Films reviewed: “Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)”, “Blood of My Blood” (pictured above), “The Club”, “Entertainment”, “Happy Hour”, “The Here After”, “Madame Courage”, “My Scientology Movie”, “Take Me to the River”, “Taxi Tehran”, “The Wait” and “The Witch”.
London Film Festival 2015 was split into strands including Cult, Experimenta, Family, Galas, Journey, Laugh, Love, Official Competition and Thrill. Here are reviews from the Dare, Debate and First Feature sections. Follow @halfacanyon for more.
Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) – 4/10
Original title: Bang Gang (Un Histoire d’amour modern)
Director/Writer: Eva Husson
Starring: Marilyn Lima, Finnegan Oldfield, Daisy Broom
Strand: First Feature Competition
“Bang gang at the house, kids? Now or never?”
Naked teens carry their iPhones by hand because they’ve got no pockets. Beyond that, Husson’s fleshy drama is barely fleshed out. At the centre are four school friends without discernible qualities, one of whom is summed up as “got a scooter and up for anything”. What gets these French youths going is an orgy in the living room, played out as half-heartedly as dividing up football teams in the park.
The naturalism underplays the sex – basically the opposite of An Old Fashioned Orgy – but also renders everything else as insignificant; despite the kinetic cinematography and youthful, tranquil energy (a little bit Sofia Coppola), it’s a slog that undoes itself further with moralising for dessert.
Blood of My Blood – 5/10
Original title: Sangue del mio sangue
Director/Writer: Marco Bellochio
Starring: Crista Alfaiate, Adriano Luz, Américo Silva
“Is a vampire dead or alive? There’s no ID card for someone who’s not dead or alive.”
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” a non-diegetic choir sings during a climactic incident. On-the-nose musical cues aside, Blood of My Blood is a cryptic puzzle solvable on a surface level, but mindboggling beyond connecting the dots of cold-blooded metaphors.
Split like one of those pizzas that have different toppings on each side, Bellochio’s satire is set in separate centuries. One initially intriguing half concerns a priest’s suicide in a 17th century monastery that leads to a nun examined for connections to Satan. Subjected to near-fatal drowning and a fiery litmus test, she may die proving her innocence – which is fine, she’s told, because an eternity in heaven awaits.
As they say in BuzzFeed (The Buzz of My Buzz?), what happens next will surprise you: it jumps to a vampire in modern times; the very old Count, in the same location of the other subplot, is protecting his home and is an authorial comment on outdated societal traits that have survived. Rather than a butterfly effect, the twin stories quietly overlap, but not enough, leaving two unsatisfying stories that wouldn’t work on their own and barely add anything in conjunction.
Still, the bold tactic buried its teeth into my thoughts. Weeks later, the gothic juxtaposition of bloodsuckers, paperwork and internet entrepreneurism still rattles in my mind – much more than something like Grandma, which I did enjoy – and, who knows, maybe it’ll create an epiphany for when I’m still a vampire in three centuries from now.
The Club – 6/10
Original title: El Club
Director Pablo Larraín
Writers: Pablo Larraín, Guillermo Calderón, Daniel Villalobos
Starring: Roberto Farías, Antonia Zegers, Alfredo Castro
“If there were poor people, there would be no more saints, and that would be a terrible thing.”
An eerie shiver floats around a seaside home for priests whose crimes are revealed bit by bit in interrogation scenes far subtler than you’d imagine, especially when the interrogation evolves into an inner monologue. There’s cruel poetry in the strongest and laziest images, both involving dogs.
Entertainment – 8/10
Director: Rick Alverson
Writers: Rick Alverson, Tim Heidecker, Gregg Turkington
Starring: Gregg Turkington, Ty Sheridan, Lotte Verbeek, John C. Reilly
Happy Hour – 7/10
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Writer: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Tadashi Nohara, Tomoyuki Takahashi
Starring: Rira Kawamura, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara, Sachie Tanaka
“I was killed by my husband.”
Running for 5.5 hours, beating what was either Blue is the Warmest Colour or Hard to Be a God as the longest film I’d seen, Happy Hour is – trust me – easy to watch. Four female thirtysomething friends find their lives unravel in Japan when one of them plans a divorce, and dynamics evolve in what feels like real-time (in a good way). I’m reconsidering my rule that films should be under two hours; wouldn’t it be great if your all-time favourite films had 5.5-hour edits? After midnight, we go back to ourselves.
The Here After – 8/10
Original title: Efterskalv
Director/Writer: Magnus von Horn
Starring: Ulrik Munther, Mats Blomgren, Loa Ek, Wieslaw Komasa, Inger Nilsson Saleh
Strand: First Feature Competition
“I don’t want to be alone.”
High school is for many adolescents an intense routine of believing the world – by which I mean the classroom – is against you, and just you. That’s the case in von Horn’s The Here After, an unflinching character study of a teenage murderer returning to his hometown following two years in prison. Morally ambiguous and withholding finger-wagging judgements, the patient drama depicts a young boy eager to reintegrate with society, only to be told repeatedly – sometimes with a brick through the window – that he isn’t welcome back.
John (Ulrik Muther) is, on the outside, a passive figure more likely to moodily throw a silent tantrum in the corner than instigate a fight. He returns to his father Martin (Mats Blomgren) and younger brother in a small village where the locals knew the young female victim and believe his brief time didn’t match the severe crime. At school, fellow classmates protest, form petitions, yell “death penalty!” and physically attack John, fully aware he can’t retaliate without an expulsion. It builds and builds with deft narrative beats, establishing his icy exterior is on the brink of breaking.
Not that John is a saint. The crime lingers in the neighbourhood’s memory because it happened so recently, and part of that darker personality is glimpsed during occasional exasperated screams and emotional outbursts. His only friend is Malin (Loa Ek), a girl attracted to – or at least curious by – the psychological makeup of a killer. In a startling confession, he admits to fully remembering the murder and denies any sleepwalking state of being; her response is a flirtatious giggle and a request: he should place his hands around her neck, to playfully recreate the mistake that’s ruined his life and taken someone else’s.
Mostly, though, The Here After examines an early cul-de-sac for someone who repeatedly declares, “I don’t want to be alone.” He may be surrounded by enemies, haunting memories and a resentful family, but it’s preferable to total anonymity. His isolation is apparent in the very widescreen frames constructed by cinematograph Lukasz Zal, whose formal precision did similar wonders for Ida. In the chilly, unwelcoming Scandinavian landscape, John physical bursts of energy possess hints of an alter ego bubbling inside. Munther is a well-known pop star in Sweden. Perhaps that’s what adds to the complexity of an actor whose stoic facial expressions tell a story of their own.
Madame Courage – 3.5/10
Director/Writer: Merzak Allouache
Starring: Adlane Djemil, Lamia Bezouaoui, Leïla Tilmatine
“You follow her. You harass her.”
Omar is a young thief addicted to pills (called Madame Courage, FYI) and semi-stalking a girl whose necklace he stole. Back at home, his sister is a prostitute, while his mother yells at him. Occasionally he wields a sword for reasons to do with his discomfort with the opposite sex. That’s your lot. It’s possible there’s only 10 lines of dialogue in total, each hacky and cumbersome, but oh so welcome during the numerous uneventful stretches. I’m all for “slow cinema”, but this is like leaving the slow cooker on, waiting for it to boil, then realising it wasn’t plugged in.
My Scientology Movie – 7.5/10
Director: John Dower
Starring: Louis Theroux
“I was the baddest-ass guy in Scientology.”
When Louis was unable to interview Michael Jackson, he spun a TV episode out of failed meetings, but with Scientology he gives up beforehand – there’s no chance of spending a minute, let alone weeks, with David Miscavige. So he applies a sort of Act of Killing method to restaging Scientology’s murky meetings and tactics. On board is Mark Rathbun, a former Scientology bigwig bully – the guy in the Gibney doc known for punching people – who became a whistleblower after years with the gang.
For all the money Louis splashes on petrol for road trips, the film’s key lies in Rathbun – his bursts of anger suggest the Church’s brainwashing left a stain still to be removed. And, of course, the hunter becomes the hunted, when Theroux finds himself followed by a documentary crew. Funny and quietly shocking.
Take Me to the River – 5/10
Director/Writer: Matt Sobel
Starring: Logan Miller, Robin Weigert, Josh Hamilton
“Did I miss something?”
A family trips sees gay teen Ryder (Miller) dragged by his parents to visit the relatives. Adorning bright, tight red shorts, Ryder gives glimmers of homosexuality – a trait his parents advise to keep secret for the weekend. The reason is clearer upon meeting the rural clan, a stereotypical redneck family presented as idiots with their own internal secrets.
The tension mounts quite nicely at first. Sobel maps out empty spaces for characters to run into, hidden from view, but these grassy playgrounds are close enough to run screaming for help. An off-screen incident in a barn serves as a catalyst of sorts: the prepubescent female cousin is bleeding from the waist, with only Ryder in her presence. But don’t expect The Slap. The tornado doesn’t shape the film, and the rest is largely anticlimactic filler, aside from a certain incident (you will know what I mean when you see it) that will spark conversation like “where did that come from?” and “uh, how did you not see that coming?” and “don’t patronise me” and “I’m not patronising you” and “I don’t even know who you are, so leave me alone”. The cast are rather dull (the script doesn’t help) during what becomes a long, unfulfilling tease.
Taxi Tehran – 8/10
Director: Jafar Panahi
“You said filmmaking is all about discipline. Where’s your discipline? I’ve been waiting for an hour.”
Before Taxi Tehran, I hadn’t seen a Jafar Panahi film. And in a way, I still haven’t. No official credits exist for the road movie shot on the sly, for Panahi is still under house arrest and banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government.
The joke and premise for Taxi is that Panahi (a director whose mantelpiece contains silverware from Cannes and Venice) is now a taxi driver for a day job. Placing a hidden camera on the dashboard, supposedly to put off thieves, he picks up passengers for short comedic skits, made even funnier by his geographical incompetence and deadpan reactions. There’s a DVD bootlegger who once brought Once Upon a Time in Anatolia to Panahi, and also an injured man who insists a camera phone picks up his dying FU statements.
But Panahi isn’t breaking the law just for a few yuks. Along the way, discussions of Iranian censorship are deftly woven into conversation. Namely, how can they ban filmmaking? And what does it achieve? From a passenger playing self-recorded footage on his iPad to Taxi Tehran itself, the ban is proved impossible to uphold, and a philosophy that hides vital truths. The director’s niece, Hana, is also a budding filmmaker but subjected to her teacher’s regulations for only shooting a government-friendly picture of Tehran. Subsequently, her footage of a stranger stealing money must be binned, in a lose/lose scenario.
Wryly funny and thought-provoking, Taxi Tehran could also be called This is Not a Film had it not been already taken. A passenger who recognises Panahi notes the previous arguing duo in the vehicle must be actors for they keep quoting one of the director’s earlier films. Later in the journey, Panahi bumps into Nasrin Sotoudeh, the human rights lawyer, to further the solidarity. “They make your best friends your worst enemies,” she advises. “Just let it go.”
The Wait – 6.5/10
Original title: L’attesa
Director: Piero Messina
Writers: Giancomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, Andrea Paolo Massara, Piero Messina
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Lou de Laâge, Giorgio Colangeli
Strand: First Feature Competition
“I had that dream about water again.”
Messina was Sorrentino’s assistant director on The Great Beauty, and it shows in the visual excess of The Wait – a stunning, orchestral drama that chucks in poetic dream sequences and surreal flourishes around its straightforward story.
Grieving Anna (Binoche) has just lost her son, but pretends he’s just temporarily away when his unwitting girlfriend Jeanne (Laâge) pops up at the front door. This way, Anna can at least trick herself into believing her child’s still alive. Or so we think. For all of the tricks Messina employs – including a few seconds when the son comes back to live and speaks a few lines – Anna is unreadable, and much of the film is spent analysing her elusive facial expressions for clues. Which is fine with Binoche, again demonstrating why she’s one of the best actresses around. At times, the inscrutability and illogical decision-making grates, but it handsomely pays off in the final scene.
The Witch – 7/10
Director/Writer: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Strand: First Feature Competition
“My lord, my salvation, take me to thy lap.”
Come hither to a folk horror that takes a few bites of an apple before revving up for a second half reeking of evil and scares so immersive that the language on its own does the trick. They say don’t work with animals or children, especially if they’re possessed, but Eggers does both, and I suspect he is witched. Time to reconsider the pet goat and those “convert to Satanism” self-help pamphlets.