The London Film Festival 2015 Part 1: Big Hitters

ratter Branden Kramer is to be applauded for filming his thriller, Ratter, in innovative fashion. There are a few peripheral characters and storylines, but basically the entire plot centres around one female student who has recently moved into the biggest, nicest student apartment in New York. The twist is, Kramer films the entire movie via all the electronic and surveillance technology around her. As she uses her laptop for Skyping or fitness workouts, it’s filming her. Her iPhone is shooting from within her handbag. CCTV captures her. Has her password been hacked though? And is someone getting into her apartment when she’s not there? Or infinitely more disturbingly… when she is there asleep? It doesn’t always work, but the concept is strong. Beware though, it could still make you paranoid.

We’ve loved Terence Davies in the past, especially for his Terence Rattigan adaptation, The Deep Blue Sea, The House of Mirth, and Of Time And The City, his love song for his hometown Liverpool. And we’ll love him again. But we have to admit we didn’t make it all the way through his period Scottish drama, Sunset Song. Adapted from the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel of the same name, it starts out promisingly enough, with the likes of Peter Mullan as the bullying, abusive patriarch making his mark (literally), and enough rural fate, faith and farming to fill a milking pail. But when the focus shifts solely to the central character of Mullan’s thwarted daughter, Chris Guthrie, played by Agyness Deyn, she simply cannot sustain our interest across the two-hour-plus film. The landscape is stunning. Brilliant character and supporting actors surround Deyn, but although Davies might have thought that casting a pretty blank canvas in their midst would work, it simply doesn’t.

Lily Tomlin is the Grandma in Paul Weitz’s gentle, generation-gap comedy, an irascible, happy, hippy academic who doesn’t quite know what to do when her granddaughter, Sage, turns up broke and pregnant on her doorstep. It’s filmed at a measured, sometimes uneven, endearingly clunky pace, much like Tomlin’s ancient automobile. But it’s worth watching for her perfect timing, plus the scenestealing turns by Sam Elliott as Tomlin’s old lover, Karl, and Marcia Gay Harden as Sage’s businesswoman mother, Judy, the polar opposite of Tomlin’s character.

james-white Director and screenwriter Josh Mond made James White because his own mother had died in similar circumstances to the matriarch, played here by Cynthia Nixon , and indeed Nixon had also lost her own mother not long before agreeing to take part. This isn’t an easy watch, but it’s heartfelt and blisteringly honest and real, at times almost too real. It starts apparently as a film about a hedonistic and none-too-likeable New Yorker, James White (Christopher Abbott), attending his father’s wake. He scoots off on a Mexican vacation for more hedonism, until he gets a call from his mother to come home, as her cancer is spreading while her dementia is also taking over. Things fall apart, he goes into freefall while he’s trying to be her carer, yet somehow also becomes his better self. Mond’s movie manages to be poignant, but unsentimental, much like the central mother-son relationship. It’s also worth noting that Mond’s DoP M átyás Erdély was also the cinematographer on one of the festival’s standout films, Son Of Saul (reviewed in Part Two of our roundup).

In Aussie director Ariel Kleiman’s debut feature Partisan, Vincent Cassel has gone feral and set up his own commune/harem, consisting purely of single mothers and their young and impressionable offspring. It all seems idyllic until you realise that he’s actually built a cult of followers he’s teaching to go outside their walls and shoot to order. His keenest disciple is 11-year-old Alexander, who hangs on his every word, carries out his murderous missions, and seeks his approval until he sees through him and tries to escape his hold. Cassel is as brilliant and menacing as ever, and there’s a palpable sense of unease throughout. Promising.

Another debut director from Australia, Simon Stone based The Daughter on his own theatrical adaptation of Ibsen’s play, The Wild Duck. He’s managed to recruit a pretty amazing cast for it too, with Sam Neill as nature-loving ex-con grandfather Walter, Geoffrey Rush as his rich nemesis Henry, and their respective sons Oliver (Ewen Leslie) and Christian (Paul Schneider) reuniting long after their boyhood friendship, for Henry’s impending second wedding. Poised between them all is Oliver’s daughter, Hedvig (newcomer Odessa Young), the light of his and his wife Charlotte’s (Miranda Otto) life. Resentment simmers just below the surface and there’s a secret buried deep in their shared pasts which might come back to haunt them… (and knowing that Ibsen is the source, it’s a safe bet to say that nothing in the past is ever safely hidden). Another highly promising debut.

COMING SOON: Part Two of our London Film Festival review includes all the best from the rest of the world…


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