The London Film Festival 2014 Part 1: Mainstream

my-old-ladyWritten and directed by Peter Sattler as a single location movie that homes in on a pivotal relationship between prisoner and guard, CAMP X-RAY sounds like well-trodden dramatic territory. That is until you realise that the guard is an all-American female soldier and her Muslim prisoner is held at Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo. Kristen Stewart is perfect as the newbie who also guards and controls her own emotions, much as she pulls her hair tightly into a bun. And Peyman Maadi (from A Separation) is alternately sympathetic and demanding as the detainee who says he just wants the final Harry Potter book from the prison library cart, but really wants some human interaction. As they both feel increasingly isolated in their surroundings and ostracised by their fellow men, they start to open up. And as we witness the dehumanising effect of the situation on the guards as well as the inmates, the film perhaps raises important philosophical questions about such institutions.

We at DVDfever pride ourselves on hunting down any festival appearances by Kristin Scott Thomas, so catching KST in MY OLD LADY (above right) was compulsory. Directed by 75-year-old newcomer Israel Horowitz, and based on his own play, this is a neatly structured three-hander. Kevin Kline is the naïve, impecunious American who believes he has inherited a fabulous old property in the heart of Paris, which he plans to sell immediately. But residing there is Maggie Smith, playing a 92-year-old who can continue to live there under French law – in their unique estate arrangement known as viager – until her death.

To complicate matters, her fiercely protective, frosty daughter, KST, is also in residence. And as if that wasn’t enough, it seems that Kline’s late father had an affair with Smith. Despite their initial differences, Kline and KST find common ground and growing attraction, once they recognise their similar, emotionally damaged lives. But all the best lines, as you’d expect, are brusquely delivered by Smith, saying: “I’m 90; subtlety has no interest to me,” and telling recovering alcoholic Kline that the key to long life is “precision and wine.” Catch this for the strong central trio and for a film that seamlessly moves from comedy to love story to poignant drama.

(DVDfever Editor Dom Robinson adds: I think the gorgeous Kristin Scott Thomas would make a perfect ‘mother’ in a movie role to Scarlett Alice Johnson, best known for BBC3’s superb sitcom Pramface. Will a director out there please make this happen!)

catch-me-daddyThose of a nervous disposition should probably steer clear of Yorkshire drama, CATCH ME DADDY (right), a debut film written and directed by the Wolfe brothers, Daniel and Matthew. There are elements of Romeo and Juliet in its star-crossed teenage lovers, and Wuthering Heights in its bleak Yorkshire setting, plus it employs the same cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, used by Andrea Arnold for her recent version of the Bronte classic. British Pakistani girl Laila and her Scottish boyfriend Aaron are hiding out in an austere chalet, up above the town, getting high, eating junk, and dancing for each other. Meanwhile Laila’s strict family are on her trail, tracking her down with help from local thugs, wielding an unpleasant array of weaponry and fully prepared to wreak havoc to bring her home. Increasingly brutal as it hurtles towards tragedy, this remarkably dark film was shortlisted in the festival’s First Feature Competition, and ended up deservedly winning Best British Newcomer for its star, Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, who plays Laila. Could the Wolfe brothers become our own homegrown Coens?

Anyone who has followed Morgan Matthews’ peerless career as a passionate documentary maker will have approached his dramatic feature debut, X+Y with high expectation tempered with trepidation. But Matthews gives himself a head start by basing this loosely on his own documentary, Beautiful Young Minds, which recorded a group of students heading off to the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). And as added security he casts Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in the main adult roles of Nathan’s teacher and widowed mother, actors who know each other well from their long run in Nick Payne’s West End hit play, Constellations. Nathan is the crucial character here though, a teenage maths boffin with autism, played by Hugo star Asa Butterfield, who finds everything around him startling, and is only just beginning to use his considerable gifts. And I have to admit to shedding the odd tear while watching. Bring on Matthews’ next feature!

There’s another promising British debut from a very different background in the shape of SECOND COMING, from established stage and TV writer-director, Debbie Tucker Green, which was also shortlisted for Best Debut Feature. Set in London and boasting strong performances from Idris Elba as hard-working husband, Mark, and Kai Francis-Lewis as his inquisitive son JJ, this is definitely Nadine Marshall’s film, playing wife and mother, Jackie. Kitchen sink domestic bliss turns to discord when Jackie falls pregnant, and realises that it can’t be Mark’s – even though she’s slept with no-one else. Family and friends have different reactions, and Jackie is pushed to the very edge, haunted by previous miscarriages and vivid dreams of water pouring down on her. As her nightly visions pile up, and her men tend a bird with a broken wing, she gets closer to snapping herself. A bold and imaginative debut.

Feeling like a gritty documentary, Simon Baker’s debut drama NIGHT BUS was shot over seven nights in the East End. The nighttime sheen, rain-slicked streets and overlit seedy glamour of London help give the film its gritty character, as characters improvise dialogue as they come and go on the bemused driver’s bus. Variously intimate, aggressive, businesslike, funny, tender, petty, flirtatious and drunk, they show that all life is here.

Go to page 4 for Men Women and Children, Ping Pong Summer and more…


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