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Friday, 22 October 2010

London Film Festival - Part One

It hasn't exactly been an auspicious start to my Festival attendance. To start with the second film which I saw yesterday, I would very much like the two hours plus of my life back. Korean movies have generally been something of a treat in recent years, so when I noticed "End of Animal" (2010) described in the programme as 'one of the most striking debuts in Korean film history', I thought I might have chosen a winner. I should have suspected the worst when I couldn't find the movie listed on IMDb, either under its English or Korean title, nor could I find out anything about its novice director Jo Sung-Hee -- who was in attendance at yesterday's showing (looking all of about 15 years old). I can tell you he gives Bela Tarr a run for his money in static composition and inaction, as one tries to fathom what is going on amongst the few characters who seem to have survived some off-screen and unexplained apocalypse predicted by an enigmatic hitchhiker. I suppose when IMDb eventually catch up with this 'gem' someone will give it a 10 out of 10 rating, but it won't be me!

Mammuth (2010): I know exactly why I chose this film, since any new movie with Gerard Depardieu immediately catches my eye; this one had the bonus of also featuring my new fave Yolande Moreau and boasted a nowadays very rare appearance from Isabelle Adjani. The storyline concerns Depardieu retiring from his job at a pork processing plant after ten years, (being given a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle as his farewell gift!), and his wife Moreau nagging him to get the necessary paperwork, much of which is missing from the casual jobs he has held in the past, to be able to draw a much-needed state pension. So he sets off on his faithful Mammuth motorcycle to visit previous work sites in pursuit of the elusive affadavits. What we have in effect is a French road movie with, alas, too many detours. The film which starts off as a jolly comic romp with Depardieu making a meal of his newfound leisure and Moreau doing her nagging wife thing soon becomes little more than a quirky drama with a number of random characters interacting with our generally hapless hero. There is a surprise appearance from Benoit Poelvoorde as a competing beachcomber in two totally unrelated scenes with Depardieu and a rather too long segment featuring an actress billed as Miss Ming, who also uses this as her kooky alternative artist's character's name. Adjani, whose gorgeous ghost keeps appearing then disappearing, plays Depardieu's lost first love, whom we eventually realise was killed in a motorcycle crash.

Again I should have worked out in advance that this film would not be completely to my taste, despite Depardieu's mindboggling performance, since the two previous movies from co-directors/screenwriters Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern were off-beat but largely unwatchable messes. First there was "Aaltra" (2004) which concerned two rival farmers who hate and cripple each other and then take off on a road-trip together in their wheelchairs. Then there was "Louise-Michel" (2008) which I positively hated, despite its also starring Moreau, about a sex-changed factory worker who wants to hire a killer to top the owner of the mill that has made her and her mates redundant, but ends up with a totally useless assassin. While their new film has a lot more heart, largely down the the strengths of the three main players, there were unacceptable longeurs and some very unnecessary artsy-craftsy cinematography amongst the anarchic and generally unsatisfying action.

I have written previously that Depardieu has absolutely no vanity as an actor, which is just as well as he has gone to seed and probably not just for this role. He lets his massive bulk all hang out, especially in one distasteful mutual masturbation scene with an elderly male cousin, and sports long dirty blonde curls hanging down from what is apparently a bald spot. Still his acting prowess has not dimmed and he remains as watchable as ever, even in the elephantine kaftans that he eventually dons. I have read that he accepted this role without the promise of any critical or financial remuneration and one really must salute such bravery.
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