LFF 2015 – Ruined Heart

Filmgoers hung up on plot-driven narratives might want to skip punk filmmaker Khavn De La Cruz’s crime movie. Set in the back alleys of Manila, Ruined Heart features a familiar array of movie archetypes. Criminal, Godfather, Best Friend, Whore. Khavn introduces them by having the actors walk towards the screen one by one and giving them their label. Tadanobu Asano is the criminal whose relationship with a sex worker (Nathalie Acevedo) brings him into conflict with a local gangster. The cliched elements of the story are acknowledged in the film’s subtitle (Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore). We learn nothing more about them. Khavn tells this story through images and music and his title song ‘Ruined Heart’ performed by Bing Austria becomes a refrain throughout the film. Assisted by legendary director-of-photography Chris Doyle Ruined Heart is a colourful, chaotic, and ultimately sublime sensory experience.

LFF Connects – Alistair Hope

Fascinating talk with Alistair Hope, creative director for the game Alien: Isolation. Set between events in Alien (79, Ridley Scott) and Aliens (86, James Cameron) it follows Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, as she searches for her missing mother and ends up trapped on a space station with a Xenomorph and a handful of survivors. It’s an unbearably tense experience, beautifully designed, and oddly affecting at times as Ripley gets closer to the truth about her mother. 20th Century Fox were hugely supportive of the project and gave Hope and his team access to production material from the original movie even going so far as allowing them access to their archives. The resulting game looks pleasingly like Ridley Scott’s roughnecks-in-space vision of the future. Hope also mentioned being influenced by the work of Terrence Malick and what Hope described as “the space between the action” in The Thin Red Line. Alien: Isolation fits so well into the universe established by the film franchise it’s hard not to consider it canon.

LFF 2015 – Evolution

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More than a decade after her haunting debut Innocence (2004) Lucile Hadžihalilović returns with another powerful story based around childhood. In a small village by the sea young Nicolas (Max Brebant) sneaks out in the morning to swim. While diving underwater he sees the dead body of a boy his own age. There’s a red starfish on the corpse’s belly. Nobody believes him. His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) scolds Nicolas, his friends tease him. These early scenes recall the opening sequence in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988) as the boys play and fight on the island, but there’s something not quite right here. There are no grown-up men or girls present, only mothers and their little boys. All of them are attending the local hospital for treatment for what seems to be exactly the same symptoms.

Evolution is a dreamlike fable about the uncertainties of approaching adolescence and works in tandem with Hadžihalilović’s Innocence which also is set in its own hermetic world and contrasted childhood and death. Though the plot when cut down to a generic synopsis seems slight even for an eighty minute horror film there is much in Evolution that fascinates. Nicolas likes to draw. The seemingly everyday objects (footballs, cats, ferris wheels) he puts in his notebook seem extraordinary to the women and other children. They praise Nicolas for his vivid imagination but he knows what these things are called. The film’s inspiration seems to be two simple French words, La Mer and La Mere, the sea and motherhood. Both givers of life presented as being beautiful and menacing forces of nature.

With its unsettling horror sequences and art-house sensibility Evolution put me in mind of another great French film, Trouble Every Day (2002, Claire Denis). That was simultaneously too gory for most ‘serious’ film fans and too arty for gore-hounds leaving it with only a small devoted following. Certainly at the screening I attended there was an interesting reaction with one rather strident plummy-voiced gentleman tearing into Hadžihalilović for filming “obscenities” and asking the visibly rattled director what her film meant. Bizarrely the chap giving Hadžihalilović a bollocking turned out to be Peter Bowles, star of the 80s’ sitcom To The Manor Born. That little interaction at the end felt even more surreal than the film. 

LFF 2015 – Latin Lover, Arabian Nights

Latin Lover 

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Charming Italian comedy-drama from director Cristina Comencini about the ex-wives (Virna Lisi, Marisa Parides) of lothario movie star Saverio Crispo (Francesco Scianna) and his many daughters from around the world reuniting at a commemorative event celebrating his life and work. Latin Lover contains wonderful recreations of classic era Italian cinema and the genres popular in the 50s’ through to the 70s’. Neo-realism, spaghetti westerns, romantic comedies, and left-wing political cinema are all mimicked perfectly. These clips are the only time we see Saverio onscreen so he remains an enigma until gradually through the stories these women tell each other we begin to get a clear idea of what kind of man Sevario was. However the arrival of an eccentric stranger throws the event into chaos. Pedro (Lluis Homar) was Saverio’s stunt double and claims to know a few secrets about Sevario’s past. Warm and funny, Hollywood’s probably negotiating for the remake rights right about now. 

Arabian Nights 

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Miguel Gomes three-part documentary combining stories from Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Nights with a state of the nation documentary looking at the effects of the economic collapse on Portugal. Arabian Nights opens with Gomes depressed at his inability to film Scheherazade’s tales and berating himself for wanting to in the first place. How can he possibly justify telling transient stories that do no engage with the present? he reasons calling this desire “dandyism.” Yet he manages it, switching between documentary essay and contemporary rewordings of the Scheherazade. Arabian Night meanders somewhat but at it’s best it’s an exhilarating mixture of political commentary and the fantastical.

LFF 2015 – Youth

Paolo Sorrentino takes the opulent stylisations of his last movie The Great Beauty (2013) even further with this operatic tale set around a Swiss mountain spa. Sorrentino mentioned during his LFF Connects Talk his main themes are characters dealing with a profound sense of malaise, the passing of time, and their problems having no real solution. These are all grand themes but Sorrentino’s approach intertwines high seriousness with humour. There’s also present in his work a fascination for celebrity and a love for extravagant set-pieces yet his work remains grounded in the emotional reality of the story he is telling. The flamboyance of his direction does not distract from his often very straightforward narratives but becomes an essential part of them.

Youth is primarily about two men who are no longer young. Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, an elderly composer hiding away from the world in a Swiss spa. Pestered by an emissary (Alex MacQueen) from the Queen who insists he come out of retirement to play his most famous work ‘Simple Songs’ he’s made his peace and is happy to remain quiet. Fred still composes in his head, though using a sweetie paper to keep time, and taking inspiration from the everyday sounds around him. Most of his time is spent with his longtime friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), a filmmaker working on what he hopes will be his last great movie summarily titled ‘Life’s Last Day,’ but he and his team of young screenwriters are struggling to find an ending. Paul Dano plays an American method actor researching for an unexpected role, and Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) whose husband has just run off with Paloma Faith.  

Also wandering about the hotel are Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea), and Diego Maradona (Roly Serrano) now obese and attached to an oxygen tank his wife carries around behind him. Staff wise there’s a young masseuse (Luna Zimic Mijovic) who believes in communicating through touch, and a mountaineering instructor (Robert Seethaler) whose awkward attempt at chatting up Lena turns sublime as he launches into a bizarre story about finding an unlikely household item on K2.

Youth occasionally teeters on the edge of absurdity but it’s anchored by beautifully judged performances from the leads. Caine, working with a great Italian director for the first time since Vittorio De Sica in 1967’s Woman Times Seven, has wonderful chemistry with Kietel. There’s a real feeling of mutual affection present in their conversations about their memories of their shared past. Kietel does regret very well as his wonderful performance as a burnt out Hollywood agent showed in Ari Folman’s The Congress (2012). He’s funny and ultimately moving here as a Blake Edwards-type film director who is blissfully unaware his best days are behind him until in his muse (a coruscating cameo by Jane Fonda) sets him straight.

Sorrentino’s regular director-of-photography Luca Bigazzi lenses and together their mastery of images combined with David Lang’s music makes this one of the most visually stunning films of the year. Youth won’t win over Sorrentino’s detractors but for admires of his cinema of grand spectacle it’s a delight.

LFF 2015 – The Lobster

Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos returns with this darkly comic look at love, loneliness, and the horrors of dating. The Lobster opens with a shocking act that only really begins to make a semblance of sense as the film progresses. Somewhere in the countryside a crying woman drives out to a field and casually shoots a donkey in the head.

The Lobster is matter-of-fact about its weirdness. This deadpan approach grounds it in reality and makes it very funny. Lanthimos presents a world where single people are rounded up and herded into a bland-looking hotel overseen by its brutally offhand manager (Olivia Coleman) and given 45 days to find a suitable partner. If they fail they will be turned into the animal of their choice. David, played by an achingly vulnerable Colin Farrell, his good looks obscured by a paunch and a terrible moustache, fancies being a lobster. They live for a hundred years and are remarkably fertile. David arrives with a sheepdog, actually his older brother who was resident at the hotel a few years ago and couldn’t find a partner.

Days at the hotel are spent enduring social activities designed to bring couples together and attending workshops showing the inherent dangers of being alone. Among this group of misfits all identified by a single quirk that defines them are Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen), the Limping Man (Ben Wishaw), Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden), and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia). There are daily hunting trips into the forest where the ‘loners’ live. Outlaws who have escaped from society and live by a strict code that forbids them from showing any human affection. They are led by Lea Seydoux who runs the group like a terrorist organisation and aims to show couples they are delusional about their relationships. Among them is a shy woman (Rachel Weisz) who shares David’s short-sightedness and also functions as the narrator of this strange story.

Lanthimos satirises both singleness and coupledom as being equally awful in their different ways. The first half of The Lobster is hilarious but once the action moves away from the hotel and into the forest the tone darkens. Lanthimos remains true to main theme of the film though, the insurmountable distance between people, played for laughs at first, but as it progresses with its devastating final shot The Lobster becomes the bleakest film of the year.

LFF 2015 – Bone Tomahawk

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Entertaining Western-Horror mash-up in which two criminals who prey on sleeping travellers disturb a burial ground and bring down the retribution of a tribe of Native Americans (or so they assume) on the small town of Bright Hope. Purvis (David Arquette) wanders into town wearing the clothes of a man he killed, and ends up in the jailhouse with a bullet in his leg put there by the local lawman Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell). Young doctor Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) and a young deputy stay behind after hours to treat the prisoner. In the morning the jailhouse is empty and a nearby stable boy is found dead murdered. Five horses have been taken. A small posse is formed by the sheriff including as a courtesy O’Dwyer’s husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) who is impaired by a horrific leg injury, deputy lawman ‘Chicory’ (Richard Jenkins), and John Brooder (Matthew Fox) a dandified killer with a devout hatred of Native Americans.

While the film’s leisurely running time of 2 hours plus could have been cut down somewhat by spending less time showing the group struggling to make their way through the desert Bone Tomahawk works very well. It’s not quite in the same league as the recent genre mash-up The Burrowers (2008, J.T. Petty) which put a horror spin on John Ford’s classic 1956 movie The Searchers and had a sense of loss that’s largely missing here, but writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s screenplay is beautifully written mixing ornate language with gallows humour. Bone Tomahawk should please fans of both genres. There are enough horrific scenes in here to please gore hounds, while the Western elements work just as well. The whole cast deliver exceptional performances though the stand-out is the deadpan Matthew Fox who’s funny and ultimately moving as the seemingly heartless killer Brooder, while for fans of 80s’ movies there are cameos from Sean Young and Michael Pare