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LFF: Sightseeing British talent

David here reporting on three homegrown participants in the 56th BFI London Film Festival.

Steve Oram & Alice Lowe in 'Sightseers'A distinctly British melding of comedy and horror grew from the roots of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and it’s telling that Wright has an executive producer credit on Sightseers, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to his terrifying, schizoid Kill List, which made it to US theatres earlier this year. Sightseers proves similarly unclassifiable, but the black magic horror of Kill List is replaced by a crunching absurdity. Co-writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe star as Chris and Tina, a young couple who leave behind Tina’s demanding, cruel but dependent mother and set out on a sightseeing tour around England that quickly becomes a killing spree after Chris reverses over a tourist he witnessed littering. Justifications for the killings range from a rambler’s “smug complacency” to Tina’s sexual jealousy, removing any kind of social agenda from Oram and Lowe’s anarchic, cruelly witty script. Instead they parody usual clichés – Tina is still affected by the loss of her dog, who meets an unfortunate end by knitting needle in flashback – and affectionately mock bullshit social rhetoric. There’s a guilty pleasure in our enjoyment of the escalating brutality of the situation and how the pair’s romantic entanglement evolves through this. Despite their obvious issues, Chris and Tina are genuinely entertaining people to spend time with, and the surreal, morbid flourishes of humour combine with dark flares of blood to make for a generic hybrid that has been deftly melded together. Sightseers is worth making tracks to see. (A-)

Gemma Arterton in 'Song for Marion'“You know how I feel about enjoying things,” grouches Arthur (Terence Stamp) mid-way through Song for Marion. Arthur is the grouch, disapproving of his wife Marion’s (Vanessa Redgrave) involvement in a local elderly choir, led by a bright, effervescent teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). After Marion dies, Arthur’s solitude and Elizabeth’s intrigue propel Arthur to join the choir himself. Paul Andrew Williams’ fourth feature a far cry from his superb, gritty breakthrough London to Brighton and the horror films he went on to make. Instead, he steps into the cosy embrace of feel-good corn as Song for Marion takes awkward emotional tiptoes towards an eminently predictable conclusion. Williams’ formerly crisp, immediate visual sense appears to have gone walkabout as he films everything with distressing flatness and inserts far too many shots of extras supposedly enjoying the choir’s performance for comfort. Staunchly reliant on stereotypes and binaries – “The OAPz” performing Salt-n-Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ draws comedic gasps from the group and repulsion from voiceless teenage boys improbably eavesdropping - Song for Marion only ever sparks in the rapport between Stamp and a surprisingly fresh Arterton. Stamp can’t escape the scattershot psychology of his character, but Arterton, barely given a character at all, colours outside the line with a warm, inviting luminescence and brings out Stamp’s more spirited performance moments. It’s a softly pleasing duet at the heart of a shallow, hollow enterprise, the equivalent of a song that’s being played in the wrong key. (C-)

Chloe Pirrie in 'Shell'Binaries get cracked in Scott Graham’s searching debut Shell. Shell (Chloe Pirrie) is a young woman living and working at a petrol station in the remote Scottish highlands, with only her father (Joseph Mawle) and the battering winds for company. Graham films with a bracing intimacy, sharply employing the soundscape to annotate the isolation of the location – aurally, there is no escape in this vicinity, a fact that proves both a blessing and a curse. Shell’s burgeoning sexuality is cautiously developed through the visits of the few regular customers she has, from a lonely father (Michael Smiley) to a handsome local boy (Iain De Caestecker), but it becomes increasingly clear that Shell’s relationship with her father has become confused by her having to care for him. Pirrie’s watchful, immensely sensitive performance is the pearl inside this shell – her glassy brown, almost beetle-like eyes make opaque emotions that her very mobile face make apparent, crafting in Shell a complex, unpredictable character. Graham unfolds the subtle, ultimately devastating shades of the central relationship through the sparse dialogue and a close, often uncomfortable sensual visual style. Shell is a quietly brave debut from a very promising British filmmaker – a discovery like this is really the beating heart of the LFF. (B+)

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Reader Comments (1)

"Song for Marion" is from the director of "LONDON TO BRIGHTON"? Jeepers. That movie sounds like Pitch Perfect for adults. There's even a performance of "Let's Talk About Sex" in both of them. And I love spotting over-zealous extras!

"Shell" sounds interesting. Will keep an eye out for it...

October 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn (the other one)
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