Tuesday 30 May 2017

Sundance London 2017 - Dina by Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini

It’s a credit to Dogwoof and their impressive output that they have yet to release a single film this year that could be considered below par. The latest offering from this tireless outfit is every bit as exhilarating as the rest of their releases.

Presented as part of Sundance London Film Festival, Dina is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. This fascinating documentary is not only touching, funny and genuinely engaging, but it also deals with themes that not many filmmakers would dare approach.

Sundance London 2017 - A Ghost Story by David Lowery

David Lowery has become a Sundance little darling. His latest feature, A Ghost Story, was a festival sensation last January in Park City. In fact, the queue for the press screening was immense, despite the heavy snow outside the tent. The organisers soon realised they had to open a second room for the screening as they didn’t want to let the critics down. This week, A Ghost Story has its UK premiere and the filmmaker is coming to London for a talk. You can check the festival schedule here. But before you make any plans, let’s investigate this fever. Is A Ghost Story really extraordinary?

Sunday 28 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Awards & Comments

The jury has just handed over the awards at the Cannes Film Festivals. This year more than ever, there has been a real split between the French and the international press. The former favoured 120 Battements Par Minute and The Day After, the latter Loveless, The Square and (to a lesser extent), The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and the jury was more in tune with them. The real surprise came not so much from the films that featured in the list of awards, more in the order they were given awards for.

As for last year, I did not predict a single award correctly, although I had one nearly right as I knew Nicole Kidman would not leave empty-handed, she was just rewarded in an unexpected and rather brilliant way. I did have most of the winning films in my list of predictions, but had the actual awards they received the wrong way round.

Cannes 2017 - Awards Predictions

This edition has been a solid year, with few real clunkers (even Le Redoutable did not end up being the disaster we had all somehow predicted), but not quite on par with 2016, which had been exceptional, and it would have been foolish to expect 2017 to match it. Since the awards are decided by a small jury (this year made up of such wildly different artists as Pedro Almodovar, Will Smith, Maren Ade, Paolo Sorrentino etc...), it is fiendishly difficult, and somehow pointless, to try to second guess what their tastes in films might be based on their own work and personality. After all, who expected 2013 President of the Jury Steven Spielberg to fall in love with Blue Is The Warmest Colour? Yet this is precisely what I am going to do, based on the films I saw and the general "vibe", despite my near total failure at predicting any of the awards last year.

Saturday 27 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Based On A True Story by Roman Polanski

There are usually two reasons why a film by an illustrious director might find itself out of competition. It can be at the request of its director (Woody Allen has patently refused to be in competition all the times his films have been in Cannes), or it can be than it is not felt to be strong enough for the competition, but still deserves a spot for its star studded cast, and it is probably the case here, not strong enough being an understatement.

Cannes 2017 - L'Amant Double by François Ozon

Prolific director François Ozon did not have much luck with his last Cannes outing in 2013, with Jeune & Jolie receiving a frosty reception from critics, as well as a certain controversy (and not the right kind) for the way he handled his subject. After the thrilling The New Girl Friend (2014), and the rather serious Frantz (2016), he is back on the Croisette, on competition, with L'Amant Double.

In L'Amant Double, former model Chloe (Marine Vacth) visits handsome psychatrist Paul (Jérémie Renier) after some unexplained physical symptoms. The visits quickly takes a more personal turn as the pair begins an affair. Chloe is surprised to spot Paul in parts of town he has no business being, until she realises he has a twin brother, Louis (also played by Jérémie Renier), a psychiatrist with a radically different personality, whom she begins seeing professionally and romantically.

Friday 26 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Twin Peaks Season 3 Episode 1 & 2

More than ten years after his latest film, Inland Empire (aka the best film of all times, which is not open for discussion), who could ever have imagined that David Lynch would make a film again. Even more surprising was that he chose to make a third season to the much beloved Twin Peaks, bringing back collaborator and co-writer Mark Frost, as well as most of the original cast, not to mention scores of famous names, as well directing the entire 18 hours!

It is hard to convey how much watching the first two episodes of Twin Peaks Season 3 in Cannes meant for me. I was lucky enough to watch Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me in Cannes in 1992, at my very first festival, having skipped school and being expelled for a week as a result. (Totally worth it...) So as a Lynch/Twin Peaks/Cannes nut, being able to watch this at the festival all these years later was beyond my most imaginable dreams. It is all the more remarkable considering this is a TV series (although Cannes has made another exception with Top of the Lake season 2, also present this year).

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts by Mouly Surya

Despite Indonesia being the fourth most populated country in the world, its cinema has rarely made much of an impact outside its borders, and with Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts by Mouly Surya, which just screened at Director's Fortnight, this is only the third time the country has had a film in Cannes in any strand, and the first in twelve years.

Marlina (Marsha Timothy), a recently widowed woman living in a small house in the arid countryside of Sumba Island, is attacked by a group of men, only for her to take matters in her own hands by killing them all in self-defence. She sets on a journey to the police to report the crime while the rest of the gang goes in her pursuit.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Happy End by Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke is part of an exclusive club of directors who have won two Palme d'or in Cannes (alongside Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August, the Dardennes and Emir Kusturica), and many predicted even before seeing it that his latest, Happy End, would go on to win a third one (a feat that nobody has managed so far).

A tough, topical subject (refugees and bourgeois hypocrisy, Haneke-esque to the max!), with many of his regulars in the cast (Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant...), the writing was on the wall. And yet, Michael Haneke, while still faithful to his roots, takes us down a path few would have expected. Those who feared he might have become comfortable with his advanced age and awards, can rest easy, and while the synopsis could hint at the man becoming a caricature of himself, northing could be further from the truth.

Cannes 2017 - The Killing of a Sacred Deer by Yorgos Lanthimos

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos was arthouse cinema's best kept secret with his first few films (especially cult classic Doogtooth), until he graduated into the semi-mainstream with surreal dramedy  The Lobster, his first English speaking film and with a starry cast, including Colin Farrell, which won the Jury Prize in Cannes 2015, and was a sizeable hit, all things considered.

He is back on the Croisette this year with The Killing of a Sacred Deer. What's so exciting with each new film of the Greek director is that we never really know where he is going to take us next. In his new film, Colin Farrell plays Steven Murphy, a surgeon with a successful career and family. So who is the teenage stranger, Martin (Barry Keoghan)  he keeps meeting up with?

Monday 22 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Nos Années Folles by André Téchiné

French director André Téchiné was given a tribute at this year's Cannes Film Festival, as part of their 70th birthday celebrations. Most of the legendary actresses he has worked with were present, probably one of the biggest concentration of French acting legends outside the French Film Awards: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Kiberlain, Juliette Binoche... and many more (but no Adjani!), all of them sat on the same row, one of those Cannes moments that makes you want to pinch yourself to check you are not dreaming. The festival also presented the director's new film, Nos Années Folles.

Nos Années Folles is based on a true story, one whose premise is so unlikely that it proves yet again that life is stranger than fiction: World War One deserter Paul (Pierre Deladonchamps, seen in Stranger By The Lake (2013)) goes into hiding in the basement of the house occupied by his wife Louise (Céline Sallette) and her mum rather than face the front once more. Seeing her husband grow restless at his lack of freedom, Louise devises an unlikely plan, dressing up Paul as a woman to allow him to leave the house, an arrangement he is reluctant to accept at first, only to fully embrace it for years to come, even when the war is over and the threat of imprisonment is long gone, having become a celebrity in the process.

Cannes 2017: The Villainess by Jung Byung-gil

Review by Laurent de Alberti

South Korean films seem to form the staple of the Midnight Screenings at the Cannes Film Festival, and understandably, considering their directors' mastery of genre cinema, coupled with their formal skills. There has been some fodder over the years though, but not The Villainess, presented this year, oh no, not The Villainess!

In The Villainess, Sook-hee (Kim Ok-Bin) was trained to become an assassin since childhood. She is brought to the attention of South Korea's Intelligence Agency after a particularly bold act of vengeance, and recruited among their black ops all female team of assassins, with the promise to be sent back to civilian life after ten years of service, and of a better life for the daughter she is soon to give birth to. A man from her past reemerges however, and her loyalty is put to the test.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - How To Talk To Girls At Parties by John Cameron Mitchell

A sci-fi comedy set in Croydon in the 70's with Nicole Kidman as an ageing punk called Boadicea? When that was announced, I was first in the queue! Then I realised who the director was, and I winced, but kept faith. None of John Cameron Mitchell's films have worked for me, and he often seems to hide his lack of talent behind a strong, flashy premise (Hedwig) or graphic scenes (Shortbus).

In How To Talk To Girls At Parties,  adapted from a short story by Neil Gaiman, a trio of young punks led by Enn (Alex Sharp) is invited to an afterparty in a house after a concert, populated by strange dwellers whose unusual antics make the boys think they have come across a cult at first. Little do they realise that they are actually aliens, and one of them, Zan (Elle Fanning), wants to break free from her world of conformity, embracing Earth and falling for Enn.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - 120 Battements Par Minutes by Robin Campillo

120 Battements Par Minutes is an ensemble film about Act Up Paris in the early 90's, and it is hard to believe that the true events depicted in 120 Battements Par Minutes happened nearly 20 years ago, considering how much has changed. AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was, in developed countries at least, and in particular, activism. In our days of social media, we forget how difficult it once was to be heard outside the usual, controlled channels. This is this activism that is so meticulously and accurately portrayed here, the story of Act Up, and their fight. The director is careful to show that while gay men were the most affected group, it is an illness that strikes indiscriminately, with teenagers and middle aged women among those members of the reunion affected.

Friday 19 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Okja by Bong Joon-ho

Unless you have been hiding under a digital rock, you cannot have missed the Cannes brouhaha about Netflix, the streaming giant acting as a thorn on the side of the venerable film festival. For what it's worth, I'm firmly on the side that films belong to cinemas, and it's a real shame that Netflix, unlike Amazon Studios, is unwilling to give its productions a cinema release, however limited. Still, considering the botched release of his previous film by Harvey Weinstein, Snowpiercer (which was never released in the UK), it is a shame indeed that nobody else than us who were able to see Okja in Cannes on a massive screen will see it in the cinema.

Cannes 2017 - Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Andrey Zvyagintsev made an impact in Cannes in 2014 with the bombastic, Kafka-esque nightmare Leviathan, and walked away with the award for best screenplay. He is back this year in competition with Loveless (but then you'd expect his new film to be called Loveless).

In Loveless, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are going through a messy divorce, having both found a new partner already. Their son Alyosha is the last "detail" to be sorted before they can move on with their new lives, but in the midst of a particularly acrimonious fight, he vanishes (not that they even notice at first!).

Thursday 18 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Wonderstruck by Todd Haynes

Cannes has not always been kind to Todd Haynes. Velvet Goldmine, in competition in 1998, was stupidly missold as the next Trainspotting by its producer Film 4, hence a muted reception from an audience expecting a totally different proposition from him. Carol in 2015 was well received but had to do with half of a female acting prize, for Rooney Mara.

In Wonderstruck, the story of a young deaf boy, Ben (Oakes Fegley), who, struggling to comes into terms with the death of his mother, goes on a hunt for his father, in New York, collides with the tale of Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a deaf and mute girl in the 20's, who also escapes to the city to find her absent mother, a stage actress (Julianne Moore).

Cannes 2017 - Jupiter's Moon by Kornél Mundruczó

Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó made a big impact at the Cannes Film Festival 2014 with White God, which screened in the Un Certain Regard , and winning the sidebar selection's award for best film, a parable like nothing we had seen before, about a dog apocalypse with a social undercurrent. He now graduated to the Cannes competition, with the intriguingly named Jupiter's Moon.

In Jupiter's Moon, Aryan (Zsombor Jegér), a Syryan refugee, tries to make it to Hungary and gets shot near the border, only to find himself with the ability to fly as a result. He soon forms a partnership with corrupt doctor Stern (Merab Ninidze) who sees a way to make a quick buck out of him as well as a redemption for a recent professional fault, while the police is on their tail.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Cannes 2017 - Ismael's Ghosts by Arnaud Desplechin

There had been much noise when Cannes regular Arnaud Desplechin was turned down for the official selection in 2015, and ended up at Director's Fortnight, by the same critics who complain that "it's always the same people", proving that Cannes can never do right in the eyes of some. The French director is back in the official selection, but not in competition, his film Ismael's Ghosts opening the festival this year.

Ismael's Ghosts is a tale of two stories, focused on both the artistic and love life of film director Ismael (Matthieu Amalric). His first wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) disappeared twenty years ago and is presumed dead. After years of womanising, he meets then marries Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), only for Carlotta to reappear out of nowhere. We also follow the incredibly erratic shoot of his latest film, an espionage story based on the life of his younger brother, Ivan (Louis Garrel).