My London Film festival was built around three movies that I failed to see in Toronto: Shame, The Descendants and Carnage. They did not disappoint.
Shame is Steve McQueen’s very dark and haunting study of a sex addict in New York. Michal Fassbender continues to build a reputation as the most exciting screen actor to emerge from these islands in a decade ably supported by Carey Mulligan. And it won’t leave you alone! (Pun not intended, although why look a gift horse in the mouth!)
The Descendants is George Clooney’s bid for an Oscar as paterfamilia of a wealthy Hawaiian family whose future is changed by a tragic accident. It gives him scope to show is acting chops, which, reinforced by the rather impressive work as both actor and director in The Ides of March, should stand him in pretty good stead when Awards’ Season comes around.
Carnage is an adaptation of a stageplay by Roman Polanski which strips away the veneer of the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie in New York. John C Reilly and Christoph Weitz spar with each other while Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster wrangle and claw stretching the bounds of good manners to breaking point. I laughed a lot.
Along the way, I was very impressed with Takeshi Miike’s follow up to Thirteen Assassins, Hara Kiri, another samurai story but in total contrast, measured, reflective and emotionally very powerful: possibly one of the best films I have seen this year. I don’t really understand what was gained by shooting in 3D but we need not let that worry us when the storytelling is so compelling.
The Kid with the Bike is the new film by the Dardennes Brothers, their take on This is England but I guess that This is Belgium does not have quite the same impact in this country! Also Matthieu Kassowitz, who made his name as a director with La Haine, returns with another tale of violence and betrayal in rebellion, set in New Caledonia in the 1980s. He is direct and frank in his portrayal of colonial warfare but makes a cracking thriller in the process.
A few years ago, Nadine Labaki made the delightful comedy, Caramel, portraying diverse women’s lives in a modern Islamic world. She returns with Where Do We Go Now?, which is also full of charm and engaging characters but addresses the thorny issue of religious division in a remote Lebanese town. This has clearly hit a nerve as it is now the biggest grossing film in Lebanon and translates very well; for all of us in divided societies, it says a lot of things that need to be heard.
Around the same time, Marjane Satrapi made Persepolis. Her long awaited follow up, Chicken with Plums is a francophone tale of Iran in the 1950’s (or was it still Persia then?) which has the feel of a tale from the Arabian Nights. I like the idea that there might be a contemporary Sheherezade.
My main regrets are not getting to see Headhunters, the first adaptation of a novel by Jo Nesbo, continuing the current rich seam of Nordic Noir (see The Silence in November!!) and Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I shall rectify next week.
All in all, a good couple of weeks’ work.