Tuesday 20 December 2022

Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

🎄🎄🎄 Season's Greetings! See you all in 2023! ðŸŽ„🎄🎄 

🎅 Meanwhile, check out our list of the year's best films! ðŸŽ…

Thursday 1 December 2022

Winter Boy (Christophe Honoré, 2022)

In the 20 years since Christophe Honoré directed his first feature film (Seventeen Times Cécile Cassard), he's proved himself to be both prolific and remarkably consistent; perhaps the only real misfire in Honoré's filmography to date is 2004's My Mother, an unrelentingly grim Georges Bataille adaptation that could quite easily have derailed its director's then-incipient career.  Yet, for all its faults, My Mother starred the incomparable and ever-watchable Isabelle Huppert, and since that film Honoré has proceeded to work with a clutch of other high-ranking members of French acting royalty, including Marie-France Pisier (Inside Paris), Catherine Deneuve (Beloved), Carole Bouquet (On a Magical Night) and, for his latest film, Juliette Binoche.  Both Binoche and the superb Irène Jacob—a French icon Honoré is yet to work with—starred in Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours trilogy, and in Winter Boy Binoche's on-screen son is played by Jacob's real-life son Paul Kircher.

In Winter Boy, Kircher's Lucas is edging his way through his final year of school and can't wait to leave his sleepy Alpine home town for the big city.  Yet the sudden death of Lucas' father (Honoré himself) throws the family—rounded out by Binoche's Isabelle and eldest son Quentin (Vincent Lacoste)—into grief and disarray.  As it happens, Lucas does make it to the city, and somewhat sooner than expected, as artist Quentin already lives there and agrees to put his brother up for a short while.  Upon his arrival at Quentin's flat, Lucas becomes a source of irritation for his busy older brother and takes to wandering the streets; his time spent doing this serves a dual purpose, as it allows Lucas to explore the city while keeping out of Quentin's way.  Lucas becomes acquainted with several of the people in his brother's life, and he forms a particular bond with Quentin's flatmate Lilio (the excellent Erwan Kepoa Falé), a sensitive would-be artist who serves as something of a surrogate brother to Lucas, who tends to clash with Quentin on the rare occasions that their paths cross.

While this metropolitan drama is playing out, there's an elephant in the room in the form of Isabelle, who has been left alone to deal with her newfound widowhood.  Isabelle takes a back seat for much of the narrative, and mainly exists as a source of support for her two children—particularly Lucas—as they navigate the choppy waters of loss and grief.  Yet when Honoré turns his gaze to Isabelle, the sense of bereavement is almost palpable, with Binoche delivering an immaculate turn as a woman who has ultimately failed to distract herself with the needs of others.  It would be far too easy for Binoche to dominate the proceedings, especially opposite a newcomer like Kircher, but instead she calibrates her performance perfectly; Honoré, like the rest of us, is seemingly acutely aware of just how difficult it is to hide La Binoche in a film, and here he effectively harnesses his star's considerable skills.   

Much will be made of Binoche and Kircher's fine performances, but it is also worth noting Vincent Lacoste's impressive work in Winter Boy; sandwiched between two more eye-catching turns, Lacoste invests his character with real depth, and his performance here underlines why he appears to be the current go-to actor for Christophe Honoré—even if he's only halfway towards notching up the number of Honoré-directed performances that both Chiara Mastroianni and Louis Garrel have on their respective CVs.  As for Honoré's own filmography, Winter Boy may well stand as his most poignant work thus far; while many of his previous films—such as Love Songs, Sorry Angel and Beloved—contain more than a touch of pathos, Honoré's new film is directly informed by the death of his own father, and as such contains moments that are almost unbearably moving.  This is top-tier Honoré, and one of 2022's cinematic highlights.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Saturday 5 November 2022

Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)

Park Chan-wook's brutal Oldboy turns 20 next year, and for this special anniversary the film will be re-released in cinemas.  Nearly two decades ago, the Raindance Film Festival hosted the film's UK premiere and now, as then, the festival proves to be ahead of the curve by showing the film on the big screen just before its wider release rolls around.  A superb 4K restoration of Oldboy has been available on home video for some time but, given the film's legion of fans, this is unlikely to impact on the ability of a theatrical re-release to do decent business.  The Mavericks strand at this year's Raindance sees Park's film screen alongside three other titles from the nineties and noughties that received their UK premieres at the festival: Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's The Blair Witch Project, and Christopher Nolan's Memento.  Of this trio, it is Memento that has the strongest thematic connection to Oldboy; both of these revenge films feature a desperate protagonist who's largely in the dark as to the origin of his great misfortune.  

While Nolan's jaw-dropping film may be the better of the two, Oldboy is still a terrific ride, and one that is most definitely not for the squeamish.  Its outing at this year's Raindance coincides with the general release of Park's new film Decision to Leave, a typically immaculate yet strangely unsatisfying work that wowed the festival circuit, with Park scooping the Best Director Award at the most recent edition of Cannes.  Oldboy is the middle instalment in Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, which began with 2002's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and concluded with 2005's Lady Vengeance.  While all three films received great acclaim, Oldboy remains the highest-profile entry in this gruelling triptych and, a decade on from its initial release, the film's considerable success led to a poorly received English-language remake directed by Spike Lee. 

It is quite difficult to say much about Oldboy's story without venturing into spoiler territory, but the action centres on Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a father, husband and businessman who is suddenly abducted while drunk; Dae-su is then taken to a private prison where he is held without explanation for 15 years.  During his incarceration, Dae-su learns that his wife has been killed and that he is being framed for her murder.  Upon his sudden, mysterious release from the facility, he attempts to find his daughter, but learns that she has been adopted by a family in Sweden; Dae-su then switches his attention to tracking down those responsible for his imprisonment.  While stopping off at a sushi bar to consume a live octopus, Dae-su meets young chef Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung), and the two form a close bond.  Dae-su's dogged enquiries eventually lead him to powerful businessman Lee Woo-jin (Yoo Ji-tae), who may know a thing or two about the terrible fate that has befallen our protagonist.

Oldboy's brilliance is partly due to the way in which it puts both its central character and the viewer in the same position, à la Memento, with the audience and Dae-su in sync with each other as the grim revelations start to pile up.  Dae-su's quest for vengeance is a particularly horrifying one, and thankfully Park scatters a few crumbs of absurd humour to ensure that viewers make it through what is a very intense experience, the pinnacle of which takes the form of a late face-off between Dae-su and his nemesis Woo-jin; it's a bravura moment, and one of the finest sequences in Park Chan-wook's filmography.  While much has rightly been made of Choi's incredible performance in Oldboy, Yoo is equally superb in the less showy role of Woo-jin, and it's a pity that his excellent contribution here is often overlooked, with discussions on the film frequently revolving around any combination of Choi, Park and the very unfortunate octopus.  Over the past 20 years, Park Chan-wook has made some fine films—2013's Stoker is particularly impressive—but he has never bettered the black-hearted, mesmerising Oldboy.

Darren Arnold

Thursday 3 November 2022

Falcon Lake (Charlotte Le Bon, 2022)

For the past decade, we've been used to seeing Charlotte Le Bon's fine performances in the likes of The Walk and Iris, but with Falcon Lake the Québécoise steps behind the camera for her first feature as director.  Falcon Lake, which is set and filmed in Le Bon's native province, is perhaps the finest directorial debut in recent memory, and it's a highly assured piece of filmmaking that both stands as one of 2022's cinematic highlights and heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice in cinema; if there's a better film among the contemporary titles on offer at this year's Raindance Film Festival, I'd love to know about it.  Falcon Lake plays at the festival tomorrow (when it is showing at the Genesis cinema), with the screening followed by a Q&A session with Le Bon; the film will also be available online from November 5 to November 12 as one of more than a dozen Raindance selections hosted by digital platform Bohemia Euphoria.    

As with Julianna Notten's Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls—another Canadian film from this year's Raindance—Falcon Lake is a coming-of-age story in which one of its protagonists romantically pursues another.  The superficial similarities are striking, but scratch the surface of Le Bon's film and you'll see just how radically different it is from the breezy, cheerful Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls.  Which is not to say that Falcon Lake is without humour—keep in mind it is a film centring on teens, who almost always come bundled with a fair dose of maladroitness—but it is above all else a haunting, melancholic work, one that wrings every drop of atmosphere from its stunning Laurentian locations.  Charlotte Le Bon's decision to shoot on film proves to be something of a masterstroke, with the 16mm stock adding a tactile quality to the many beautifully composed shots of the lake of the title, the shores of which are where 13-year-old Bastien (Joseph Engel) and 16-year-old Chloé (Sara Montpetit) spend the summer with their respective families. 

It isn't long before the somewhat reticent Bastien develops an attraction towards the older girl, with whom he has to share a room in the lakeside cabin inhabited by both families.  For the many adults who may not consider the teens' age gap to be considerable—especially when factoring in Bastien's insistence that he's nearly 14—it may be worth trying to recall the huge difference just a year can make when you're attempting to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence.  Unsurprisingly, it is the confident Chloé who controls the narrative of the relationship, although she voices concerns that she'll never find her place in the world; that said, she seems quite content to diverge from her peers in her firm belief that Falcon Lake is haunted by the ghost of a drowned child.  Chloé holds a distinct advantage over Bastien—and another potential suitor she encounters—in that she is bilingual; Chloé's linguistic edge is deftly illustrated in a scene in which she is briefly absent, and the two boys vying for her affections are left to a very awkward exchange in which neither can understand much of the other's language.    

In an impressive sleight of hand from Le Bon, it is this seemingly inconsequential moment that leads to a serious rift between Chloé and Bastien as their holiday nears its end.  What follows is both unexpected and quite moving, with Le Bon making some brave choices as her film plays out to its sombre conclusion.  Perhaps surprisingly, Le Bon herself doesn't make an appearance in Falcon Lake—instead opting to concentrate on her directorial duties—but she coaxes tremendous performances from her young leads, especially Montpetit, who drew much praise for her turn as the title character in last year's adaptation of Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelaine.  It is easy to picture Le Bon in the part of Bastien's mother, a role played by the always-watchable Monia Chokri, who herself moved into directing features with 2019's A Brother's Love.  While Chokri's movie was a promising first film with a few rough edges, Falcon Lake is very much the finished article, its brilliance belying Charlotte Le Bon's directorial inexperience.

Darren Arnold

Images: Tandem Films

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls (Julianna Notten, 2022)

The 30th Raindance Film Festival is currently underway in London, and there's a terrific programme in place for this milestone edition.  Festival strands include Debut, Homegrown, Screamdance, An Immigrant's Tale and Sonica, plus there are special screenings of a quartet of modern classics—Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Christopher Nolan's Memento, and Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's The Blair Witch Project—each of which received its UK premiere at Raindance.  In addition to the many in-person Raindance screenings taking place across four London venues (the Genesis, Rio, Curzon Soho and Garden cinemas), there's a very decent online festival selection hosted by streaming service Bohemia Euphoria, who are offering both rentals of individual titles and a great-value festival pass (which includes every Raindance title on the platform).  

One of the titles included in the online bundle is Julianna Notten's thoroughly engaging feature debut Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls, which is based on Notten's 2018 short of the same name.  A coming-of-age tale revolving around three girls who are nearing the end of middle school, Notten's film boasts both fine production values and a trio of winning performances from its young leads.  What's especially refreshing about Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls is that at no point does its title character struggle with their sexuality; the confident Erin, played by newcomer Elliot Stocking, is clearly very comfortable with herself as she makes her way through the not-always-pleasant experience that is school.  While Erin faces several challenges over the course of the film, none of them involve her sexual identity.  Erin spends a lot of time with her best friend Liz (Jesyca Gu), a budding track star who has secured a place at an elite school specialising in athletics, and the pair while away their days discussing comic books and sniping about their classmates. 

Erin and Liz's situation, like much of Notten's film, feels cosy and familiar, but things start to change when new student Sydni (Rosali Annikie) joins their class.  The effortlessly cool and somewhat inscrutable Sydni, who generates much interest around the school on the basis that she was once a child star, soon catches the eye of Erin, who devises a plan to win the heart of the new girl—hence the film's title.  Whether her strategy is successful is another question entirely, as Erin's guide is one that has been fashioned primarily for its creator's own use, and she appears to have no prior experience of implementing the various steps involved.  As you might expect, Erin's romantic efforts leave less time in her life for Liz, and a schism appears between the two—although it should be pointed out that the cracks in the friendship were beginning to show as early as the moment when it was established that the girls would be attending different high schools (Erin has no interest in, nor any chance of, gaining entry to the private school for which Liz is headed).  

Yet despite the increasing tension between Liz and Erin, the latter remains dogged in her pursuit of Sydni, who appears ambivalent regarding the lavish attention she's receiving from her new admirer; that said, she does agree to accompany Erin to the upcoming school dance.  The story from this point on is fairly predictable, but that doesn't detract from what is a warm, humorous and charming slice of entertainment.  Of the three main actors, it is Gu who delivers the best performance as Liz, the loyal friend prone to moments of introspection that belie her wittily sarcastic demeanour.  But both Stocking and Annikie are very good, too, with their appealing performances a good fit for the overall sensibility of Notten's fine movie.  Whether Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls enjoys much play beyond the festival circuit is something that remains to be seen, but this good-natured and highly watchable film is certainly a very welcome addition to the coming-of-age canon.

Darren Arnold

Images: FilmFreeway

Thursday 13 October 2022

Herbaria (Leandro Listorti, 2022)

Amsterdam director Leandro Listorti's new film stands as the lengthiest work in his oeuvre; while he's previously made a couple of longer form movies, including 2018's The Endless Film—which, despite its title, did actually conclude after less than an hour—Herbaria tops them all in terms of duration, even if it does clock in at a scant 83 minutes.  Given that we've long since been in the age of the bloated running time, there's something refreshing about Listorti's approach of forgoing the filler in favour of simply saying what needs to be said.  That said, at no point does Herbaria feel rushed or overly pragmatic; rather, it's a contemplative, somewhat ethereal essay film, one that makes its important points with grace and subtlety.  Herbaria screens at the London Film Festival on Sunday—which marks the close of this year's edition—when it plays alongside Seaweed, an engaging short documentary on farming the marine vegetable of the title.

Both Seaweed and Herbaria are part of the festival's Experimenta strand, and as such rub shoulders with the likes of comic-fuelled collage The Blue Rose of Forgetfulness and James Benning's much-anticipated The United States of America.  Over the years, I've found that Experimenta has thrown up some real discoveries—often at a point when festival fatigue is threatening to kick in—and it forms a fascinating part of the LFF programme.  Moreover, some of the titles shown in Experimenta are quite rare; much to my chagrin, I still haven't tracked down a copy of a terrific film I saw in the section all the way back in 2013.  Experimenta presents something very different from the narrative cinema that forms the bulk of the festival's offerings, which may well explain its appeal, and it's a strand that makes you feel compelled to take a chance on what it serves up; such practice is actively encouraged by the sale of the Experimenta pass, which entitles you to three screenings for a very reasonable £21. 

Herbaria is wholly concerned with preservation, both filmic and botanical.  While these two endeavours may seem disparate, Listorti is able to pull them together in a way that is as cohesive as it is surprising, with the overarching theme being the large-scale extinction of both plant species and movies.  The film looks at ways in which such declines can be arrested, and early on an explicit connection is made between Herbaria's two areas of interest: film is susceptible to fungus attacks on account of the coating of gelatine it bears on its surface.  It may surprise many to learn both that film contains gelatine (so yes, there is no such thing as vegan film), and that it—just like plant life—can be ruined by fungal problems; forget the threat that is vinegar syndrome for just a moment: in Herbaria, we witness alarming footage of fungi destroying an old reel of film, the unpreserved contents lost forever.

While it's far more likely that a film festival will attract many more cinephiles than botanists—and chances are that this majority will be more taken with the side of Herbaria that's explicitly concerned with cinema—the film's message regarding plant life is one that everyone would do well to listen to; since 1750, more than 500 species of plant have become extinct, and Listorti's film highlights the measures in place to ensure that yet more flora doesn't suffer the same fate.  The efforts taken to preserve and catalogue all manner of vegetation, as evidenced here, are quite remarkable, with the dedication on show recalling another LFF 2022 title, the excellent Geographies of Solitude, in which naturalist and environmentalist Zoe Lucas logs virtually everything that grows (or is washed up) on a remote Canadian island.  Like Geographies, Herbaria was shot on film, which lends an organic, tactile quality to this quietly impressive work.     

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Peter von Kant (François Ozon, 2022)

François Ozon is nothing if not prolific, and Peter von Kant, which screens today at the London Film Festival, marks his 21st feature film; an impressive tally, given that his first full-length effort, the singularly unpleasant Sitcom, was released a mere 24 years ago.  Ozon's next feature but one after Sitcom, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, was an adaptation of a work by Rainer Werner Fassbinder—a filmmaker who cranked out films at a rate that makes even Ozon look like a slouch.  For his latest feature, Ozon again looks to Fassbinder, whose 1972 film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is given a makeover in which the title character, as evidenced by the slight tweak to their name, is now male.  Fassbinder's film was an all-female affair, and although Ozon doesn't go as far as to completely invert this setup, his take on the story primarily focuses on male characters.  

It appears that much of the reasoning behind this bold decision is so that Petra can be conflated with Fassbinder, with the resulting Peter played by the superb Denis Ménochet.  Ménochet has given many fine performances in recent years, including his turns in both Custody and Ozon's outstanding By the Grace of God.  He appears to be having a great deal of fun as the main character in Peter von Kant, who is a monstrous, cruel and self-centred filmmaker ostensibly intent on turning Amir (Khalil Gharbia) into a movie star—although it is quite clear that his interest in this young man is more personal than professional.  A mainly silent witness to the drama that unfolds between Peter and Amir is present in the form of the director's factotum, Karl (Stefan Crepon), who observes the histrionics in a calm, detached manner while attending to the whims of his waspish boss.

Peter, Karl and Amir are counterbalanced by three female characters, all of whom are related to Peter: his cousin Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), his daughter Gabrielle (Aminthe Audiard), and his mother Rosemarie (Hanna Schygulla).  All three have an impact on the increasingly drink-addled filmmaker, who appears to have no line of demarcation between his work and home lives.  That said, virtually the entire film sees Peter camped out in his apartment, which is perhaps to be expected when you consider that the film(s), like Water Drops on Burning Rocks, started out life as a Fassbinder stage play.  But Ozon is too savvy a filmmaker to allow Peter von Kant to carry the air of a filmed theatrical performance; rather, in what might appear to be a counter-intuitive move, he leans into the artifice, in the process creating a compelling, claustrophobic work, one that replaces both the staginess and iciness of Fassbinder's film with the keen sense of mischief prevalent in many (but not all) of Ozon's previous works.

In a film which is about, inter alia, blurred boundaries, Ozon gets considerable mileage from the slippery relationship that exists between his film and Fassbinder's, even going so far as to cast one of the original film's stars—Fass regular Schygulla—in a supporting role.  It is difficult to work out if Peter von Kant is a remake, companion piece, reboot, homage, or palimpsest, and in some ways its unusual connection to its source material puts it in the same sphere as both Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria—a film that also cast a Fassbinder favourite (Ingrid Caven) in a small part—and Jerzy Skolimowski's EO, the latter of which also plays at this year's LFF; in a move that parallels Peter von Kant's use of Adjani, Skolimowski's film also features a member of French acting royalty, Isabelle Huppert, in an extended cameo.  Regardless of your level of familiarity with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and/or The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, there is a great deal to enjoy in the taut, spiky Peter von Kant, which runs to a crisp 85 minutes.  François Ozon's ability to change style from one film to the next is really quite remarkable; fortunately, given his track record, we shouldn't have to wait too long to see what he does next.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Sunday 9 October 2022

Shabu (Shamira Raphaëla, 2021)

Shamira Raphaëla's Shabu feels very much like a companion piece to Mondig Zuid: both documentaries—which were selected for this year's International Film Festival Rotterdam, where they played in the RTM strand—examine the daily lives of teens from Rotterdam's south side.  Following post-IFFR outings at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) and the Berlinale, Shabu continues to make its way round the festival circuit with screenings at the London Film Festival, where it is showing today and tomorrow; a measure of anticipated interest in the film is indicated by the fact that today sees it playing on two screens, with 15 minutes separating the start times.  Mondig Zuid's three main subjects could quite seamlessly wander into Shabu, while the title character of Raphaëla's film would not look out of place alongside the teenagers of Mondig Zuid.    

Much of Shabu takes place in and around De Peperklip, one of a number of striking residential complexes designed by Dutch-Curaçaoan architect Carel Weeber; now 40 years old, the controversial apartment block stands as the largest social housing project in Rotterdam-Zuid, and in Shabu this vast, sprawling building serves as a character in its own right.  The Shabu of the title is a 14-year-old boy of Surinamese extraction, and shortly into the film he's seen being admonished by his grandmother for wrecking her car, which he borrowed without permission.  With a long hot summer in the doghouse stretching out ahead of him, Shabu is tasked with scratching together the money needed to pay the substantial repair bill.  Naturally, the teen is none too pleased with the penalty he's been handed, but he reluctantly agrees to do what he can to raise the required four-figure sum. 

When several days of hawking ice lollies fails to bring in much revenue, Shabu—who appears to know virtually everyone in the vicinity of De Peperklip—turns his attentions to staging a block party, which will carry an admission fee of 2€.  Shabu proceeds to go on a charm offensive, calling various friends and acquaintances in hope of finding a DJ for the event, and he ropes a number of friends into learning a dance routine that's planned as a backdrop to Shabu's showcasing of his talents—or otherwise—as a rapper.  It must be said that Shabu shows no lack of initiative as he sets about organising the party, and his resourcefulness is quite impressive.  While it is clear that Shabu—who often passes for someone five years his senior—knows how to schmooze those who can help him out, there are also moments when he demonstrates a lack of tact, with both his girlfriend and loyal best friend falling victim to Shabu's thoughtlessness.

Yet it is Shamira Raphaëla's willingness to document the various sides of Shabu that makes her film so compelling; Shabu may be flawed and immature, but he's also capable of real warmth and generosity, and in a holistic sense his personality is one in which the good clearly outweighs the bad.  Which again brings us back to Shabu's near neighbours from Mondig Zuid who, like the boy from De Peperklip and countless other teens, are simply trying to figure out what is a very confusing period in their lives, and in doing so they don't always make the correct decisions.  While Shabu's immediate situation may be rather more pressing as he scrabbles to earn the money to pay back his grandmother, he's treading what is recognisably the same path as Mondig Zuid's Selena, Darlin and Tamia, each of whom could easily have anchored a film all on their own.  Over time, I suspect I will conflate the engaging, uplifting Shabu with Mondig Zuid, but both films are equally terrific snapshots of the real Rotterdam.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Friday 7 October 2022

Nayola (José Miguel Ribeiro, 2022)

Utrecht-based production company il Luster are one of the backers of animated feature Nayola, which screens at the London Film Festival today and on Sunday.  In addition to il Luster's involvement, Nayola is co-produced by two Belgian companies, S.O.I.L Productions and Luna Blue Films, both of whom are based in Brussels.  Yet despite its financing, Nayola's story takes place far from the Low Countries, in Angola—a country that, upon independence from Portugal in 1975, was ravaged by a decades-long civil war.  While Nayola is an animated film, it is by no means suitable for young children, as it includes some hard-hitting scenes as it delves into the source of the trauma still felt by many Angolans today, 20 years on from the end of the conflict. 

José Miguel Ribeiro's film, which adapts José Eduardo Agualusa and Mia Couto's play A caixa preta ("The Black Box"), focuses on three generations of women: grandmother Lelena, her daughter Nayola, and Nayola's daughter Yara.  The action flits between 1995—when Nayola abandons the infant Yara in order to search for her husband, who's gone missing in combat—and 2011, when the teenaged Yara attempts to propagate her rap music, which proves quite tricky, given that she's now living in a fraught post-war Angola where the authorities crack down on anyone they view as subversive.  The arrival of a mysterious visitor, whose face is obscured behind a menacing jackal mask, only serves to increase the tension.  That said, Lelena doesn't appear to be too fazed by this uninvited guest—despite the fact that he's armed with a large machete—and sets about providing him with some much-needed sustenance while police prowl the streets outside.     

Throughout the film, a variety of animation styles are employed, depending on when and where we are in the story.  Given the attention to detail here, it is not difficult to see why Nayola ended up being a five-year project for José Miguel Ribeiro.  It is clear that a huge amount of care and effort has gone into the movie, which attempts to get its message across via a method we wouldn't normally associate with films centring on national trauma; in this sense, it recalls Ari Folman's recent Where Is Anne Frank, an elegant, heartbreaking picture which used animation to explore the life and horrible fate of its title character.  As with Nayola, Folman's film wasn't scared to switch between reality and fantasy as it brought Kitty, Anne's imaginary friend, to life in order to retrace the story of the girl who had created her.  But unlike Where Is Anne Frank, Nayola can't keep all the balls in the air, and the result is a work that suffers from a lack of clarity.

While the standard of animation can't be faulted, the film becomes progressively less interesting, and although the appearance of the jackal character briefly livens things up, the muddled developments in the story fail to build on the arresting opening stretch.  Nayola frequently feels both confused and confusing, and one can't help but wonder if Ribeiro and his screenwriter Virgílio Almeida might have done better to focus on just one of the timelines featured here.  There are many stories to be told regarding Angola's troubled history during both the colonial and post-colonial eras, but with Nayola José Miguel Ribeiro has made some baffling choices which translate to a muddled, unsatisfying experience, albeit one that is always very easy on the eye.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Wednesday 5 October 2022

Coma (Bertrand Bonello, 2022)

Three years on from his excellent Zombi Child, Bertrand Bonello returns with his latest feature, Coma, which screens today and tomorrow as part of the London Film Festival.  The film serves as the final instalment of the director's loose trilogy on youth which began with 2016's Nocturama, and it's a strangely moving affair; there's an added poignancy from the fact that it features the late Gaspard Ulliel's last performance.  Compared with its two predecessors, Coma is something of a scaled-down work, which isn't too surprising when you learn that it was made during lockdown.  As with a number of other filmmakers, Bonello has used the constraints imposed by COVID-19 to his advantage, with the necessarily smaller canvas leading the director to some fine creative choices.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, screen technology—which, during lockdown, gave so many of us a much-needed window to the world—is at the centre of Coma, as its bedroom-bound main character looks to connect with others.

That protagonist, impressively played by Bonello's Zombi Child star Louise Labèque, is a nameless teenage girl grappling with one of the early lockdowns enforced by France as COVID spread around the world.  We observe her as she spends her days glued to various screens, in the process catching up with her friends via Zoom calls and taking in various YouTube clips.  Her attention is drawn to one influencer in particular, Patricia Coma (Julia Faure), a rather disconcerting presence whose videos cover a range of topics, although she's frequently seen peddling the Revelator, an electronic toy that will be instantly familiar to everyone who has ever played memory skill game Simon.  The girl is soon in possession of one of these devices, although it's not clear how she obtained it; as the long days allow our protagonist to master the game's lengthy, complex sequences, it appears that the Revelator may have a purpose beyond simply testing short-term memory.    

Among this sea of gadgets, however, there is a refreshingly analogue activity in the form of an ongoing stop-motion melodrama performed by the girl's Barbie dolls (voiced by the likes of Bonello alumni Ulliel and Louis Garrel), whose story is punctuated by eerie, inappropriate canned laughter that brings to mind the anthropomorphic rabbits of David Lynch's Inland Empire.  Yet Coma's strangest passages emerge when the girl goes to sleep, as during the night she is transported to an unsettling twilight world, one largely populated by the dead.  Patricia Coma, who as far as we know is still alive, can also be spotted in this realm; moreover, the YouTuber tells the girl that this is the only location where it's possible to exercise free will.  With this in mind, it really does appear that, as Brian Molko of Placebo once sang, "the only place you're truly free is cosy in your dreams".

Clocking in at just 80 minutes, Coma is as modest temporally as it is spatially.  It is, however, a deceptively slight affair in which Bonello manages to cover a great deal of ground, with subjects ranging from climate change and COVID to the roles both technology and Gen Z will play in the planet's future.  With its multiple ways of facilitating its protagonist's escape from the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, Bonello's endearingly hopeful film skilfully captures the essence of what it was like to be a zoomer in lockdown.  For many of us during that time, the world got so much smaller—yet it can be argued that teenagers were among the most tech-savvy, and as such were well-equipped to rapidly identify ways in which to get a sense of the world beyond the proverbial four walls.  Sincerely presented as a letter to Bonello's teenaged daughter, Coma is a haunting, memorable conclusion to a fine trilogy.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFI

Monday 26 September 2022

IFFR 2022: Return of the Tiger (14–16/10/22)

International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has announced the full programme for its return to cinemas from October 14 to 16. Cinerama Filmtheater and LantarenVenster will host screenings of films selected for the festival's three competitions, which were previously only made available to press and industry online from 26 January to 6 February. Filmmakers and special guests will be in attendance to introduce their work and take part in Q&A sessions at the event. Ticket sales begin on 28 September for Tiger Members and 29 September for the general public. 
Festival director Vanja Kaludjercic: "We’re extending a warm welcome to our 2022 edition competition filmmakers to join us in Rotterdam, where they’ll introduce their remarkable work to audiences and press alike. Reuniting with attending filmmakers, including names like Mabrouk El Mechri, Morgane Dziurla-Petit and Yamasaki Juichiro, will be a very special moment, and we hope you can join us for this festive weekend."

Tiger Competition
IFFR’s flagship Tiger Competition is the festival’s platform for emerging film talent. 13 titles will screen over the weekend from the 2022 selection, including EAMI by Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina which received the Tiger Award in February. Special Jury Award winner Excess Will Save Us also screens, with its maker Morgane Dziurla-Petit in attendance, alongside a number of others including Indian director of The Cloud Messenger, Rahat Mahajan, and Australian director of The Plains, David Easteal. 

Big Screen Competition 
The Big Screen Competition offers a wide-ranging selection, bridging the gap between popular, classic and arthouse cinema. Eight titles from the IFFR 2022 selection will screen. An audience jury granted the VPRO Big Screen Award to Kung Fu Zohra by Mabrouk El Mechri, who will be present in Rotterdam. Romanian director Anca Damian of The Island, and Polish-Dutch director Urszula Antoniak of Splendid Isolation, are also amongst the attending filmmakers from the Big Screen Competition selection.
Ammodo Tiger Short Competition
14 short films will screen from the 2022 Ammodo Tiger Short Competition. Taiwanese artist Hsu Che-yu will present The Making of Crime Scenes, with other attending filmmakers including the Colombian Juanita Onzaga of Tomorrow Is a Water Palace and the Portuguese Leonor Noivo of Dawn.

Source/image: IFFR

Wednesday 14 September 2022

London Film Festival 2022 Preview: Glass Onion

The 66th BFI London Film Festival has announced that this year’s Closing Night Gala will be filmmaker Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, starring Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline with Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista. The film will receive its European Premiere on Sunday 16 October at the Southbank Centre in the Royal Festival Hall, ahead of its release into UK cinemas and subsequent launch on Netflix. Rian Johnson, Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson and Madelyn Cline will be in attendance with other names soon to be confirmed. There will also be simultaneous preview screenings of the film taking place at additional cinemas across the UK. 

In the follow-up to Rian Johnson's 2018 Knives Out, Daniel Craig reprises the role of master sleuth, Detective Benoit Blanc, travelling to Greece to peel back the layers of a mystery involving a new cast of colourful suspects. Both films were produced by Johnson and Ram Bergman, who will also be in attendance, under their T-Street banner, and the previous film earned Johnson an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Writer/Director/Producer of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Rian Johnson, said: “I’m thrilled to be back at LFF with Glass Onion, and it’s an honour to be closing the festival. A proper whodunnit really does belong in London, so it feels a bit like coming home!” 

Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director, said: “Rian Johnson’s Knives Out was a major hit when we hosted the European Premiere at the Festival in 2019. Our audiences adored the film’s wit and that it tipped its very stylish hat to the wonderful tradition of British onscreen sleuths. And here, Rian Johnson strikes gold again with the help of the year’s hottest ensemble cast. Like its predecessor, Glass Onion is entertaining and culturally literate in equal measure, making some hilarious, razor sharp observations about the world we live in. The European Premiere of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery will bring the house down as the Closing Gala of the 66th BFI London Film Festival!” 

The BFI London Film Festival hosted the European Premiere of Knives Out at the Festival in 2019 as the American Express Gala with Rian Johnson and his cast on the red carpet in London’s Leicester Square to the delight of UK audiences. The 66th BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express takes place from Wednesday 5 October – Sunday 16 October, 2022. The BFI LFF Programme Launch took place on Thursday 1 September, 2022.

Source: BFI

Images: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for BFI

Monday 5 September 2022

London Film Festival 2022: Programme Launch

The 66th BFI London Film Festival (LFF) in partnership with American Express on Thursday announced the full programme line-up, which will be presented in cinemas and online, across the UK. Over twelve days from 5–16 October, the LFF will return to its fantastic flagship venues in the heart of London – BFI Southbank and the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, which between them host Galas, Special Presentations and the Official Competition. Films and series from all strands of the Festival screen in many of central London’s iconic cinemas with a curated selection of features showcased at 10 partner venues across the UK. The full programme features films, series and immersive art works from over 63 countries with 41% of the programme made by female and non-binary directors/creators or co-directors/creators and 34% made by ethnically diverse directors/creators. 

Every feature and series screens to audiences in the UK for the very first time, with many shown publicly to for the first time ever anywhere in the world. Premieres include 23 feature film and 3 series World Premieres, 6 feature film International Premieres and 15 feature film and 2 series European Premieres. As previously announced the LFF Expanded programme of Immersive Art features 6 World Premieres. World Premieres from filmmakers and artists include: GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO; a new series from television auteur Hugo Blick, THE ENGLISH, starring Emily Blunt and a brand new commission AR from acclaimed filmmaker Guy Maddin, HAUNTED HOTEL: A MELODRAMA IN AUGMENTED REALITY. International Premieres include SHE SAID, starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan and based on the booked from New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and award-winning documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner’s LAST FLIGHT HOME. 

 Major European Premieres include: EMPIRE OF LIGHT from Sam Mendes; GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY from Rian Johnson; MY POLICEMAN, directed by Michael Grandage and starring Emma Corrin, Harry Styles and Rupert Everett; Chinonye Chukwu’s TILL, starring Danielle Deadwyler and Whoopi Goldberg; ALLELUJAH, directed by Richard Eyre adapted from Alan Bennett’s play, with stars including Judi Dench and Jennifer Saunders; Frank Berry’s AISHA starring Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor, and LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and also starring Emma Corrin alongside Jack O’Connell. LFF will host the European Premieres of several major new filmmaking voices: Sundance award-winner Nikyatu Jusu with NANNY; acclaimed theatre director Lila Neugebauer’s CAUSEWAY starring Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry and photographer and documentarian Elegance Bratton’s THE INSPECTION.
Audiences will enjoy a rich programme of fiction, documentary, animation, artists’ moving image, short film, newly restored classics from the world’s archives, and exciting international works made in immersive and episodic forms. LFF for Free will return to BFI Southbank with a programme of in-person events and screenings as well as a programme of free short films and events that will be available across the UK virtually. The Festival will also be accessible UK-wide via a specially curated programme of feature and short films on BFI Player, which viewers will be able to enjoy for a full week after the Festival (from 14–23 October). 

Source/image: BFI

Monday 22 August 2022

Anton Corbijn: Inside Out (Klaartje Quirijns, 2012)

Anton Corbijn: Inside Out is een uiterst intiem en onthullend portret van een invloedrijk kunstenaar en het resultaat van bijna vier jaar filmen door regisseur Klaartje Quirijns. Haar persoonlijke band met Anton geeft haar een ongekende toegang tot zowel de man als zijn werk. Anton Corbijn is een van de veelzijdigste en invloedrijkste visueel kunstenaars in de popcultuur van de laatste dertig jaar. Hij is van grote invloed geweest op de beeldvorming van wat roem en kunstenaarschap inhoudt in de late 20e en vroege 21ste eeuw.

Als fotograaf, heeft hij een grote bijdrage geleverd aan het vormgeven van het imago van artiesten als Joy Division, U2 en Depeche Mode. Ook droeg hij bij aan het herdefiniëren van de iconografie van artiesten als The Rolling Stones en Metallica voor een nieuwe generatie. Hij maakte al snel de overstap naar film door het maken van videoclips. De laatste tien jaar heeft hij zich hiernaast toegelegd op het maken van speelfilms. Zijn eerste film Control, over het leven en de dood van Ian Curtis van Joy Division, is onderscheiden in Cannes en tijdens de BAFTAs. In 2010 kwam zijn tweede speelfilm The American uit met in de hoofdrol George Clooney. 

In het karakter van Corbijn is een fascinerende paradox te ontdekken. Voor iemand die, van een afstand beschouwd, een glamourous leven leidt omringd door beroemdheden, is hij verrassend ongeïnteresseerd in rijkdom en bekendheid. Hij is bescheiden en, boven alles, heel erg nuchter. Hij leeft voor zijn werk of lijdt er misschien ook voor. Dit komt overeen met zijn strenge protestante opvoeding in het kleine dorpje Strijen op het zuidelijkste eiland van Zuid-Holland, waar zijn vader de dominee was. Hij is opgegroeid in een huis met als achtertuin een begraafplaats. Bewust en onbewust lijken deze elementen uit zijn jeugd in zijn werk weerspiegeld te zijn. 

Corbijn is compromisloos in zijn werk en lijkt te leven volgens de waarden waarmee hij opgevoed is. Ook is hij altijd aan het werk en heeft hij de kans op een gezin opgegeven voor zijn carrière. Inside Out onderzoekt Antons jeugd en huidige leven en zoekt daarmee de oorsprong en betekenis van de thema’s in zijn leven en werk: opoffering, roem, religie en de dood. De film laat zien wat hem drijft en wat zijn ideeën zijn over de moderne iconen die hij heeft gecreëerd. Voor de eerste keer heeft Corbijn volledige toegang gegeven tot zijn leven en contacten. Klaartje Quirijns onthult de kunstenaar die zich lang voor het publiek verscholen heeft gehouden en hoe hij zichzelf ziet. Ze legt zijn karakter en werkwijze bloot door middel van kritische en inzichtelijke interviews met onder andere Bono, Herbert Grönemeyer en Metallica maar bovenal met de man zelf. Dit heeft geleid tot een intiem en onthullend portret van een zeer belangrijk kunstenaar van de postmoderne popcultuur.

Source/images: Flanders Image

Monday 15 August 2022

Mondig Zuid (René van Zundert, 2022)

The most recent edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam saw its RTM strand showcase a dozen works from local filmmakers, and word has it that the 2023 festival will place an even greater emphasis on films made in the city on the Maas.  What is interesting about the RTM strand is that it almost acts as a festival inside a festival: there are a mix of shorts, features, series and documentaries, and the makers of the selections range from those just starting out to those who have long since been established in the world of cinema.  Highlights of the 2022 RTM selection included Christiaan van Scheermbeek's Altijd alles anders, which detailed Paul Röttger's work with the Rotterdams Centrum voor Theater, and So Loud the Sky Can Hear Us, a raucous and ridiculously entertaining short focusing on some particularly fanatical Feyenoord supporters.

Also among the offerings in this year's RTM was René van Zundert's hour-long documentary Mondig Zuid which, as its name suggests, fixes its gaze on the south side of the city.  Within this geographical area, van Zundert's focus is on three young people—Tamia, Selena and Darlin—all of whom are dealing with that well-known issue of growing up; as most adults will confirm, this experience can bring more than its fair share of complications.  The bright, articulate Tamia finds herself well and truly up against it as she strives to become a spoken word artist; Selena is from Bloemhof—which in 2009 was placed fourth in then-Dutch Minister of Housing Eberhard van der Laan's list of "40 problem neighbourhoods"—and writes daily letters to her sister, who has been been placed in a youth institution on account of her behaviour; and Darlin, who is originally from Curaçao, aims to finish school, find a job, and stay out of trouble.

While all three of the film's subjects face various challenges, there's a lot of hope on offer in Mondig Zuid—which carries the alternative title Talk is Cheap—as we watch these children attempt to figure out solutions to their problems.  The film is an unsentimental, pragmatic affair, one from which we get a fine sense of how daily life is for Darlin, Selena and Tamia, and while its fly-on-the-wall format may be very familiar, it's the most effective way to capture the moments of isolation and confusion that are common to, well, virtually everyone who's ever gone through the ritual of growing up.  Which is not to say that Mondig Zuid is all about the solipsistic mindset: Darlin, mindful of his own experiences when he first arrived in the Netherlands, happily helps out at Dutch language classes aimed at those who have immigrated to the country; similarly, Selena seems keenly aware of the situation in which her sister finds herself, and her long-distance efforts to support her absent sibling come across as heartfelt and genuine.  

While it's inherently televisual, Mondig Zuid's true achievement lies in its editing; presumably, countless hours of footage had to be distilled down into the crisp, easily digestible finished product, which feels just about right in terms of duration.  To present normal people carrying out everyday tasks isn't difficult, but making such a spectacle engaging requires considerable skill, and van Zundert has crafted a film that is always compelling.  Of course, it helps that the trio of Selena, Darlin and Tamia are likeable and relatable, and most viewers will be willing them to overcome the various obstacles that are placed in their paths.  While it may be the case that Mondig Zuid will hold most appeal for those familiar with Rotterdam, there's a universality to the film: the world is full of similar young people, all employing various strategies as they attempt to navigate the many forks in the road. 

Darren Arnold

Images: IFFR