LFF 2019 Day Eight: Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Maternal (both 2019)

My eighth day of the festival should have been filled with more films, but I ended up not going to the third. Perhaps you could say the long hours were getting to me (I did feel my eyelids getting heavy briefly during Portrait), but actually something else came up. However, the two I did see both presented fascinating films about women’s lives, neither of which featured men at all (or almost never), though of course patriarchal control was never too far from the surface.

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LFF 2019 Day Seven: The Perfect Candidate and Made in Bangladesh (both 2019)

Day seven, aside from being my birthday, was a day of just two films, both of which were fairly decent as films go, if rather earnest, but both of which shone a light on their respective countries in quite revealing ways. Being directed by women, they had lessons particularly about the role and status of women in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.

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LFF 2019 Day Six: 37 Seconds, The House of Us, Noura’s Dream and And Then We Danced (all 2019)

Day six and another four film day. I’ve actually managed to stay awake for all 16 of the films I’ve seen so far, but this writing them up at the end of the evening is the worst part. Still, I must put my thoughts down or I’ll forget these films, so here are some more reviews. Today I’ve visited Japan, South Korea, Tunisia (again) and Georgia.

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LFF 2019 Day Five: Sweet Charity (1969), Make Up, A Son and Rose Plays Julie (all 2019)

My first day of four films was day five of the festival, which I started with an archive screening of a new restoration of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity, with an alternative ending sequence thrown in at the end (wisely ditched from the original film in my opinion), then a new British film introduced by its director, a Tunisian-French co-production with a star more familiar with French cinema, and finally the last screening of Rose Plays Julie, part of the official competition, and a striking Irish film which bristles with technical sophistication.

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LFF 2019 Day Four: A Thief’s Daughter, The Sharks and The Orphanage (all 2019)

Day four of the London Film Festival is the first weekend, and so the first day on which I have bought myself tickets to more than two films — only three, mind, and with fairly generous spacing, so there’s no running from screen to screen today. Two of them are in Spanish (one is Catalan although mostly in Castilian, the other Uruguyuan) and two are coming of age stories (The Sharks and The Orphanage). Oh, and all three are directed by women of course.

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LFF 2019 Day Three: Maggie and The Unknown Saint (both 2019)

Day three of the #LFF brings two films from the ‘Laugh’ strand of the programme, one each from South Korea and Morocco, which go about their comedy beats in different ways, but both raise wry smiles and a few laugh-out-loud moments.

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LFF 2019 Day Two: Desrances and Krabi, 2562 (both 2019)

After yesterday’s solitary first film, I saw two films at the London Film Festival this evening, both of which highlight people’s lives in different places (the Côte d’Ivoire and Thailand respectively) but bring a sort of outsider’s perspective, albeit using quite different genre cues.

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LFF 2019 Day One: You Don’t Nomi (2019)

It is the start of another London Film Festival! As a resident of this city, it’s also one of the easiest ways (if not exactly cheapest, though it’s not terrible value given how much a regular cinema ticket can be in some venues) to see new and interesting films. As ever, my strategy is to select films that are less likely to come back, as well as ones not directed by straight white men — I can’t promise that every film I see will be super obscure, because I do have my favourite directors and my interests, and my first day’s film is one of the few I’m seeing directed by a white man, albeit it’s a film which has been screened in a number of LGBTQ festivals and contexts. It’s also about one of my (problematic) faves, Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 film Showgirls, which I rewatched a few days ago to prepare. In upcoming days expect more than one review per post, because I’ve packed my schedule with only a few evenings off.

You Don’t Nomi (2019)

There’s something pure about this film in the way it specifically doesn’t try to get in touch with any of the creatives involved with Showgirls, because ultimately that’s not what it’s interested in. Like a number of recent documentaries, it’s about the audience and about fan culture in its workings as much as it’s about how the thing everyone’s a fan of actually got made. That said, it does do a bit of digging about that, presenting clips of director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas talking about it at the time, and the film is very good about contrasting the way it was understood back then, both by its makers and contemporary critics (mostly broadsheet reviewers giving it simplistic star ratings and thumbs-up/thumbs-down critiques), and how it has come to be understood and embraced. The film is also good about presenting a range of opinions: it’s not just a queer subtext waiting to be uncovered, or a camp classic, or a misogynistic creep’s voyeuristic rendering of sexual liberation, or a pure expression of performance and performativity itself, but it’s also somehow all of these things — and that can be fine. As Adam Nayman (a critic who has written a book about Showgirls and who is heard on the soundtrack) more or less puts it, you can love the film while also accepting that’s it not in any conventional sense ‘Good’.

So what I love here is the stuff that feels like an unpacking of fan culture itself, and of the way audiences respond. The people in the row behind me at the cinema were certainly happy to quote along with the dialogue when we see it (and there are lots of good, high quality clips of all Verhoeven’s films), but it’s good to see a film that is serious about its subject and not just treating it as silly fun (because certainly a lot of Verhoeven’s work is not silly or fun, and there are still serious reservations which have been levelled at his use of rape as a theme across his body of work). Like all the excellent documentaries about films, this will probably end up being seen mainly as a supplementary feature to a deluxe reissue, but I hope that happens (the US 15th anniversary Blu-ray I’ve got is pretty patchy in quality, and while the Dutch Blu-ray has a great transfer it has no extras), because Showgirls is a film that deserves all its admirers and detractors both — whereas this exegesis should mainly have admirers.

You Don't Nomi film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Jeffrey McHale; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Wednesday 2 October 2019.

Tarde para morir joven (Too Late to Die Young, 2018)

I have been doing a week of South American cinema building up to the release in UK cinemas today of the Argentinian epic La flor (2018), so I am finishing the week off with a review of a recent Chilean film (albeit with financing from around the continent, including Argentina). I saw this film at last year’s London Film Festival, and it featured high in my favourite films of 2018. It was given a UK cinematic release in 2019 and I got to see it again, and still very much liked it.

There’s a sense in which this film reminded me of the previous year’s Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993, 2017), being a Spanish language film about young women set in the 1990s in a verdant forest setting at the edge of civilisation, but beyond that I should probably accept they are doing quite different things. For a start, the protagonists of this film are largely older (there’s one young girl, Clara, who I interpreted as the director’s surrogate) but this mostly focuses on Sofia (Demian Hernández) and her relationship with various boys (and her dad) in the small commune they live in just outside Santiago. It never feels so much driven by a plot as by a need to represent all the different people within the community, and with great economy show how they feel about one another, and it’s Sofia and Lucas (Antar Machado) who become the film’s focus — though never to the exclusion of others.

That may all make it less immediately accessible than Summer 1993, but it’s somehow even more beautiful and poetic in the way that it conjures an era, never heavy-handed in the way it layers on these meanings — there aren’t even any on-screen titles suggesting when it’s set, given away just by the absence of electronics, the older models of car, some of the clothes (though the fashion wasn’t emphasised), the toys, and the music choices (a piece of music by Mazzy Star — in a particularly beautifully-shot scene in a bathtub — suddenly took me back 25 years, and I suppose that was precisely the point). It’s about a time in history when Chile was emerging from a period of dictatorship, but it’s also about the director’s childhood, and it’s about growing through that turbulence and into yourself as a person. Also, there’s also rarely a scene without a dog in it, who become almost as important to the community as some of the adults (at least to the kids, who have pretty conflicted feelings about their parents).

Film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Dominga Sotomayor; Cinematographer Inti Briones; Starring Demian Hernández, Antar Machado; Length 110 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Sunday 14 October 2018 (and most recently at ICA, London, Saturday 1 June 2019).

Women Filmmakers: Lucrecia Martel

Born in Argentina in 1966, Lucrecia Martel had a typically Catholic upbringing for the region, albeit such that she only enrolled in an ultra-Catholic school in order to study ancient languages. There she excelled in science and had intended further study in zoology, and even dabbled in farming, but was drawn into more practical studies in consideration of making a living, and bit by bit was drawn into filmmaking, in which occupation she was largely self-taught. She made short films and some documentaries for television during the 1990s, and has made only four feature films for cinema, but already in that time she has proven a keen eye for framing, and a laconic way of drawing out a story. Indeed, after bursting onto the international scene with La Ciénaga in 2001, she has been a model for successive Latin American women directors, if not for an entire strand of arthouse film production. Her films are not immediately accessible, and perhaps that explains her slow output (and the dizzying array of producers and sources of money her films sometimes list), but she also crafts them all very deliberately so perhaps the waits are worthwhile.

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