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« Oscar Horrors: The Death-Defying Effects of 'Death Becomes Her' | Main | 3 Notes on New Photos: J Edgar, Hunger Games, Pines »
Saturday
Oct292011

Best of London: Weekend, Snowtown, Martha, and More...

[Editor's Note: Thank you to Craig and David for their reporting from this year's London Film Festival which concluded two days ago. Here they are with a final chat about their treasures and pleasures. -Nathaniel]

Craig: So, David, I guess it's time to mull it over and decide on our "Best of the Fest". Top tens, top fives? More, less? I wonder what we'll agree and disagree on...

David: It's always sad to say goodbye. It might not be the most glamorous or revelatory event on the festival circuit, but it has such a nice atmosphere strewn across Central London, flirting with megastars every so often, but giving equal red carpet steps to the little gems you speak of. A top five definitely isn't enough for me, but I'll give restraining myself my best shot. I've been there most days, and often packed in four in a day (my eyes are paying the price!), so I'd wager I have seen more than you - quality over quantity, though! 

Dendera

In my stringently ordered, agonisingly compiled list that I just came up with, a slot would definitely go to Oslo, August 31st, which I offered up some thoughts on just the other day - so I'll give conversation space to a glorious runner-up instead. Dendera – one of the most enjoyable experiences of the fest – is a gloriously demented twist on a Japanese myth invented in Imamura's The Ballad of Naramaya; in this new film, his son Daisuke Tengan explores the afterlife of the elderly who've been put out to pasture. One old woman decided she didn't want to die, thank you, and set up a community on the other side of the hill from the village that cast her out. In short: it's the sort of bloody batshit horror movie you'd have seen in 1980s Britain, not least because of hilariously dreadful bear puppetry that's very similar to Attack the Block.

Craig: I’ve heard variable things on Dendera, but your description makes it sound like great fun. Sad I missed it now. And due to timing I had to choose another film over Oslo. Quite unintentionally I saw a lot of  rather grim confrontational dramas, although the lighter titles were a delight, so I should first give credit to three not-violent films which won me over immensely. Weekend was a beautifully played affair that grabbed me from the first frame. I loved its naturalistic dialogue, likeable performances and wistfully hopeful overall tone. How sweet to finally have a gay take on the Before Sunset/Sunrise 'will they or won't they?' film! Pariah, another excellent gay-themed romance, was very moving and featured a great central turn from Adepero Oduye. The photography stood out as some of the fest’s best, too. (I wrote about both earlier.) Terri, a cheering and good-natured film about an overweight high school loner, was made with easy style and without sentimental cliché. It snuck up on me in a big way; its emotional impact worked during the film and later, on my way to the tube, it made me smile in the way that obviously quirky indie films of its ilk rarely do. John C. Reilly gave one of his best performances and the humour was well-timed. What gems delighted you, David? I ask this now, before we get to the inevitably gloomier stuff...

David: Weekend is so good it deserves repeating. [MORE AFTER THE JUMP ON SEVERAL TITLES...]

So refreshing to have a film about gay men that feels realistic, and energetic with conflicts about how different a lifestyle this is or isn't and so sipmly finely crafted and performed. A world away from gay men in Nottingham, meanwhile, is Nanni Moretti's We Have a Pope, which I almost skipped! It turned out to be both a hilarious absurdist comedy about shut-in cardinals and a moving tale of a deeply conflicted man who's unfortunately just been appointed Pope. What more could you want from a film? And again showing my poor judgement, I almost passed over my penultimate screening. Marc Evans made the rather awkward Patagonia last year (submitted as the UK's Best Foreign Film entry this year), so I didn't have much hope for his new film, especially when it has the title Hunky Dory. But you can't always trust your expectations. Hunky Dory might be a  idealistic and simplistic but it turned out to be a heart-warming little community piece that really makes good on its 1970s musical numbers. The treats often get you when you're not looking, I find.

Minnie Driver stars in "Hunky Dory"

I think a large part of most festival rosters is made up of the dark stuff, really. It's somehow more respectable, or at least worthier of critique, perhaps because what we see and hear in the news every day seems gloomier and more pessimistic than ever. This is why it's wonderful to have a film like The Artist at the centre of the cinematic conversation this year, both for critics and award watchers ...and soon audiences everywhere! It's really unfettered joy, this one, even when it turns to poignant melodrama in the second half, because it's just so vibrantly alive with love for cinema and for the stars it photographs. I was practically swinging my legs off my seat with giddy joy as the credits rolled. I'm now in love with Bérénice Bejo!

Craig: I think it’s more that drama and/or arthouse fare is what makes up the largest chunk of the fest’s line-up. Priding new, key world cinema titles, often those that have seen exposure elsewhere – Cannes, Venice etc – has always been part of the overall plan with the LFF. And why not. The darker stuff is there to prompt audiences into accepting that the subjects explored do exist in the world around us and that a measured, intelligent and creative artistic response can provoke debate. People can expect this to be part of their experience alongside films like, as you rightly mention, The Artist plus stuff like 50/50, Anonymous and A Cat in Paris for further balance. I think it partly has to do with the successful public response. People like to engage with thoughtful, forward-thinking and relevant cinematic themes. It’s encouraging in an age when talking robots and CGI animals dominate the mainstream. Of course there’s a place for those films too, but ya know...

David: It is encouraging to see the diverse population of London make itself known across the festival experience, and observe that you really can't get a read on what a particular person is going to choose to see and end up enjoying. If I had two wishes for the festival in future years, it'd be these: first, that it more fully expands its wings across different cinemas, so the experience of London as a city is as full as the wide-ranging selection of films. (I realise this may be a logistical nightmare for the staff, however!); second, that there would be a stronger showing for British cinema (though that's a wish they maybe can't control). They got lucky with Terence Davies happening to return with The Deep Blue Sea this year - he's one of the only major British directors currently working I can think of. Weekend shines as an unusual case here. The  "