London Film Festival 2011 Part 1: The Big Fellas: We’re going to mix it up a bit for this year’s look back over the London Film Festival. In fact, we’ve got so much to say that DVDfever is splitting its coverage into three parts. In this first instalment we’ll look at the big movies from the major players in the US and UK that you should rush to see – or not – and why. Plus some of their more indie and offbeat offerings.
In the second part, we’ll give you the detailed lowdown on all the treats from everywhere else – including emerging and more ‘arthouse’ film nations – plus the best documentaries coming your way. And in the third, and final instalment we’ll be giving out our much-coveted, virtual festival awards. So let’s go.
Moving out of the arthouse, and into the multiplex, the opening and closing films of the 55th London Film Festival saw esteemed directors Fernando (City of God, Constant Gardener) Meirelles and Terence (Distant Voices, Of Time And The City) Davies thrust into a harsh and unforgiving spotlight they’re perhaps less accustomed to. And with varying results. Meirelles’ big budget and star-packed curtain raiser, 360 (right), is an update of the classic Schnitzler play, La Ronde, in which pairs of lovers and their trysts overlap with each other to form a perfectly flawed circle.
This version is global and modern, packed with people whose lives are filled with modern gadgets and able to travel across the world, yet empty of real emotional attachments. Sex is a currency to be traded, and love is a complication, inevitably suffused with unhappiness and frustration. Split screens and beautiful location photography, however, cannot disguise the baggy plot or indeed make us really care about 360’s characters played by Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Jamel Debbouze, Moritz Bleibtreu and Rachel Weisz. Verdict: could do better. And will.
Weisz also plays the central character, Hester, in Terence Davies’ closing film, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, based on his namesake, Terence Rattigan’s stiff-upper-lip play of the same name. Set in post-war England, where the rooms are underheated and the class system is rigid, people find it hard to express their feelings. The film opens with Hester making a failed suicide attempt, and then unspools the back story leading up to this dramatic action. Her cold fish, mummy’s boy husband is immaculately portrayed by Simon Russell-Beale, while Tom Hiddleston is her racy, but unreliable lover. Evocative, moody and atmospheric, Davies’ film manages to convey the mannered stoicism of this love triangle, and explores what happens when all passion’s spent.
Set in the midst of a New York City that never sleeps, SHAME is British artist and director Steve McQueen’s much-anticipated follow-up to Hunger, once again starring the excellent Michael Fassbender. And it’s strong stuff, dealing with a sex addict who is an attractive, successful businessman, yet cannot connect with colleagues, lovers, or his equally messed-up sister, Carey Mulligan. Whole periods of the film are virtually dialogue-free and the sex is mechanical, as we see how he is both flawed and floored by his addiction, made even starker as we’re given lots of uncompromising close-up shots of his naked body, while his route to self-destruction seems inevitable. It may not be pretty, but it’s pretty close to a masterpiece.
George Clooney’s latest directorial outing, THE IDES OF MARCH, doesn’t look quite as crisp as the previous political film he helmed, Good Night, And Good Luck, but it has the dual advantages of being a taut thriller and boasting this year’s hottest leading man, Ryan Gosling. Plus it’s cleverly adapted by Grant Heslov (and Clooney) from an award-winning play by Farragut North. Clooney himself takes a secondary role as Gosling’s boss, the whiter-than-white presidential hopeful who might just have a secret that could bring him down. And the supporting cast is to die for: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei trading insults, wisecracks and political cynicism as they variously orchestrate and document the rival campaigns. As Gosling’s idealism drains away and he realises that everyone is expendable, the film examines whether loyalty is more important than the truth. But who will be the fall guy as the plot thickens…
Ralph Fiennes’ promising directorial debut, CORIOLANUS, is arguably an even more politically relevant film for our times, and might also suggest that he could become our own Clooney. Closely based on Shakespeare’s original text, and set vaguely in the present day Balkans, it paints a picture of citizens undergoing austerity measures, of unlikely coalitions carving up power (ring any bells?), and of huge unrest as human rights are quashed. Fiennes directs himself as the titular anti-hero, scarred and bloodied, macho and brutal to a fault, fighting (in almost Fast Show style) to the bitter end with his rival, Gerard Butler, and backed up by his mousy wife (Jessica Chastain) and his ambitious, conniving mother (a remarkable performance by Vanessa Redgrave). I can’t wait to see what Fiennes tackles next.
Roman Polanski must have pinched himself when he secured the cast for CARNAGE, the cinematic version of Yasmina Reza’s hit Broadway play, God Of Carnage. John C Reilly (Mister Ubiquitous at the festival) and Jodie Foster play respectively laidback and uptight parents of a boy allegedly attacked by his playground chum, whose own mum and dad are played by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz. The quartet meet at Reilly and Foster’s home to sort things out in a civilised manner, and though their conversation starts out in a rational and politically correct fashion, it soon descends into bitterness, bickering and open hostility. In the very process of unpicking and defending their respective sons’ behaviour, the tension spills over and their own values and etiquette become even worse than their offspring’s. Apart from humorously skewering the middle classes and their behaviour, Carnage is also an acting masterclass, with Winslet a surprisingly effective drunk, Waltz detached and preoccupied as her husband, and Reilly really upping his game opposite an unforgiving Foster.
Of course, Polanski famously cast Natassia Kinski as Tess of the d’Urbervilles when he faithfully filmed Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece. Now it’s Michael Winterbottom’s turn, having previously adapted Hardy’s Jude The Obscure (with Kate Winslet) and The Mayor Of Casterbridge (as The Claim). And TRISHNA is surely the most radical of these interpretations, transplanting the story of Tess and its heroine, “Trishna” (Freida Pinto of Slumdog fame) from the west of England to modern-day India, but also mashing together the two main male characters, Angel and Alec, to become one, “Jay” (Riz Ahmed). Although this doesn’t always work, and you perhaps miss the tension of a trio rather than a couple at the heart of the story, Winterbottom has to be praised for his bold approach. What he has kept are the dramatic twists of fate that engulf Trishna, as she experiences the extremes of poverty and wealth, and Jay’s changing attitude to her, increasing the feeling that her destiny has already been shaped. Oh, and the soundtrack is a corker.
Go to page 2 for more from London Film Festival 2011 Part 1: The Big Fellas.