LFF 2016 Day Eleven: Daughters of the Dust (1991), Park (2016), Born in Flames (1983) and Moderation (2016)

Saturday 15 October, the penultimate day of the London Film Festival, and another heavy one for me, with four films. Two of them were archival restorations, so a bit of guaranteed classic status in amongst the new works.


Daughters of the Dust (1991)Daughters of the Dust (1991, USA, dir./wr. Julie Dash, DOP Arthur Jafa)
It’s quite an achievement this film, but it’s not one that goes in for a straightforward narrative or overt central character. It’s about a whole family, if not an extended community, who are — at length — preparing to leave their home on an island in South Carolina in 1902. And it’s about their stories, and memories, and inherited customs. But none of this is presented in a particularly linear way; instead there’s a flow of characters and images (strikingly beautiful at times), and an accretion of scenes illustrating their lives. It’s not perfect either — the score sadly hasn’t dated very well at all, a wash of post-80s synths that doesn’t always add to the drama — but for the most part it’s excellent and singular.


Park (2016)

Park (2016, Greece/Poland, dir./wr. Sofia Exarchou, DOP Monika Lenczewska)
I can already see the reviews of a few people calling this film “boring” and “overlong” and… well, it would be disingenuous to claim I don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as I’m concerned films that get those labels — or at least films which aren’t superhero movies — tend to be just my kind of thing (see also: “self-indulgent”). It’s a film about a bunch of disaffected young people congregating amidst the detritus of Athens’ Olympic Park; their lives are going nowhere, so yeah, it’s fair to say there’s plenty of boredom and entropy. The two characters who come to be central, Dimitri and Anna, just mooch around, fight, fuck, dance, nothing special. But I thought it was compelling in its atmosphere of dereliction and dead-ends, a clarion call from a certain precarious position in a decaying society.


Born in Flames (1983)

Born in Flames (1983, USA, dir./wr. Lizzie Borden)
This is a film that comes from a specific time and place (New York in the early-80s) and perhaps some choices might not have been made today — bombing the WTC seems most obvious — but there’s still an enormous amount that retains both relevance and power 35 years on. Most notably this is an expression of intersectionality in practice avant la lettre, giving strong central roles to women of colour and criticising some of the viewpoints and privilege expressed by white feminists. That’s just one aspect; I liked also the way that its imagined socialist revolution (shades of Bernie brocialism?) hasn’t materially altered the patriarchal power structure, leading to calls for continued feminist insurrection. It’s all made in a sort of pseudo-documentary collagist agitprop style that is perhaps born of its extended genesis (filmed over five years) but works admirably. A lo-fi no-wave independent feminist masterpiece of sorts.


Moderation (2016)

Moderation (2016, UK/Greece, dir. Anja Kirschner, wr. Kirschner/Maya Lubinsky/Anna De Filippi, DOP Mostafa El Kashef/Dimitris Kasimatis)
There’s a certain category of experimental filmmaking whose films seem more tailored to an academic appreciation, by which I mean that they are clearly carefully thought out in terms of thematics and ideas, but express themselves visually in ways that don’t always hold the casual viewer’s attention. Or maybe I was just coming down off three other films, because there was plenty in it to like, intellectually speaking. It’s a disquisition of sorts into horror cinema, without ever quite being a horror film — though it certainly flirts with generic elements both in its film-within-a-film story of strange sand-spewing pods, as well as in some of the apartment-bound scenes with actors encountering creepy poltergeist-like activity. The film is structured around a woman director and her screenwriter (Maya Lubinsky and Anna De Filippi), who are in a relationship, talking to prospective actors for their mooted horror film, and these extended scenes form a key part of the film. Indeed, storytelling, whether in dialogue by the actors or as an exercise of artistic creation dramatised between the two women, is very much the film’s most sustained theme, with horror just a heightened form of that basic need to tell stories. Also, there’s one scene where the Egyptian actor Aida’s pink hair and turquoise eye shadow perfectly matches her floral print dress, and it’s gorgeous to behold.

LFF 2016 Day Nine: Prevenge and The Stopover (both 2016)

Two films after work on Thursday 13 October, both of them very solid outings, and seen in the same cinema, but with quite a different vibe. The first was a rammed, sold out house who responded with glee to the film, whereas the second was very much a half-empty auditorium with a sense of detached weariness (maybe that’s me just projecting onto French arthouse lovers, or maybe I was just grumpy because of the smell of someone’s kebab behind me).


Prevenge (2016)

Prevenge (2016, UK, dir./wr. Alice Lowe, DOP Ryan Eddleston)
At this point in my life there are plenty of films which only remind me of other films, and that’s fine, but it’s nice to see something that feels a bit unexpected. Prevenge is a film made by a pregnant woman about a pregnant woman who is systematically taking her murderous revenge on her perceived enemies (to say more would probably constitute spoilers), and it somehow feels a bit new. Both those pregnant roles are taken by Alice Lowe as director/lead actor, who threw the project together very quickly for biologically obvious reasons. In its blend of black comedy and jagged emotional turmoil, it is never unwatchable and sometimes both affecting and very funny, and Lowe is particularly good at turning suddenly from chattiness to a deathly unsettling stare. It seems to be allegorising aspects of motherhood, but it’s also good fun if you can stand a little bit of gore — a staple of both horror cinema and maternity.


Voir du pays (The Stopover, 2016)Voir du pays (The Stopover) (2016, France/Greece, dir./wr. Delphine Coulin/Muriel Coulin, DOP Jean-Louis Vialard)
This is a film about French soldiers on the way home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, who go on a three-day retreat in Cyprus on what their army bosses call “decompression”, though I can’t think of a word further away from what happens in this film. Instead it’s very much a pressure cooker environment, as the soldiers go through group therapy reliving key incidents in their recent tour in which it quickly becomes clear that lives were lost and bad decisions were taken that various members of the group feel either responsible for or powerless in the face of. It’s also a film about women in the military and the specific pressures on them, not just in their job but especially from their male colleagues. Throughout there’s a tense atmosphere, as if hostilities are about to kick off at any moment, emphasised by the tight shot framing and the glass prison mise en scène of the luxury hotel, whose vistas promise such illusory freedom. In truth there are a lot of ideas kicking around here that never quite (for me) come together fully, but the actors are all excellent, not least Ariane Labed as Aurore — the reason I booked a ticket to the see the film in the first place, for she is among the finest currently working — and her tightly-wound friend Marine (played by a singer known as Soko).

The Lobster (2015)

The end of the year is always the time to catch up with movies which, for whatever reason, one neglected on first release. I had thought I wouldn’t really enjoy The Lobster and so I spent much of the film trying my best to resist it, though there are elements which work in its favour in that respect: the deliberately stilted line readings (especially Rachel Weisz’s voiceover narration), the bleakly deadpan acting, the black comedy of a world in which people must couple off again within 45 days after breaking up or be turned into an animal of their choosing. However, once you get into the film’s rhythm there are some genuine laughs, not least at the appalling banality of some of the conversation (such as Ben Whishaw’s with his ‘family’ near the end), or the ridiculous conceit of matching people up by superficial physical characteristics (to the extent that most of the characters are identified only by these qualities). Colin Farrell, in downplaying his usual hyperactive shtick, makes for a compellingly strange anti-presence at the heart of the film, while around him are some of the leading character actors of European cinema — for this is, by its many co-producing credits, a very European film. In thinking about its satirical take on coupledom and romance, it has grown in my opinion since I saw it, and it may yet continue to do so. Whatever else, it certainly marks a distinctive comic vision.

The Lobster film posterCREDITS
Director Yorgos Lanthimos Γιώργος Λάνθιμος; Writers Efthimis Filippou Ευθύμης Φιλίππου and Lanthimos; Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis Ευθύμης Φιλίππου; Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ariane Labed, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw; Length 118 minutes.
Seen at Prince Charles Cinema, London, Wednesday 30 December 2015.

Урок Urok (The Lesson, 2014)

Fitting into a sort of cinema-of-abjection continuum with the films of the Dardenne brothers (most notably their recent Two Days, One Night), not to mention a number of works coming out of post-Soviet Eastern European cinema (a number of Romanian films come to mind), this Bulgarian film tells a similar story of a woman who quite against her will or involvement finds herself pitted against capitalist bureaucracy and petty local corruption. In the case of Nadezhda (as excellently played by actor Margita Gosheva), our protagonist is a small town schoolteacher doing some translation freelance work on the side, who has been put into household debt because of her feckless husband’s financial mismanagement, and quickly finds herself at the wrong end of a system which is not set up to help her in any way. It is of course a pointed indictment of a system, and an empathetic scream on behalf of an entire class of those disenfranchised by financial systems, but it roots it in a family which is falling apart under these stresses — no one is exactly culpable, and they’re all good people, they’ve just been forced apart by circumstance. There’s plenty to like here, but you have to be a bit of a sucker for slow cinematic punishment to reach the film’s final ‘lesson’.

The Lesson film posterCREDITS
Directors/Writers Kristina Grozeva Кристина Грозева and Petar Valchanov Петър Вълчанов; Cinematographer Krum Rodriguez Крум Родригес; Starring Margita Gosheva Маргита Гошева; Length 111 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Thursday 17 December 2015.

Chevalier (2015)

BFI London Film Festival This film was presented at the London Film Festival, introduced by the director and two of her stars, who stayed afterwards for an amusing Q&A with the Festival’s director. The film subsequently won the Best Film prize in the official competition.


I’d read that this film was about a group of guys on a yacht, and indeed it is, but I hadn’t expected it to be quite so funny. Despite categorically not passing the Bechdel Test — what with having not a single female character on screen (except briefly in one Skype chat) — it’s also a film that I can’t imagine being made by a male director. In many respects, it’s a film that questions the limits of masculinity, and the opening image is of rubber-clad men emerging from the waves and having their suits peeled off (which becomes something of a metaphor for the rest of the film). Sitting around a table later in the evening, drunk and bit bored, one of them proposes a game whereby the judge one another on every aspect of their lives, and so they go to work, with many subsequent scenes ending with one of them raising an eyebrow and then pulling out their notebook. The challenges involve all kinds of things, mounting in absurdity until at length one of them is knocking on the others’ doors in the middle of the night to proudly announce the size of his erection, amongst other ridiculous scenes — my favourite being a lip-synch to Minnie Riperton. We never really find out a great deal about the characters’ lives outside this boat, but we can only hope the experience they share has changed them for the better. It’s certainly amusing enough to watch unfold.

Chevalier film posterCREDITS
Director Athina Rachel Tsangari Αθηνά Ραχήλ Τσαγγάρη; Writers Efthymis Filippou Ευθύμης Φιλίππου and Tsangari; Cinematographer Christos Karamanis Χρήστος Καραμάνης; Starring Yiorgos Kendros Γιώργος Κέντρος; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Saturday 17 October 2015.

Exotica, Erotica, Etc. (2015)

BFI London Film Festival This film was presented at the London Film Festival, introduced by one of the programmers and the filmmaker, who returned afterwards for a Q&A session.


Only last week a film was released to British cinemas about sex and container ships with Odyssey allusions (Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice), though that was a narrative film, whereas this one is very much in a more artistic vein, having developed from a long-standing photographic project by Greek director Evangelia Kranioti. The title of this evocative documentary may perhaps be a little bit of misdirection, but it’s not entirely inaccurate, as it follows a container ship on its route around the world in a series of elliptical images overlaid with voiceover commentary and appearances by a fascinating woman in Brazil, Sandy, who used to be a sex worker in this particular environment. The imagery, then, is gorgeous and transfixing, with plenty of wide shots of the ship out in the ocean or plowing through ice, or its crew on land in various exotic ports. Their interactions with sex workers are seen only obliquely, with most of the commentary on that point offered by Sandy, who is transported into a trance-like state by her recollections. A fascinating document of a way of life that can sometimes seem strange to those of us land-bound viewers.

Exotica, Erotica, Etc. film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer/Cinematographer Evangelia Kranioti Ευαγγελία Κρανιώτη; Length 73 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank, London, Tuesday 13 October 2015.

Before Midnight (2013)


NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Richard Linklater | Writers Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy | Cinematographer Christos Voudouris | Starring Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke | Length 109 minutes | Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Sunday 23 June 2013 || My Rating 4 stars excellent


© Sony Pictures Classics

The third in a series of films about the same two characters, Before Midnight is a worthy successor to Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), a trilogy which will no doubt be remembered as among the highest achievements of director/writer Richard Linklater. However, at the same time, it’s definitely the most bitter of the three, with another nicely-judged ambiguous ending that leaves open far more than it resolves.

By this point in the series, it should be clear there’s little plot to recount exactly: Jesse and Céline, now in their 40s, are on holiday in Greece with their children (a son from Jesse’s earlier marriage, and two girls they’ve had with one another), staying at the home of respected writer Patrick (played by cinematographer Walter Lassally). Over the course of their final few days there, they talk to each other, touching on the feelings they’ve developed over the past nine years and what the future holds…

If the focus is still squarely on these two, it also widens the scope to include a small circle of friends they’ve made in Greece. As a couple, their story is now set beside several others, at different stages in their relationships: young lovers enjoying their first extended period of time together; an older married couple who have become comfortable with one another; and the elderly writer Patrick and his friend Natalia, both of whom have lost their partners. It’s also framed by the Greek countryside, its ruins and its long literary legacy. That historical propensity for tragedy is briefly touched upon, but it is only fully developed in the final third of the film, during an extended and brutal scene of argument in a hotel room.

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