Films reviewed: “Björk: Biophilia Live”, “Eden” (pictured above), “In Darkness We Fall”, “The Man in the Orange Jacket”, “Spring”, “Tokyo Tribe”, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” and “When Animals Dream.”
London Film Festival 2014 was split into strands including Dare, Debate, First Feature, Galas, Journey, Laugh, Love, Official Competition and Thrill. However, this post covers Cult and Sonic, two sections I’ve grouped together because it seemed appropriate at the time (and by the time, I mean a minute ago). I caught the Sonic Gala (Biophilia), but sadly missed the Cult Gala (The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom). More regrettably, I was unable to make Kristy and It Follows, of which the latter is supposedly a masterpiece. But the collected reviews of what I did see? It follows…
Björk: Biophilia Live – 7/10
Directors: Nick Fenton, Peter Strickland
Strand: Sonic Gala
“This one’s for the Faroe Islands and Greenland.”
All is full of Björk. It’s oh so Björk. Army of Björk. Venus as a Björk. If you’re not a fan of Björk, then Björk: Biophilia Live is not for you. (It’s an obvious statement, but there were several walkouts during the press screening.) When Biophilia came out as an album in 2011, Björk promised that it was a multimedia project – iPad apps, a live tour, visual documentation. With the help of directors Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland, Björk: Biophilia Live is a recorded gig brought to cinemas with thoughtfully juxtaposed visuals and thematic cohesion.
A slightly patronising introduction from David Attenborough lays out Björk’s mission statement. The Icelandic songstress wants to correct how mankind and science are destroying nature, when actually the combination can produce beautiful music – the kind of orchestral overtures that won’t melt polar caps. “Listen, learn and create,” instructs Attenborough in his dulcet tones, while also demonstrating Björk’s underrated sense of humour. Unlike the lyrics, the stage show is supposed to be fun, especially when the backing singers are positively beaming when singing along to “Possibly Maybe”.
Biophilia Live may disappoint some in that it delve behind the scenes, feature talking heads, or detail how the tour expanded. Björk, however, is happy to let the songs – all heavily skewed towards a theme of science – speak (and sing) for themselves. The stage layout reflects the album’s unusual frequencies; a Tesla coil fizzles in the centre, multiple iPads are operated like pianos, and some guy plays what looks like three tortoise shells as if he’s Beethoven. When she sings of “craving mir-ah-cles”, the whole room is fully onboard.
Fenton and Strickland apply hypnotic images of glow-in-the-dark microbiology and other overlays that play well for the cinema experience. There are even traces of a dream sequence from Strickland’s butterfly-centric The Duke of Burgundy (one of the festival’s highlights). The directors also know not to distract too much from the Björk experience – the singer is the untouchable reason for the film’s existence, and serves as an inspirational supported of weirdness. “This one’s for the Faroe Islands and Greenland,” she exclaims for one song. She beckons the crowd to feel “free to dance” to what turns out to be an un-danceable song – unless you invent one yourself. With the ambition and theme taken into consideration, this is “Possibly Maybe” her Tree-melo of Life.
Eden – 8.5/10
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Writers: Mia Hansen-Løve, Sven Hansen-Løve
Starring: Félix de Givry, Pauline Etienne, Greta Gerwig
“It fucking rocks.”
One more time. Mia Hansen-Løve has done it one more time with Eden, a sonically pounding drama loosely based on – and co-written by – her musician brother, Sven Hansen-Løve. Like Sven, Paul (Félixde Givry) is a semi-famous DJ in the 90s house scene whose Parisian lifestyle – an ongoing remix of sex and cocaine – spirals into an untenable loop.
Alive 1992. Daft Punk are just Thomas and Guy, two acquaintances of fellow roller n’ scratcher Paul. “Barely 20, very talented,” goes the description. Garage is a music movement about to happen, with Paul as a key instigator spinning decks in illegal raves. But what happens to the guy who builds steady, but not spectacular, success like his “Da Funk” buddies? Eden is a patient – albeit with quite some tempo – study of someone stuck in the same spot for 20 years: he stays on the deck, while everyone important in his life disappears for a different tune.
Just as in Goodbye First Love, the actors don’t physically age or have makeup applied to signify passing decades. Obviously this is symbolic with Paul, who’s too busy sleeping around, snorting drugs and crafting beats to realise his hedonism at some point became a mask for depression. Other names come and go, mainly girlfriends – including strangely wooden Greta Gerwig and superbly spiky Pauline Étienne – who drift away and come back with new experiences, only to be shocked by Paul’s inertia.
Of course, none of Eden would work without its pulsating music. Hansen-Løve does the impossible: it’s exhilarating to be sober and amongst dancefloor clubbers. A few Daft Punk tunes pop up, as do other contemporaries, and sonically I felt swept away by the rhythms. The eventual comedown is more than just a headache – it’s heartbreaking.
In Darkness We Fall – 4/10
Original title: La cueva
Director: Alfredo Montero
Writers: Alfredo Montero, Javier Gullón
Starring: Marcos Ortiz, Marta Castellote, Jorge Páez, Eva García Vacas, Xoel Fernández
“I’d rather die than eat my friend.”
“This would be a great idea for a movie,” one character promises into the lens. “Five people go in a cave; no one comes out alive.” With a wink to the audience, In Darkness We Fall (La cueva) is the kind of found-footage thriller that’s happy to follow genre beats without invention. Five young carefree friends (and a camera) take a camping trip to the beaches of Formentera to smoke weed, drink alcohol, and bask in an abandoned paradise. They’re obviously doomed. On the second day, they discover a cave and crawl into its dark corners, presuming it won’t be too much of a task to find an exit. How wrong they are.
Director Alfredo Montero takes a while to introduce his five victims as (mostly) obnoxious youths only thinking about sex and drugs. They don’t possess any depth in character (and probably aren’t supposed to), but can be differentiated in the crudest sense. There’s an alpha male in Jaco (Marcos Ortiz), a pensive thinker in Celia (Marta Castellote) and a “whiner” in Begoña (Eva García Vacas). This leaves Carlos (Xoel Fernández) as the blogger conveniently dragging a camera around, and Iván (Jorge Páez) as someone without a notable attribute that springs to mind.
The fun comes from the film’s secret weapon: the claustrophobic cave in which most of the action (and inaction) takes place. Each person squeezes through odd crevices populated with mesmerising spikes, while only guided by dim torches. Long story short: they get lost. However, Montero doesn’t opt for a “long story short” scenario and proceeds with an exhausting question of what happens when dehydration, hunger and paranoia set upon five unprepared tourists. The film doesn’t have much more to offer other than an extended tour of the impressive location, and leaves them sitting dejected in a circle like characters from The Breakfast Club. The resultant dialogue is so inane (“I’d rather die than eat my friend”) it’s laughably bad.
One highlight, however, emerges when one of the gang dives into a current of water in search of an exit. Taking the camera with him, to create a POV effect, the underwater view is nothing like the dreamy sequences associated with Wes Anderson; it’s actually like drowning in a hidden location where no one will discover your body. I actually spent much of the film admiring the risks and difficulty recording these scenes, especially as the point of the cave is its lack of sunlight plays tricks with the mind.
But when you spend most of the running time wondering about the production process instead of the characters’ plight, the found-footage obviously isn’t an immersive tool. In Darkness We Fall runs out of ideas quickly and becomes a real drag to reach 80 minutes – I knew too well how they must feel imprisoned inside a dark room wondering when they’d get to escape. There are a few unintentional chuckles when Carlos defends the need of videotaping everything (“They world outside needs to know what happened!”) but it doesn’t take long for all interest to cave in.
The Man in the Orange Jacket – 5/10
Director/Writer: Aik Karapetian
Starring: Maxim Lazarev, Anta Aizupe, Aris Rozentals
“I beg you… I just need someone to me with me, please.”
Screechy violins come aplenty in a Latvian horror about a sacked worker who takes revenge on his boss and is forever haunted by a man in a jacket of the colour of a carrot. Although most of the fest was caught in a cinema (shout out to the friendly staff at BFI NTF1 and Leicester Square VUE Screen 7 especially), I saw this with an online screener that diminished any atmosphere, so I’ll report back once/if it plays London again.
Spring – 6/10
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writers: Justin Benson
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Nick Nevern
I didn’t know much beforehand about Spring other than it was being compared to Before Sunrise, despite playing the “Cult” strand instead of “Love”. Well, it certainly belongs to the latter theme, given how co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead construct a swirling romance in Italy between two strangers who swiftly find they can’t bear being apart. There’s just one hurdle – and that hurdle might involve someone being a terrifying, murderous being…
As with the genre label, Spring begins as a red herring itself. When faced with the death of his mother, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes a therapeutic trip to Italy and – not completely unlike Coogan and Brydon in The Trip to Italy – eats at restaurants and gets pissed with rowdy backpackers. It looks set for The Inbetweeners 3. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. When Evan’s new friends disappear in a flash – one of a few enjoyably subtle jokes – he spends time with a flirtatious local, Louise (Nadia Hilker), and they stroll alongside the Mediterranean landscape to exchange bad anecdotes ending with “it was a funny story”.
Unsurprisingly, Evan excuses Louise’s peculiar behaviour – rushing off at sudden moments, syringes scattered on the floor – because he’s having too swell a time to play detective. (Remember, his mother died, and he wasn’t leaving much behind.) However, when she’s revealed to be a monster (it’s hard to explain, so best to keep the visuals a surprise) even his burgeoning sex drive starts to wonder: is this worth it? Well, that’s where there the Before Sunrise element comes in. The concept of “love at first sight” is challenged when then a few more sights might consist of being killed in a horrible fashion. Well, that’s what Spring has to offer – and, strangely, the horror aspect proves a distraction from the relationship.
But there is a teasingly gothic thrill behind the earnest plot twists that set up the ever-important question: are the late night conversations really worth it if at sunset your partner will transform into a organism that feeds on blood to survive? The answer: sort of.
Tokyo Tribe – 8.5/10
Director/Writer: Sion Sono
Starring: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Nana Seino
“It’s not a man’s dick size that’s important, it’s the size of his heart that matters.”
Putting the “yo” back in Tokyo, Sion Sono further explores the lurid delights of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? by answering his own question. Set in “the ass-end of hell”, Tokyo Tribe is a neon-soaked hip-hop extravaganza set some in a post-apocalyptic world dictated by battling musicians who spit verses over Nintendo beats and picked up a few lessons from Branded to Kill.
The story – there is one, I insist – involves territorial gang warfare, busting moves over rap games and exchanging “fuck you, motherfucker” chants. One district, however, is demonstrably supportive of peace and love – rather like PC Music, such optimism is more aggressively offensive than more X-rated counterparts – and its leader, Kai, draws the ire of the son of a wealthy cannibal. Oh, and this cannibal – already a hilariously over-the-top villain, even without his dietary habits – kidnaps a young woman who kicks her way out of the palace to join Kai in a [Tokyo Tribe called…] quest to figure out: can they kick it? Yes they can.
Sono has created his own world where each frame bursts with vibrancy and ideas. The music is appropriately great and terrible when necessary – for comedic purposes, many of the performers are clearly not professionals, particularly the narrator whose rap game is strictly mumblecore. While the musical isn’t exactly deep and sometimes verges on soft porn, a subversive streak lies underneath that satirises male machismo and the prevalence of phallic symbolism in hip hop culture. Rain’s about to fall, so I’m sending out this song…
The Town That Dreaded Sundown – 6/10
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Starring: Addison Timlin, Gary Cole, Denis O’Hare
“They had nothing in common except the darkness in their souls.”
Wedged somewhere between sequel and remake, the 2014 version of The Town That Dreaded Sundown takes upon a meta twist without the smugness of The Cabin in the Woods. But, in doing so, the horror at times belies its promising gimmick and becomes just another slasher movie.
I haven’t seen the original 1976 version of the film, but Gomez-Rejon imagines a town that meets up every year for an annual screening, knowing that the plot was based on real killings taking place in the area. And then a man with a sack over his head emerges with a variety of weapons (well, a knife and occasionally a trombone) and cryptically whispers, “This is for Mary.” The ensuing panic is more centred on identifying the mysterious assailant rather than searching for Mary on Facebook, but tantalisingly is mired into a subplot involving those wondering if it has anything to do with the 1976 film.
As the central figure lumped into being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Addison Timlin makes do with an average script that would be highly forgettable without its self-awareness. However, the film does at least build upon a legend that has defined a town, and will lead to an even better remake around 2036.
When Animals Dream – 6.5/10
Original title: Når dyrene drømmer
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Writer: Rasmus Birch
Starring: Sonja Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Jakob Oftebro
“I’m going to turn into a monster and need to get laid before then.”
How did you react when you realised you’re a werewolf? A TMI blog post or a bitter howl at the stars? I always imagined the discovery to be a swift revelation whereby you wake up crying at the bottom of the stairs, clothes ripped, having eaten your best friend and the postman, or something like that. In When Animals Dream, Arnby takes a poetic approach with a Nordic horror that luxuriates in romantic landscapes that gradually blur at the edges.
19-year-old Marie (Suhl) discovers the reason for her body’s changes might be somewhat influenced by the moon, but perseveres with an unpleasant day job at a fish factory in which tawdry colleagues do strange fish-related pranks like the worst episode of Punk’d. Marie comes to term with her new way of living with adolescent awkwardness and silent poetry. It may not be the most thrilling werewolf movie of recent years, but the central performance is engaging for accepting that some people will unfairly never be except by a cruel world. I wish I was at the cinema right now.
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