The London Film Festival 2014 Part 2: Voyage of Discovery

The London Film Festival 2014 The London Film Festival 2014‘s first part of our round-up brought you reviews of the English language feature films coming your way. But there are just as many amazing movies being made in the rest of the world – so what should you be looking out for from the 2014 London Film Festival? Part 2 gets you a front row seat – easy on the virtual popcorn – for films from every part of the globe, fast rising and established directors with different visions, gritty thrillers, comic treats and issue-tackling dramas that might expand and or even changef your world view.

Latin America

Miguel Cohan spoils us rotten with his well-crafted Argentine crime thriller, BETIBU (above), containing dozens of red herrings, corruption lurking around every corner, and an unlikely trio tasked with solving a murder. A retiring newspaper hack, the crime correspondent who’ll replace him, and a female celebrity novelist (known as Betibu) start out in unpromising fashion, each with their own methods, respectively using old cuttings, the internet, and talking and taking photos. But what connects an industrialist who’s had his throat cut – soon after his own wife’s murder – with other important figures gradually being bumped off? No-one is safe, and a mounting sense of fear is palpable as the journalists turn detective and put themselves in harm’s way…

Impressionistic, yet hard hitting, HISTORY OF FEAR, from Argentine director Benjamin Naishtat pushes the same buttons as Neighborhood Sounds did a couple of years back. It plays on the paranoia of well-heeled Buenos Aires families with high-end security systems and lackeys to cosset them. Until things go wrong. Menace and the unsettling heat seep through every scene, every little thing seems to carry meaning, and the sound design adds to the feeling that things are out of kilter… until they literally get darker towards the end. Very promising.

Also direct from a middle class world comes CASA GRANDE, though this debut feature from Brazil’s Fellipe Barbosa focuses on a family that’s suddenly on its uppers. Apparently this is the world Barbosa grew up in and tried to escape, and it might be that the central character of Jean is autobiographical. When privileged, spoilt Jean’s parents have their own financial crisis he must take the bus rather than being chauffeured to school, and watch his parents lay off the domestic staff he saw as friends. But can he cross class and racial divides by hooking up with a girl from the favelas? Using a good mix of untried teenage actors and established soap stars, Barbosa shows he’s one to watch.

guerosSweetly romantic, THE WAY HE LOOKS is also quietly subversive. Brazilian writer-director Daniel Ribeiro has adapted and expanded this feature from his short, trying to explore how a person who cannot see, can still find themself attracted to another person. Not content with making Leo blind, Ribeiro also has his teenage character come to terms with being gay, and shows through his classmates’ attitudes that both blindness and homosexuality are still targets of prejudice. Luckily Leo has a loyal gal pal, Giovana, who only gets jealous when Leo confronts his confused feelings and falls hard and fast for cute new boy Gabriel, accompanied by some Belle & Sebastian music. And while Leo’s doting, protective parents wrap him in cotton wool, he only craves more independence. But won’t it all end in tears?

Although it’s unlikely that the Uruguayan comedy and festival classic, Whisky will ever be matched, at least writer-producer-director Alvaro Brechner is having a go with MR KAPLAN. Brechner’s own granddad fled Poland for South America just before World War II, and his eponymous lead character is an ageing Jewish man who has lived most of his life in Uruguay. And when he suddenly reckons that he’s found a Nazi living in his midst, he wants justice. Meanwhile his family and friends believe he’s losing his marbles and his grip, so he enlists a hapless, dishevelled, boozing ex-cop to help him. With perfect pacing, the fabulous characters embark on a comic pursuit, and Brechner also deftly manages to show the near invisibility of the elderly, and explore their role in society.

The rightly praised Mexican feature GUEROS, is director Alonso Ruiz Palacios’ confident debut. Gorgeously shot in black and white with deep shadows, its dramatic backdrop is the real student strike of 1999, when all university activities stopped for one year, as they refused to kowtow to being asked to pay for enrollment, which had always been free until then. Into this unrest steps troublesome teen Tomas, sent to stay with his hopeless brother, who drifts around, powerless and cashless, only engaging when they search for an old, forgotten folk singer hero, Epigmenio Cruz, and they encounter the brother’s old flame leading the protesters. They venture into parts of their own city that are unfamiliar and unwelcoming, as the director shows a country and its people still uneasy with each other, feeling on the edge of something potentially explosive… Gueros shows that a rookie director can push the envelope in style and substance, and his next work should be worth looking out for.

At the other end of the scale, seasoned European filmmaker Laurent Cantet chooses Cuba as the setting for his nostalgic, but never sentimental RETURN TO ITHACA. Like The Big Chill (which also had a terrific soundtrack) this focuses on a group of five middle-aged friends looking back on their misspent youths. They’ve all made compromises and mistakes, and as they sit on the rooftop in the warm Havana evening, drinking rum, eventually the truths about the past emerge, in true ‘vino veritas’ fashion. The writer who fled to Spain, the painter who became an alcoholic, the bitterness of those left behind. They all have secrets to hide and seek, which Cantet shows with great affection.

Go to page 2 for Spain and Italy…


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