Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
Olivier Assayas reunites with Kristin Stewart following their success with Clouds of Sils Maria for this unusual tale of a young woman trying to come to terms with her twin brother’s death. Maureen (Stewart) lives in Paris and works as a personal shopper for a supermodel. She hates her job collecting expensive items from high-end department stores, but it pays the rent. She has a reason for staying in the city. Maureen is a medium and believes Lewis is haunting the house they grew up in so she spends her nights there trying to make contact with his spirit. These scenes are unsettling and eventually become downright terrifying, though there is a hint of ambiguity present suggesting Maureen’s grief may have taken form, just as Eleanor’s anguish might be the cause of the strange occurrences in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ Yet Assayas and everybody in the movie treat her gift with respect which suggests this is a world where the supernatural is possible and the dead exist alongside the living. There’s a sub-plot about mysterious texts sent by somebody who seems to know her whereabouts at all times, a Vertigo like transformation into her boss, and a murder but it’s plot is less important than the mood Assayas creates. Personal Shopper may prove divisive for audiences but it’s an audacious study on grief, and urban loneliness with a terrific performance from Stewart.
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
Bertrand Bonello’s remarkable film is a real gut-puncher. Opening with a beautifully choreographed wordless sequence showing a group of youngsters repeatedly crossing paths as they move through the Paris Metro, then towards their various destinations at the heart of the city it’s clear they are carrying out some kind of well thought out plan. Bonello gives us hints through flashbacks but retains this ambiguity until they’ve completed their missions. The kids then retreat from the real world of the city, and into an upmarket department store where they hide away from the consequences of their actions. Running wild through the various floors this place becomes like a fantasy world occupying their time until the inevitable happens and the real world catches up with them. Touching on themes of a disenfranchised youth, Europe’s collapsing institutions, misguided political idealism, and materialism, it’s perhaps the most prescient film of the year. Bonus points for using John Barry’s theme for the 70s’ Roger Moore/Tony Curtis TV show The Persuaders to haunting effect.
Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)
Funny and occasionally melancholic romantic-comedy from Saudi arabia about a young couple trying to further their relationship while also dealing with societal pressures and their families. The first time we see Barakah (Hisham Fageeh) he’s walking towards the screen like ‘Beat’ Takeshi’s introduction in Violent Cop, but he’s a gentler sort of fellow. As a civil servant his job requires him to patrol his local neighborhood and hand out fines for minor civic infringements, but Barakah usually just warns them instead. Barakah is beginning to feel life is passing him by until he meets social media star Bibi (Fatima al-Banawi) and the two become although their personalities are very different. He’s working-class, while she’s the adopted daughter of rich parents. Barakah is quiet and obeys the rules, Bibi walks around with her head uncovered and sails dangerously close to the wind with her Instagram account. The presence of the religious police is never directly shown except in one absurdist sequence but the threat is always there in the background. The couple meet in public places for moments at a time making sure these encounters look more like chance than romantic liaisons in case somebody reports them. There’s a beautiful riff on the “this is 2003/1955…” scenes from Mike Mills Beginners (2011) contrasting the freedoms his grand-parents generation enjoyed with the limitations they’ve placed on the young. It is first and foremost though a romantic-comedy though, and both Fageeh and al-Banawi are very charming together.
Blue Velvet Revisited (Peter Braatz)
Documentary put together from behind-the-scenes footage taken by a German filmmaker Peter Braatz. As a student Braatz asked if he could shadow David Lynch during the production of Blue Velvet and to his great surprise Lynch agreed. Blue Velvet Revisited is for die-hard Lynch fans only, a mixture of still photography, on-set interviews, and footage taken of scenes being filmed presented with little context for the uninitiated. The most interesting part is hearing Lynch talking thirty years how he would like to experiment with new computer technology and his dissatisfaction with the process of shooting on film. No wonder he was one of the first directors to embrace digital filmmaking.
Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader)
Easily the biggest disappointment of this year’s LFF is the normally great Paul Schrader’s adaptation of Eddie Bunker’s crime novel about three recently released ex-cons and their return to their violent old ways. Dog Eat Dog reteams Schrader with Nicolas Cage after the poorly received Dying of the Light which did at least have production problems to use as an excuse for its failure. On paper Bunker’s novel seems the perfect material for Schrader, director of the cool detached adaptation of Comfort of Strangers (1990) and the stylish crime thriller Light Sleeper (1992) but the darkly comic tone here and the occasional digressions into the kind of dream-like fairytale stylings of David Lynch don’t suit him. An opening scene in which Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) murders an overweight mother and her teenage daughter is shockingly played for laughs and this glib tone continues throughout the movie despite the obviously fatalistic direction the story is clearly taking. Bunker’s story about ruthless none too bright criminals who will hurt anybody who get in their way is still in there behind Schrader’s excesses but despite excellent performances from Cage and in particular Christopher Matthew Cook as hulking enforcer Diesel this is an unpleasant and (remarkably considering the age of its director) adolescent work.