Craig here (of Take Three fame) reporting for Nathaniel from the BFI London Film Festival which opens today. I started my festival with two gay themed dramas from a couple of emerging filmmakers from the US (Dee Rees) and the UK (Andrew Haigh). They've both made invigatoring narrative debuts.
Dee Rees’ New York coming out drama Pariah shows its mettle from the start: we’re dropped right in the thick of it, headfirst into a lesbian strip club (we hear, “♪ Lick my neck, my back, my pussy and my crack... ♪” on the soundtrack), and introduced to feisty Brooklyn girl and poetry student Alike (Adepero Oduye) thoughtfully yet gingerly sizing up her surroundings. She’s going through identity issues and finding it hard to open up to her warring parents about her sexuality. Solace comes through friendship with Laura (Pernell Walker) and the possibility of love with local girl Bina (Aasha Davis).
It’s an affecting if familiar story, tinted with romantic longing and full of the kind of sorrowful spirit that often goes hand in hand with this kind of urban indie debut. But it’s incredibly likeable and there are no needless lulls in the narrative or indulgent first-timer pitfalls. The camera rarely veers away from the main drama at hand. The highs and tribulations of city life come through the attitude of the characters more than via establishing shots to indicate environment or insert shots to give reflective pause. The camerawork’s tightness on the actors – their faces, mannerisms, actions – help ground the characters as the film’s key revelatory component; it’s an actors’ piece. Rees understands this and gets both amicable banter and fraught temper from her cast who are never less than solidly engaging, not least Oduye who is excellent as Alike. It’s wonderfully shot (by Bradford Young) with a vivid, melancholic intimacy that brings out the hard-earned warmth and tenderness inherent in the lives of the characters. Rees has a bright career ahead of her. (B+)
Pariah is showing at the LFF on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October
Another gay-themed tale of burgeoning love, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (after documentary Greek Pete), makes its way to the LFF this, ahem, weekend.
Two independent, easy-going guys hook up and fuck. They make cups of tea (in mismatched mugs) and chat about love, life and the little things that make gays tick; all the while not letting on about bigger, bolder, heart-shaped room-sized elephants that might just get in their way. There are no ponderous pronouncements on love and little happens outside the flats and social haunts of the many meet-ups the pair keep over the 48-hour time span. (This is one film where the idea of insularity perfectly informs the central couple’s budding personality dynamic; as with Before Sunrise/Sunset, an obvious influence on, and straight precursor to, Weekend, external pressures and influence are astutely avoided.)
Elegantly straightforward in form and evocative and emotional in content (a few brief moments have the gut-clenching romantic kick of truly lived experience), its genial simplicity is its trump card. But its hazed and unfazed, languorous vibe holds the attention right up till its last open-hearted frame. It’s lean, efficient, aerated filmmaking... two days of believable, deeply-felt idyll. Both lead actors (Tom Cullen, Chris New) are as captivating as they are entirely natural. The film packs a lasting punch, too. Perceptive, handsomely shot and brim full of romantic charm, it revels in the hard and soft pangs of love. (A-)
Weekend is showing at the LFF on Saturday 15th and Monday 17th October. On Friday the 14th "Weekend" adds screens in a few more US markets as well.