Sunday, 23 October 2011

London Film Festival - Part Two

Another four selections behind me now -- again producing some mixed reactions.  In choosing which tickets to apply for, I usually opt for titles that are unlikely to obtain any sort of widespread release, films by one or other of my 'pet' directors like Takashi Kitano (absent), martial arts flicks, anything to do with cinema history, and films starring a favoured actor like Gerard Depardieu (nothing from him either this year).  Maybe I should broaden my criteria, since for every 'gem', I usually manage to select a 'dud' as well, with the vast majority just falling into the 'pleasant enough' category.

First up was "Tales of the Night" (Les Contes de la Nuit) from the French modern master of animation Michel Ocelot.  I'm not completely sure why I selected this which was showcased as the 'Family Gala' (i.e. suitable for the kiddies), but it sounded imaginative and I certainly liked his earlier animations "Azur and Asmar" and "Kirikou and the Sorceress" for their bright colours and very stylized design.  This one had the added 'attraction' (?) of being made in 3D as well.  Using a form of silhouette animation, not seen since the heyday of Lotte Reininger's 1926 "Adventures of Prince Achmed", against brilliantly and psychedelically-coloured backgrounds, this film is certainly a tour de force.  However his telling of six different fairy or folk tales merged into much of a muchness after a while -- visually intriguing but dramatically lacking. I can certainly recommend this movie for its technique but not for much more for a mature audience.

"Let the Bullets Fly" is a joint China-Hong Kong production and apparently China's highest-ever grossing film.  It is directed by and stars one of the country's most admired screen actors, Jiang Wen (see his 2000 film "Devils on the Doorstep"), who plays a ruthless outlaw nicknamed Pocky Zhang (despite his unblemished skin); he decides to pose as the new official for the hamlet of Goose Town with its high taxes and easy financial pickings, taking the place of conman Ge You whom he has ambushed en route, along with the wife of the now deceased real mayor-to-be.  However they soon discover that the city is in the greedy, sticky hands of local ruthless warlord Huang, played by the one and only (coolest man in the world -- trademark) Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat.  Chow also plays his own body-double and great fun ensues as the three 'villains' strive to outbluff each other.  It is all a lot of cheeky well-filmed fun, but at 132 minutes it begins to outstay its welcome being rather talkier than action-laden.

The third film of this quartet was the main disappointment.  "Last Screening" (Dernier Seance), a French would-be thriller, should have been right up my street with its combination of a fanatic movie-buff as the hero who is also a deranged serial killer.  Written and directed by Laurent Archard, it stars Pascal Cervo as the young repertory cinema manager made even more unhinged by its impending closure.  We are given a certain amount of unhelpful backflashes to his relationship to his movie-obsessed mother, but little real explanation about why he goes about killing women, cutting off their ears with their dangling earrings, and sticking these on black-and-white photos of some of the screen greats.  The film was poorly paced with some unnecessary longeurs, such as one of the victim's endless twirling routine, and even at 81 minutes felt ever so long and pointless.  Something of a waste of time.

Had I been told that I could only choose one movie from the hundreds of films screening, it would have been the next one "The Artist", since I have been intrigued by it since I read about its Cannes premiere.  It is a lovingly-crafted, beautifully shot in black and white, paeon to Hollywood of the silent era and its star, Jean Dujardin, walked away with the Best Actor gong at the French fest.  I was first made aware of Dujardin, his co-star Berenice Bejo, and his director Michel Hazanavicius when I saw their "OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies" in 2006.  I thought that spy-spoof of a movie a touch on the silly side and did not bother with its sequel.  However, they are all delicious here.  Dujardin plays silent movie idol George Valentin, undone by the coming of sound and Bejo plays young ingenue Peppy Miller, whose star rises as his crashes.  It is not quite "A Star is Born" scenario, since there is ultimately an uplifting (and highly believable) happy ending. Despite its subject matter of the popularity of the coming of sound, the film is shot virtually as a silent with intertitles, apart from its score and the very occasional and very telling use of sound effects.  Although it is a French film, it feels very American  -- there are no subtitles anywhere, and well-known normally English-speaking actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller lend fine (silent) support.  (Malcolm McDowell is also in the cast, but his scene lasts mere seconds).  All in all this is a delightful concoction and having been taken up by the Weinsteins, its distribution is assured.  Don't miss it!

The final four to follow anon...
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