Cannes in a Van regular Janus Avivson once again reviews the films from the BFI London Film Festival and we are publishing the insights of the opinionated, often controversial producer / actor / director right here on Screen Social. We should say that any opinions or spoilers expressed here are entirely Mr Avivson’s!
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY
UK 2014 104 min, dir-scr Peter Strickland
Strickland is one of the rare creators of whom we can be sure that whatever he presents us with, will be either innovative or well done, and usually both. This film, which is in official competition, is just amazing visually and intellectually. First of all there are no man on the screen, not even a single one, only females. Second, there are serious discussions and presentations about entomology. Butterflies abound, and lesbian dominatrix type of lovemaking, then last but not least wonderful mittle-Europeisch architecture (location: Budapest). Most of all the delicacy, subtleness, pace, rhythm, atmosphere, change of mood and sophisticated dialogue, so lacking in most of contemporary cinematography. An unusual film indeed and a pleasant surprise on many levels.
EXCUSE MY FRENCH
Egypt 2014 100 min dir-scr Amr Salama
Amr Salama defies easy categorisation and tagging. He was born in Saudi Arabia, country where cinema is explicitly off limits. He lives in Egypt, most populous and cultured Muslim Arab country. He has 300 000 visitors to his blog, his YouTube channel was hit 2 million times, he wrote a successful book and his films are both box office and critical success. One cannot say more good things about him, really.
His last film is about a young Christian boy, Hany, who, because of a family misfortune, gets his lifestyle downgraded, from private school to a municipal one. A disaster in making, and it shows. First of all a full one hundred percent of school students are Muslim, and not friendly towards a kafir. Obviously, nobody suspects Hany not to be a Muslim, and one day he even wins a competition for a singing declamation of Quran. But this does not help him when his mother arrives at school with a cross in her necklace. Religious and social prejudices are controversial subject matters in any society, and especially a Muslim one – it is therefor a huge surprise that the film, which took Salama five years to make, was well received in Egypt. Definitely worth seeing, if only for a cinematic glimpse of a middle class family home and life in Egypt, surprisingly European and modern. And then the way these kids are playing, wow…
FRENCH RIVIERA (In The Name of My Daughter)
France 2014 116 min dir. Andre Techine
An old hand of French cinema, Techine, 71 years old now, has 34 titles on his IMDb page. His last film is based on a real story. Agnes Le Roux, 19 years old, whose father was the owner of a most famous casino in the centre of Nice, Palais de la Mediterranee, was not seen since October 1977, and her body was never found. Her mother run the casino after her husband’s death – and, following the unfortunate downturn in financial matters, becomes impoverished and embittered, and devotes the rest of her life to prosecuting the most likely culprit, girl’s last boyfriend and mother’s former legal adviser. This affair occupied pages of French journals for over thirty years, and the film deals with the story, chronologically, except for the very end in real life, when, quite recently, the son of the suspect accused his own father and mother in court for perpetrating the crime. The case continues…
This is a serious and large film, which premiered in Cannes earlier this year, and Cannes was an obvious venue, as the film is dealing with issues dear to French high society there. In the main role we have the classy and, in her late sixties, still beautiful Catherine Deneuve. Her adversary, Guillaume Canet, is extremely competent in his role. I remember him well from The Beach and Farewell. The missing person is played by Adele Haenel, a promising young actress. The film is dense and well scripted, with a proper budget and scenery to match. My only reservations are that connections between the Italian Mafia and Qatari investment group was not properly explored – the Palais landed in hands of an alleged Mafioso, and at present is part of the property portfolio of Qatari group, which buys almost everything worth anything in France. But then this would be another film, wouldn’t it? Maybe one day…
UK 2014, 96 min dir Yann Demange
Sheffield and Liverpool had to double as Belfast of 1971, obviously a few of truly grim places left in Britain. The film starts, appropriately, with a scene of a boxing fight between young soldiers, some of whom are to depart for Northern Ireland pretty soon. Their boxing skill rather useless there, a prayer and good luck are more needed. Thanks God our hero, Gary Hook, played expertly by Jack O’Connell (of 300 and Eden Lake), has enough of both. Apparently he is hunted by both sides of the conflict, IRA and Brits, and if he survives it is either by chance or a friendly scriptwriter, absolutely amazing Gregory Burke.
I will not tell you much more except that this is the strongest and most memorable film of the past two weeks of screenings for me, and please go and see it, and if you are disappointed and tell me why, I may give you your ticket money back (well, as a manner of speech, of course!)
MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN
USA 2014,116 min, dir. Jason Reitman
A sentimental tear-jerk, a survey of a current social media savvy generation of several parents and their children, most of them obsessed with sex in its various forms and kinds, using social media, and all craziness it causes. A total emotional mess, where sex in mistaken for love, and vice versa, as often happens. This is unfortunate and may lead – like an example at the end of the film – to tragic consequences. Basically it is a white, middle class soap operetta, except quite short. My life experience taught me that actually sex is much over-rated, but unfortunately necessary for survival. Later in life, getting older and more mature, I realised that a good two hour film is better than five minute sex, don’t you think? However, this is not the case with this production, sorry…
France Italy Belgium 2014, 87 min, dir. Abel Ferrara
2 Nov. 1975, Roma, last few hours of the famous gay and communist writer/filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini, obviously most of it contrived and imagined by the screenwriter, as nobody except for the perpetrator witnessed the murder of Pasolini, and until today nobody was ever charged or prosecuted with it. Which adds to mystery. Pasolini was an exceptional centre of energy and he was courageous to express through his art what many people during the 60’s and early 70’s felt and wanted to say – about sex, religion, politics, family and tradition. Did he pay for it with his life? I don’t think so, as he was not assassinated because of his political views or his cultural achievements but because of practising an unsafe sex, with an unknown stranger. Tough luck. Whatever, Willem Dafoe in the title role is worth seeing.
UK 2014 149 min, dir-scr Mike Leigh
This well advertised and meticulously produced film is predictable and rather boring at times – it is well know how impossibly difficult is to make a film about creative or thinking individuals…Thanks God Turner is also an interesting little fellow, grunting, sexually predatory, untidy and eccentric, and totally driven by his art. His paintings are so modern that is is hard to imagine he was born in 1776 and lived until 1851, all 76 years. Actually what I came to London for the first time in my life for was to see his paintings, and I claim that he is the only British visual artist worth considering its name (maybe except for Francis Bacon but he is Irish isn’t he?). Turner was very prolific, he left 550 oils, 2000 water colours and some 30.000 works on paper.
This film is a vehicle to fame and possibly an Oscar to its main character, Timothy Spall, not the prettiest of our actors, but, after playing Churchill only four years ago in The King’s Speech, an obvious role up. He is a Turner, with all these facial ticks and frequent grunting, no doubt he farted often as well. Spall took his role so seriously that recently he picked up paintings and even has an exhibition of his works in a gallery somewhere in town now, no doubt profitable, which is quite appropriate, as Turner was rich. However, in the US, will they not think that he is a family of Tina Turner the singer? I bet they will…