Tuesday 2 October 2012

London Film Festival Round-Up - Part 1

Laurence Anyways

The BFI has brought supermarket efficiency to the 2012 London Film Festival as each photo IDed film critic is scanned and beeped into the cinema auditoriums to enjoy the pre-festival press screenings for the Festival which will run between the 10th and 21st of October. We will offer our readers a general round-up of films seen by FilmLand Empire with some films being reviewed in brief whilst others reviews are likely to be given more lavish word counts.

       Laurence Anyways directed by the precocious talents of Canadian writer/director Xavier Dolan. At just 23 years of age, Dolan has created an engaging and ably made film about a man Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) who while being in a committed heterosexual relationship, has finally admitted that he wants to live is life as a woman. His partner Frédérique, known simply as Fred (Suzanne Clément) has to come to terms with the man she loves now wanting to be a woman. The couple love each other and work together to make Laurence's metamorphoses possible. With a memorable soundtrack and accomplished costume and set design, the late 1980s into the 1990s Montreal setting is more than impressive and convincing. 

Both Poupaud and Clément create a fully realised sense of time and emotion shared between their characters and a connection that can transcend even gender reversals. Dolan certainly has an eye for remarkable set pieces which both help and hinder Laurence Anyways in that there are a few symbolic sequences too many which would have sat well within a 'Deleted Scenes' section of the DVD. Every scene is well directed and acted and would be the centre piece for any other director, but Dolan seems loath to loose any scene to the editing floor. Had the film been edited down by 20 or even 30 minutes it would have made for an outstanding piece of film making. However, with it's 2 hour and 48 minute running time, the interesting, well constructed relationship dynamics between Laurence, Fred, her sister Steph (Monia Chokri) and Laurence's mother played by Nathalie Baye become overly inflated and tiresome.

        These critiques aside, Laurence Anyways is a film that will stay with you long after the cinema lights have gone up. The nature of long term love, change and the nature of personal connection are all explored and recognisable even in the unusual circumstance of someone engaged in a gender change. Dolan does not present necessarily completely likeable characters but all are given their strengths and weaknesses and the film asks brings us to an understanding of the characters which lingers.

Rating: 4 Stars


        Shell written and directed by Scott Graham has developed the directors 2007 short film of the same name into a feature length film. Chloé Pirrie plays 17 year old Shell who lives in a remote petrol station in the Scottish Highlands. Beautiful and isolated like the Scottish Highlands that surround her, Shell spends her day working in the obviously declining petrol station which she shares with Pete (Joseph Mawle). Large haulage trucks hurtle by the petrol station and with minimal outside interaction, the relationship between the motherless Shell and Pete is not what it might first appear. With dialogue as minimal as customers, Graham has created a sense of tension and unease between the characters with Pirrie and Mawle giving performances that keep what at first appears obvious to constantly shift like sand under foot. The story presents different forms of relationships and escapes to Shell and the question is asked of whether or not we freely choose our own forms of prison or do we opt for freedom? There is a sexual undercurrent played out throughout the film which also brings up the idea of intimacy and loneliness.  

        Undeniably beautiful and stark, Shell does over extend itself from it's short film roots and had it taken up to 30 minutes off it's running time, nothing would have been lost. Instead, it's 90 minute running time feels more like an endurance test for dedicated film goers with not enough material to engage even the most willing of audience members.

Star Rating: 3  

The Hunt

        Set in a small town in his native Denmark, Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas in The Hunt as a kindergarden teacher accused of child abuse. With the best intentions of protecting their children, the local community which Lucas has been such a loved member of, becomes engulfed in a Salem Witch Hunt type of communal hysteria aiming their self-righteous based rage at the innocent Lucas. Mikkelsen's Lucas is like a rabbit caught in the headlights, not knowing how to deal with such an unexpected or merited set of circumstances. What is real and what is false becomes increasingly blurred as adults create a narrative around the innocent stories of five year old Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). As the situation spirals around Lucas the concepts of pre-determined guilt by assumption is played out. Director Thomas Vinterberg keeps the production low-key allowing Mikkelsen to maintain his run of solid, quiet character performances.  

        Though this type of story has been told numerous times before, the Scandinavian flair for tension in the ordinary and stoic leading characters does bring something fresh within this film.  Looking at how adults relate to children is also brought up and examined along with how we can jump to terrible conclusions when the dramatic option seems to present itself to us within ordinary situations.

Star Rating: 3

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