WHOOSH! That’s the sound of The London Film Festival 2013 whizzing past, these days spreading its tentacles into the provinces as well as the suburbs. WHAM! is the sound made by the special effects (and our jaws as they drop to the floor) at Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D exploits. AAAAH and AWW! are the verdicts on the true-life story behind Steve Coogan’s powerfully emotive writing and acting, and on James Gandolfini’s final role.
Part 1 of our round-up brought you reviews of the US and UK films coming your way over the next few months. But what about the filmmaking fraternities in the rest of the world? How have these countries fared at the 2013 festival? Part 2 delivers the movies that might just open your eyes to other cultures, new talents, fresh ideas and different ways of looking at ourselves and our world. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also assess the documentaries that created a buzz at the latest London Film Festival over the next five pages.
So have our nearest neighbours across the channel shown us up again? Abdellatif Kechiche’s BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is a massive step up from his own previous film, Couscous. And it’s very different to Amour, (last year’s benchmark French film from Michael Haneke) yet also plunges us deep into the characters and emotions of two characters, resembling an engrossing novel more than just a plot-driven, linear journey. And like the Haneke film, it’s a warts-and-all, close-up study of a relationship. Be prepared before you go though, for a) this is a three-hour long movie and b) it’s very graphic in its lesbian sex scenes, which leave little to the imagination.
That said, the three hours pass in a flash, as you’re drawn into the fiery duo’s sensual passion. And there’s nothing gratuitous about the sex scenes, as they’re central to the powerful attraction that overwhelms the protagonists. Adele (Adele Exarchoploulos) starts as a student disturbed by her feelings, unable to relate to her attentive boyfriend, yet aroused and stimulated by a bold, blue-haired woman, Emma (Lea Seydoux) who she meets in a gay bar. Both actresses are utterly compelling and credible, disappearing into their roles, as they are drawn inexorably together, jealous of anyone else’s attentions even as they’re hanging out with bohemian friends, and constantly pushing their relationship to breaking point. Unmissable.
ME, MYSELF AND MUM (right) is a broad comedy not only written and directed by Guillaume Gallienne, but also starring him in the lead role, in which he ages from schoolboy to adult, but never really grows up. Encouraged by his overprotective mother to embrace his camp character, as she wishes he’d been born a girl, the bubble-haired Gallienne sports a constant look of surprise. Through terrible holidays in Spain, mixed experiences at boarding schools, even in a German spa, he is always a fish out of water. It’s all cleverly framed as if he’s performing on stage to a live audience too, as it’s based on Gallienne’s original one-man show. And, of course, not only does the ending surprise everyone, but Gallienne also plays his own mother!
The final part of director-screenwriter Cédric Klapisch’s trilogy, CHINESE PUZZLE, is set in New York City and is more than a little in love with the Big Apple. Like a warm bath, this is a classic French romantic comedy, drenched in charm, and populated by gorgeous adults and adorable kids. Romain Durais plays Xavier, newly separated from his wife (Kelly Reilly) and pursuing her to Manhattan to be near their children. As he Skypes with his publisher and his ex (Audrey Tatou), he struggles to fit in, and is compromised by covering up for his friend (Cecile de France on form again) and her lusty liaisons. It’s the reverse of An American in Paris, as he’s a French guy in NYC, acting as a magnet, as everyone starts visiting him there, with humorous and surreal moments pinging around as the plot zips along. Charm like this is hard to resist.
More playful with form, yet more serious in intent, Claire Simon’s GARE DU NORD is entirely filmed at the famous Paris railway station. Starring Nicole Garcia as lecturer Mathilde and Reda Kaleb as student Ismael, it draws you into the world within the Gare du Nord, and into their unlikely, burgeoning friendship. Verging on documentary at times, Simon’s technique is to take our hand and show us around. Strangers argue and fight, crime bubbles away and liaisons dangerous and tender occur, reflecting what’s going on far outside this microcosm.
Based on the true story of a very recent heist, 11.6 is nevertheless gripping. The action starts with the robber, Toni (Francois Cluzet looking more and more like Dustin Hoffman) turning himself in. Then it leaps back to see what drove him to commit his audacious crime. We build up a picture of Toni as a loyal security guard, toiling away alongside a slow-witted pal (in Mice & Men style – and there’s even a mouse). Then one day Toni flips (like Michael Douglas in Falling Down) and plans his revenge on his penny-pinching bosses – and on the banks themselves. So it’s a thriller where you know the ending, but the engaging Cluzet and director Philippe Godeau make the ride worthwhile.
Another entirely believable and superbly acted drama, SUZANNE from Katell Quillévéré, looks at two daughters growing up under the watchful eye of their widowed trucker father. The narrative jumps and leaps forward, leaving holes for the viewer to fill, as one daughter goes off the rails, and the story darkens and hurtles towards the end. But again, you keep watching for the engaging performances, especially Sara Forestier as Suzanne, and Adele Haenel as her younger sister.
Fiction can often face up to issues that non-fiction struggles to depict. And domestic violence – and the lingering threat of it – hangs heavily over THE FEAR (right). A whole family are cowed by the father’s bullying, and director Jordi Cadena lets the picture tell more than words or actions. There’s an echoey sound and atmosphere. We glimpse painful bruises on the mother’s back, broken glass in the sink. The teenage son and young daughter cling to each other and find it hard to trust others. But despite all the foreshadowing, you’re still unprepared for the cataclysmic, brutal ending.
Focusing on Madrid’s bright young things, THE WISHFUL THINKERS is an earnest, black and white movie about making movies. It reminds you of the fiction with obvious transparency in even showing retakes, and it meanders as friends, lovers and colleagues are filmed, but director-screenwriter Jonás Trueba ensures it’s always likeable.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.