Monday 19 April 2021

Us Among the Stones (D. R. Hood, 2019)

Back in 2011, Dictynna Hood made a bit of a splash with her debut feature Wreckers, which boasted a couple of major stars in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy, two actors who have seen their careers skyrocket in the years since that film was released.  Like WreckersUs Among the Stones was selected for the London Film Festival, where it played at the last pre-COVID edition of the annual event; beyond the possibility of further festival screenings, this Belgian co-production's commercial prospects look as bleak as its Dartmoor setting.  The lead role in Hood's latest film (her first since Wreckers) is played by Laurence Fox - son of James, star of UK TV series Lewis, and ex-husband of Billie Piper (whose directorial debut Rare Beasts also screened at the 2019 LFF).

Fox plays Owen, a resentful, difficult man who is caught in the crossfire of a family gathering in which the birthday girl - Owen's flaky mother - is apparently not long for this world.  The family appears to be a bohemian, eccentric operation - there are references to a childhood in which drugs were commonplace in the home, a situation which led to the young Owen accidentally taking acid; as you might reasonably expect, this incident still bothers him.  There are other characters floating in an out of the remote family farmhouse: Owen's brother/father/uncle/ex-partner et al, and our angry young(ish) man endures a quite fractious relationship with virtually all of them.  He seems both irritated by everyone and completely unsure of his place in the world, and, all told, he's impossible to warm to.

Move beyond Owen, however, and you'll find no respite; pretty much every adult character here is unreliable, unappealing, and self-absorbed - which in itself doesn't mean that a film isn't worthwhile, but it had better have something else up its sleeve.  Sadly, Us Among the Stones doesn't serve up much more, and the obligatory dinner table fireworks fail to provide any upturn in the viewing experience; there are tiresome revelations about characters you aren't invested in, and the arguments during the birthday meal might have been more interesting if everyone had been getting on - or even pretending to get on - in the buildup.  In such films, watching the lid blow off the pressure cooker is almost always the best bit.  But after more than an hour of watching this lot bicker away, there's little novelty in seeing them continue to do so as the film reaches its ostensible climax.

It's tough to get a handle on Us Among the Stones, and it continually feels as if it's wriggling out of your grasp - and not in a good way; rather than challenging the viewer, the film simply fails to engage.  There are one or two interesting aspects, such as the frequent use of stills photography, which is quite effective in terms of aesthetics yet never feels connected to anything more meaningful in the story.  The uncomfortable dinner party in which home truths are slung around is nothing new in cinema, and there are countless other, superior examples of movies which hinge on such a scenario - Thomas Vinterberg's Festen, an obvious reference point here, being one such film.  Despite a few brief flickers of potential, Us Among the Stones proves to be a monumentally wrongheaded film, and its 95 minutes make for quite an ordeal.

Darren Arnold


Wednesday 7 April 2021

BFI Flare 2021: The Stats

The 35th edition of BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival (17-28 March), the UK’s leading LGBTIQ+ film event, closed on 28 March and celebrated reaching increased audiences across the UK and internationally. Overall, the Festival saw 37,516 attendances for the film programme of features and shorts on BFI Player, plus 8,808 views for BFI Flare events, bolstered by the BFI Flare Screen Talk with Russell Tovey, which drew an audience of 4.4k across BFI YouTube and BFI Flare Facebook. In addition, the BFI Flare programme launch received 8,202 views across BFI Flare Facebook and BFI YouTube channels. In a continued partnership between BFI Flare and British Council, the seventh edition of the global campaign #FiveFilmsForFreedom saw worldwide audiences of 1.7 million viewers engage with the five featured short films online. 

Over 12 days between 17th–28th March, BFI Flare was more accessible to audiences across the UK than ever before, with 26 virtual feature premieres and 38 free shorts screened from 23 countries on BFI Player. BFI Flare hosted 4 World Premieres, 6 International Premieres, 1 European Premiere and 10 UK Premieres from across the features programme. 

In a first for BFI Flare, each film was available for ticket holders to watch at any time throughout the duration of the festival. Additional elements included exclusive intros and Q&A’s with filmmaking talent and programmers and discursive panels. The BFI Flare programme was made even more accessible to audiences through closed captioning (supported by Mishcon de Reya) and audio description on all English-language films. Over 40% of virtual attendance for films came from outside of London and included key cities with Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow and Sheffield seeing the biggest audiences for features. 

All films have been extremely popular this year with virtual feature attendances reaching 79% of total occupancy and 66% of ticket buyers new to BFI Flare. Particular favourites included Peeter Rebane’s lavishly told, cold war drama FIREBIRD, Phil Connell’s heartfelt family drama JUMP, DARLING, starring the late Hollywood legend Cloris Leachman, Harri Shanahan and Sian A. Williams’ joyful history of post-punk dyke culture REBEL DYKES, Eytan Fox’s entertaining SUBLET, Zaida Bergroth’s biopic of beloved Moomins creator Tove Jansson, TOVE, Eugen Jebeleanu’s probing Bucharest-set drama POPPY FIELD and Shirel Peleg’s culture clash comedy KISS ME BEFORE IT BLOWS UP.

Source/image: BFI