Wednesday, October 21, 2015

59th London Film Festival 7 to 18 October 2015

'Blood of My Blood' directed by Marco Bellocchio was our first excursion.   This is a film of two parts, the first being the interrogation and torture of a nun accused of seducing a priest who then
committed suicide.   His brother watches the interrogations which end with the nun being walled up
in a small cell; years pass and she finally seeks forgiveness which ensures her release.   However, she
is still young and her appearance causes the death of those watching.   The second part is present-day
in the same town with most of the same actors.   Involving some underhand development plans which
the locals oppose, the Count, supposedly the brother in the earlier sequence, does enough to stop it
before dying (though he is meant to be a vampire!).   Both halves are well filmed but the connection
between them far from obvious.
'Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen' directed by Takeshi Kitano represents a welcome return to form for
the director whose recent films have disappointed.   A number of retired Yakuza chiefs get together
to take revenge on a young gang after one of them is duped by a phone scam.   A number of scenes
show them trying to cope with their age and infirmities before a riotous finale with them chasing the
young crooks in a commandeered bus.   Delightfully hilarious.
'Ghost Theater' directed by Hideo Nakata is the story of a talented but reserved young actress who
manages to get a role in a production about the infamous Countess Bathory.   She plays a maid but,
because of her habit of memorising the complete script, lands the lead role when the actress playing
it is killed in a freak accident.   The play involves the Countess talking to a dummy as her alter ego
or conscience and the new lead becomes convinced that the dummy is alive which gets her fired.
However, she is correct and her attempts to prove this lead to a general bloodbath among the cast and
stage crew before the dummy is stopped.   The coda has her being called on to a film set where she
is obviously the star but, lurking in the long grass is the head of the dummy....   Clearly lit and filmed,
the scares were, by and large, not overly scary as there was a light-hearted approach apparent but strong central performances produced an enjoyable film.
'21 Nights With Pattie' directed by Arnaud Larrieu.   The lead role is played by Isabelle Carre which
was the real reason for seeing the film.   She has come to a remote village in Languedoc to bury her
mother whose houses undergoing restoration by some workmen with the sister of one of them, the
Pattie of the title.   The mother led a bohemian life involving lots of travel and memories of this fill
the film.   Pattie is uninhibited and regales Caroline (Carre) with tales of her sex life.   Life is interrupted with the apparent theft of the mother's corpse which leads to the local Gendarmerie chief
flirting with Caroline and the appearance of a former lover of her mother who may be the celebrated
Nobel winner, J G Le Clezio, though this is only hinted at.   Needless to say, Pattie takes up with him
and Caroline goes to a local dance where she is taken with the thought that one of the workmen wants
her, only to see him dashing off in the nude with an equally naked girl.   She continues her night walk
and comes across a car with her husband and two young daughters in it.   They return to the mother's
old house, put the girls to bed and make love.   This is a delightful comedy mixing sex and sex appeal
with the memories of the mother whose ghost appears more than once.   Fine performances by the
main male actors and another brilliant one from Isabelle Carre.
'The Assassin' directed by Hou Hsaio-Hsein is a gloriously photographed but ultimately flawed film
of a female assassin  who baulks on a mission and is then sent by the nun who trained her to kill the
man to whom she was once betrothed which is something she again does not do.   Though there are
a few flurries of typical fast-moving action, the film moves at a very leisurely pace - one scene has
its focus for some minutes on a small herd of goats for no reason other than, I suppose, to emphasise
the rural setting (or maybe goats have symbolic meaning in Chinese myth?)   The brilliant cinematography does not make up for the overall emptiness of the film though it will doubtlessly garner praise for this greatly feted director though why this should be escapes me.
'Evolution' directed by Lucile Hadzihalalilovoc is a real oddity.   An isolated community by the sea
has only women and young male children and the first half of the film depicts this slowly but surely
concentrating on one boy and his mother.   It then turns into a weird science fiction situation where
the boys are operated on for no apparent reason.   As slow-moving as the previously reviewed film,
it ends with the young boy being set adrift in a boat by his mother to drift into the water around a
huge chemical plant.   I confess I missed a part of this but think the whole film was something of a
waste of time.
'Youth' directed by Paolo Sorrentino tells of the friendship between a composer played by Michael
Caine on top form and a film director played by Harvey Keitel who was almost acceptable here.
The former is offered a knighthood which seems to hinge on his agreeing to conduct his most famous
piece at a Royal Command concert.   He refuses without giving a reason.   Keitel is trying to make a
new film with his favoured actress, played by Jane Fonda.   The pair of them are at a Swiss spa where
another occupant is an actor researching his latest role, Caine's daughter who is also his secretary, and, later, Miss Universe.   Whether the latter is a real one or not, she has a spectacular body.   Paloma Faith, the pop singer, has a brief appearance as well.   Rachel Weiss who plays the daughter
does at one point say it has been ten years since Caine has visited his wife which he does; after a
visit to Stravinsky's grave, he goes to a nursing home where his wife sits silently pressed against
the window.   The film is very bitter-sweet but the excellent performances keep one enthralled until
the denouement when Keitel kills himself because the financing has fallen through and a harpy-like
Fonda has refused him while Caine has given in to conduct his 'Simple Songs'.   The film does not
really need any explanation other than the varying reaction to passing years.
'The Brand New Testament' directed by Jaco Van Dormael posits that God is a Belgian who lives in
a run-down apartment in Brussels, browbeating his wife and daughter and taking delight in the many
misfortunes he creates.   Benoit Poelvoorde plays this excellently and he is matched by his silent
wife, Yolande Moreau, and Ea, his daughter, played by Pili Groyne.   The daughter rebels and is able to disrupt his computer while she finds six more apostles with the film telling the story of their conversion.   Poelvoorde loses his powers which is delightfully shown when he chases the daughter
who walks across a canal basin while he just falls under the water.   One of the more amusing conversions has Catherine Deneuve finding true love with a gorilla.   The daughter has created havoc
by telling everyone in the world exactly how long they have left to live but, once the number of Apostles reaches 18, power is given to Moreau, Madame God, who settles down behind a freshly
restored computer to fill the sky with flowers and put everything right.   In the meantime, Poelvoorde
is working in a Belorussian factory!!!   Very amusing and a real delight.
'Old Czech Legends' directed by Jiri Trnka was the final film seen.   He was one of the originators of
puppet animation and this film was made under difficult circumstances after the Communist takeover
in Czechoslovakia.   Having delighted in the films of Svankmaier, I had high hopes for this film even
though it is over 60 years old.   Starting with Cech, the father of the Czech people, six tales tell the
early history of the nation.   While very expressive and, for its time, technically impressive and having a fine score by Vavlav Trojan, I did find it rather tedious as, narrative apart, there was much
sameness to each episode.
CODA: 'The Lobster' directed by Yorgos Lanthimos was one of the Festival Gala showings but we
saw it after the Festival.   In the near future it is a crime to be single.   Colin Farrell plays a divorcee
who reports, as he must, to The Hotel, together with his dog where he has 45 days to find a mate or
be turned into an animal they choose.   Outside The Hotel live Loners, fugitives from the system who
are hunted daily to be shot with tranquilliser guns and brought to the hotel, each capture adding a day
to the time left.   Farrell has no success in finding anyone until he pretends to be heartless and takes
up with the Heartless Woman (never named) and is paid with her; unfortunately she brutally kills
the dog who was actually Farrell's  converted brother.   With the help of a hotel maid, he shoots her
and drags her into the Transformation Chamber and then leaves to join the Loners.   Here, he and
Rachel Weiss become lovers which is not appreciated by the Loner leader, Lea Seydoux.   Weiss
is blinded by choice and Farrell seems to accept this but the film ends with her sitting alone waiting
for him to come back - this may be because he has killed himself in trying to blind himself.   This is
unclear.   Apparently, others have seen this film as hilarious which is far from the reaction I had.   The
main performances were good, the basic plot acceptable as an absurd comment on social conditioning
to produce uniformity but there was a very nasty undertone - dog killing and blinding are hardly the
stuff of comedy.   Quite frankly, apart from introducing me to a new, comfortable, West End cinema,
it was a great disappointment.

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