rose-lynn re­ally dreams of do­ing is tak­ing her tal­ent out of Glas­gow and go­ing to Nash­ville.

Buck­ley is a pow­er­house of con­tra­dic­tions as Rose-lynn. She mis­be­haves but you want her suc­ceed, even though she tries to sab­o­tage her­self. Julie Wal­ters plays her long-suf­fer­ing mother while So­phie Okonedo is the frus­trated Lon­don tele­vi­sion pro­ducer who be­comes her lo­cal Sven­gali.

With sev­eral heart-soar­ing mu­si­cal num­bers to cho­rus the ac­tion, it’s a clash of re­al­ity meets big dreams and

dis­ap­point­ment – the very stuff, of course, that coun­try is made of and Buck­ley, al­ways in her white cow­boy boots, de­liv­ers the role to per­fec­tion, pluck­ing at your heart­strings un­til they twang.

The fes­ti­val opened with Steve Mcqueen’s Wid­ows, a thump­ing blend of art­house show-of­fery with a more tra­di­tional heist thriller. For some, the film doesn’t quite de­liver on all fronts, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Vi­ola Davis as the lead widow car­ry­ing out the heist left in the plans of her late hus­band (Liam Nee­son).

Of the gath­er­ing awards con­tenders, Keira Knight­ley showed up for Co­lette, in which she plays the 19th cen­tury writer who be­came a best-seller with her tales of

Clau­dine, but who, the film re­veals, never got her dues as an au­thor and who was a sex­ual trail-blazer in the deca­dence of

Belle Époque Paris. The film looks great, zips along with an ex­cel­lent script and Knight­ley is pretty good in it, as is Do­minic West as her oafish hus­band

Willy. Some­thing’s miss­ing, though, a slight ab­sinthe, sorry ab­sence, at its heart.

Ja­son Reit­man’s The Front Run­ner brought back to life Amer­i­can pol­i­tics of the 1980s with the story of pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Gary Hart – played with de­fi­ant charisma by Hugh Jack­man – whose cam­paign was de­railed by a sex scan­dal. Re­mem­ber the name Donna Rice?

This a grip­ping, talky piece of cinema with lots of mi­nor roles played just per­fectly (by the likes of JK Sim­mons, Kevin Pol­lak and Al­fred Molina, and with Vera Farmiga su­perb as Hart’s suf­fer­ing wife), it’s, rem­i­nis­cent of Robert Alt­man and takes us into the news­rooms of the Wash­ing­ton Post and Mi­ami Her­ald, as well as into the moral maze of modern pol­i­tics. I’m not sure what light it throws on the cur­rent cir­cus – per­haps some will be dis­ap­pointed it’s not more point­edly anti-trump – but it sure makes you won­der what’s re­ally im­por­tant when look­ing for our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

Such is the UK and Europe’s grow­ing sig­nif­i­cance as world film­mak­ing hubs, the Academy – yes, the Os­car peo­ple – held a re­cep­tion at the Na­tional Gallery to wel­come in its in­take of new mem­bers from the re­gion, many of them who were vis­it­ing for the LFF. Ac­tors Nicole Kid­man, Steve Carell, Ti­mothée Cha­la­met and the mag­nif­i­cent Ma­her­shala Ali from

Moon­light were there, as well as di­rec­tors Luca Guadagnino, Pawel Paw­likowski and Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos, all join­ing Brits such as com­poser Nitin Sawh­ney, ac­tress Olivia Col­man, and BFI ex­ec­u­tive Lizzie Francke, and last year’s short film win­ners for The Si­lent Child, Rachel Shen­ton and hus­band Chris Over­ton, who used to be in the soap Hol­lyoaks but who are now def­i­nitely part of Hol­ly­wood. Academy pres­i­dent John Bai­ley stressed the im­por­tance of open­ing up the Os­cars’ reach in or­der to bet­ter re­flect the chang­ing face of cinema and the faces who run it.

To that end, re­spect must go to the new artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val, Tri­cia Tut­tle, who de­lib­er­ately sought par­ity of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the fes­ti­val’s com­pe­ti­tion strands, so that com­pet­ing in the Of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion and First Fea­ture com­pe­ti­tion the gen­der bal­ance was ac­tu­ally 50/50. After a year in which Cannes only ad­mit­ted three fe­male film­mak­ers and Venice, shock­ingly, only one to their main com­pe­ti­tions, Lon­don showed you can do it if you try.

One of those lead­ing the fe­male film­maker charge was Carol Mor­ley, whose film Out of Blue was a real treat, a su­perbly at­mo­spheric, orig­i­nal and fluid se­rial killer noir set in New Or­leans and star­ring the ever-ex­cel­lent Pa­tri­cia Clark­son (could she make the Best

Ac­tress short­list?) as well as Toby Jones, James Caan, Jacki Weaver and Mamie Gum­mer – it re­ally seeps into your skin, as fe­male de­tec­tive Mike Hooli­han goes in search of a mur­derer un­til she re­alises she’s also in­ves­ti­gat­ing her true self.

Away from ev­ery­thing, per­haps my favourite film of the fes­ti­val – I’m not say­ing the best, but one I just loved – was Rude­boy: The Story of Tro­jan Records. What an en­joy­able, rous­ing doc­u­men­tary it is, us­ing re­con­struc­tions to fill in the gaps where no archive footage ex­ists. It’s a smart re­source­ful way of bring­ing to life a story about the Bri­tish reg­gae im­print that ran from 1968 to 1975 and pro­duced a stream of chart hits, pop­u­lar­is­ing a mu­sic that has be­come en­twined with the his­tory of Lon­don.

It’s a story that be­gins in Ja­maica and comes to west Lon­don, full of top tunes such as Dandy Liv­ing­stone do­ing A Mes­sage To You Rudi, and Des­mond Dekker singing 007 on Top of the Pops, as well as key sur­viv­ing char­ac­ters such as Bunny Lee, Dave Bet­teridge and Der­rick Mor­gan. Against a back­drop of Enoch Pow­ell rhetoric and lo­cal racism, Nick Jack Davies di­rects with great en­ergy and style, but also with a firm grasp of the cul­tural im­por­tance of the im­pact of this iconic record la­bel on Lon­don, from fash­ion to race re­la­tions.

On my jour­ney around the LFF, I came across two dys­func­tional fam­ily dra­mas, both clearly in­debted to the daddy of the modern genre, Festen. Den­mark’s That Time of Year is di­rected by Pa­prika

Steen (who ap­peared in Festen, as did co-star here Lars Bryg­mann) and fea­tures a spiky fam­ily gath­er­ing on Christ­mas Eve, a film that’s both warm and funny as well as awk­ward and tragic.

The Killing’s Sofie Grabol is ter­rific as a free­lance priest and up­tight mother – and if her jumpers as Sarah Lund be­came fash­ion items, I won­der if this film will do the same for her char­ac­ter’s neu­rot­i­cally tight, permed hairdo.

Bri­tish mav­er­ick Ben Wheat­ley di­rects Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, fea­tur­ing a fam­ily com­ing to­gether on New Year’s Eve in a rented stately home on the Dorset coast. The cast is an im­pres­sive en­sem­ble of Bri­tish tal­ent – in­clud­ing Charles Dance as a cross­dress­ing un­cle, Doon Mac­kichan as an at­ten­tion-seek­ing ma­tri­arch and Asim Chaudhry as a use­less boyfriend – but at its heart (if in­deed this film has a heart) are two feud­ing broth­ers, played by Neil Maskell and Sam Ri­ley. There’s much to en­joy in its loosely im­pro­vised di­a­logue and in its Dogma-style sim­plic­ity but, for all the shout­ing and the booz­ing, I’m not sure it goes any­where par­tic­u­larly dra­matic.

Maybe that’s the point – not ev­ery fam­ily event can have a rev­e­la­tion like the one in Festen. And this pair of films sim­ply showed sim­mer­ing re­sent­ments be­ing aired and char­ac­ters feel­ing all the bet­ter for it. I just hope your own forth­com­ing sea­sonal af­fairs go a lit­tle more smoothly.

The most mon­u­men­tal event of the LFF

was surely Pe­ter Jack­son’s They Shall Not Grow Old, which had its world pre­miere in front of the Duke of Cam­bridge. Lord of the Rings di­rec­tor Jack­son has been deep into the archive of the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum to bring to life a re­mark­able tes­ta­ment to the gen­er­a­tion of men who fought the First World War. Jack­son uses sound record­ings of more than 50 men, from pri­vates to colonels, and sets them to news­reel footage re­call­ing ev­ery stage of the war, from their en­list­ment and ba­sic train­ing, to their ra­tions of ba­con, their ail­ments (lice, trench foot), their kit bags and toi­let ar­range­ments, their cig­a­rettes and beer, their sheer ca­ma­raderie and their oc­ca­sional days off in the broth­els and bars of ru­ral France.

The re­sults are shock­ing and mov­ing, yet some­how en­tirely de­light­ful, re­veal­ing a sto­icism and pride in be­long­ing, de­spite the un­speak­able hor­rors of life in the trenches with the con­stant whis­tle of shelling, the stench of death, the squeak of rats.

You get as true a pic­ture as has ever been made of the fields of Europe strewn with young men, a to­tal mess of mud and mur­der. Jack­son man­ages, through colouri­sa­tion and sound tech­niques, to make the so-called Great War live again, which could, of course, have been a ter­ri­ble thing, but I think this may be the film, after count­less works of po­etry, drama and cinema about it, that can fi­nally bring its re­al­i­ties and hor­rors to life.

Yet what re­mains is per­haps sur­pris­ing – there’s some­thing so noble about the way he’s done it, with great ad­mi­ra­tion and em­pa­thy for the men who sur­vived to tell their sto­ries so vividly and with such clar­ity. There’s hu­mour here, hu­mil­ity and pa­tri­o­tism, and some ex­tra­or­di­nary faces and voices, our an­ces­tors, ghostly avatars of peo­ple whose lives we can now know. And when our troops come face to face with the enemy across those deathly lines, the scenes are heart-melt­ing ones of mu­tual re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion, of recog­nis­ing the hu­man­ity in a foe which has been cre­ated en­tirely by pol­i­tics and rulers all thou­sands of miles away.

I hope ev­ery child in Europe gets to see this film. And I hope no­body ever has to make one like it again.

1

Pho­tos: Getty Im­ages

2 WHAT’S HOT: (1) Pa­prika Steen in That Time of Year (2) Neil Maskell in Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

3

1

2

Pho­tos: Getty Im­ages

COM­ING AT­TRAC­TIONS: (1) Keira Knight­ley inCo­lette(2) Pa­tri­cia Clark­son in Out of Blue(3) Josh O’con­nor and Laia Costa inOnly You

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