Louis Theroux has a distinct style as a documentarian. He is the man who has access, who spends a great deal of time with his subjects and needles out insights and humour from their endless interactions. In making his first feature documentary Theroux has chosen a subject that forces him to change his strategy. You can say a lot of things about Scientology but nobody would ever call them accessible or open to being interviewed.
With no current member of the Church of Scientology to interview Theroux takes a large amount of inspiration from The Act of Killing and makes a different kind of documentary. Someone Theroux does have access to is Marty Rathbun; a defector from the Scientology who used to be one of the most powerful members of the Church. In between the types of conversations we have come to expect from a Louis Theroux documentary they settle into a Los Angeles studio, set up casting calls for the Church’s leader David Miscavige and celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise and Theroux gets Rathbun to direct re-enactments of his history with the church. The focus is not on the arguably outlandish claims of Scientology but on the training techniques they use and on claims of violent abuse made against Miscavige. Before too long Theroux does not need to go to the Scientologists as the Scientologists come to him in retaliation.
The switch in style helps demarcate this film from Theroux’s huge body of television work. There has been a deliberate choice to make something cinematic and as such the approach is that which could not be achieved on a television budget. The resulting film is funny and insightful but not as in-depth as other Scientology documentaries and not quite as personal or funny as traditional Theroux output. The lack of access to the Church means that we have to go without endless scenes of Theroux asking awkward questions of Scientologists and potentially getting a reaction no one else can get. We do get glimpses of what fun this might have been as he is confronted by a prominent Scientologist whilst filming on a public road near their studios but sadly this makes up the minority of the film when normally it would have been the film’s core.
It is these moments of confrontation and antagonisation that have brought Theroux a legion of loyal fans. We get to see him being perfectly reasonable and yet incredibly cheeky in the face of the unreasonable and the deluded. When Louis comes up against an immovable object he is precisely the right irresistible force than manages to goad them into dropping their facade and revealing any unpleasantness that might lie beneath.
I suppose my only complaint with My Scientology Movie is actually a big compliment. I just wanted more. I wanted more insight into the machinations of the church and I wanted more Louis Theroux. Granted Theroux was never going to make an in-depth historical documentary but I wish he had been able to gain access to more members to ask uncomfortable questions of. While the film was running I was laughing away and feeling deeply uncomfortable at the right moments but when it was finished I was disappointed. I didn’t want it to end as I hadn’t yet had my fill. I loved the film enough to resent it for having ended.
Louis Theroux remains a master of his craft and I cannot wait to see how his feature documentary career develops. Whatever gets me more Theroux makes me happy. This is not the definitive Scientology documentary but it is most definitely Louis Theroux’s and it is a fascinating and enjoyable ride.
Gonzalo (Álvaro Ogalla) has decided that he wants to officially leave the Catholic church having been baptised against his will as a child. His life as a whole is not in great shape as he lusts after his cousin and tutors his attractive neighbour’s son. In short Gonzalo is having an existential crisis, one that involves us frequently having to see his penis.
Co-written by Ogalla and three other writers The Apostate is most definitely a film. It looks like a film, it sounds like a film, and it runs to a full feature-length. Despite all this I found The Apostate completely impenetrable. I can’t even explain to you in any satisfying way just why I struggled so much with this film.
For whatever reason I simply never settled in and was instead left shuffling in my seat throughout both literally and figuratively. I found myself only interested in Gonzalo’s battle with the church but this quickly took a back seat to various other dramas in his life and a dream sequence or two that gave me no further insight or enjoyment.
The Apostate is probably not a bad film. It just 100% is not for me. I am happy to take the blame; maybe I was too tired, ill, or not paying enough attention. Whatever the reason I found myself sat watching The Apostate and feeling thoroughly bored.
Whilst working in the toy floor of a New York department store in the 1950s Therese (Rooney Mara) finds herself bewitched by Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older woman on the verge of divorce who is shopping for her daughter’s Christmas present. Both feeling an unspoken attraction to one another they form a friendship, one that starts with lunches and drives but culminates with the two taking a long road trip together. On the road Carol tries to maintain her poise as her divorce and custody battle wages on at home and the younger Therese tries to define herself beyond her temporary job and the boyfriend that she does not love. Amidst the women’s internal struggles is the ever more potent issue; that of their growing feelings for one another and whether either will ever confess to or act upon them.
Carol is a deeply romantic film. Every little detail harkens back to a more romantic age but one in which this particular romance would have been taboo. The expectations for women as a whole in the 1950s were very different to now and for lesbians even more so. This is evident in the hesitation with which the two women reveal their feelings even to themselves let alone each other. Carol in particular is a woman who hides behind a public face. She is never one to appear flustered while Therese’s face gives away her every inner thoughts whether she realises it or not. The combination of the two, an uncertain young woman and her confident older pairing, is utterly mesmerising to watch. Carol is clearly in control and it is easy to see why Therese looks up to her as both a role model and a romantic partner.
Todd Haynes has directed this love story in a way that can only be described as romantic. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy has adapted Patricia Highsmith’s with a sparing use of dialogue and as such Haynes has accentuated the connection between the women with careful close-ups of hands, eyes, and mouths. We see every shy glance and tentative touch, we see as Therese admires Carol’s strong femininity and the way Carol watches Therese in return. There is an incredible intimacy to most scenes even when the two women are simply sitting across from one another sipping coffee.
The book has made the transition to the screen without damage. Therese is now a passionate photographer, think Vivian Maier, rather than set designer which is well suited to cinematic storytelling and allows Haynes to literally show us Carol through her eyes. The film also allows for scenes without Therese to show Carol’s interactions with Abby (Sarah Paulson). I welcome this controversial move as it softens Carol somewhat who often came across as cold in the original, fantastic novel and gives her a rounder character. All the better to see why Therese fell so hard for her.
In conclusion Carol is a beautiful troubled love story. A timeless piece of cinema as beautiful as it is moving.
Carol screens again at the festival on 17th October but is sold out.
In a world much like our own being single has become tantamount to a crime. Anyone finding themselves unattached through divorce, death, or simply unsuccessful dating must go to The Hotel. There they have 45 days to find a partner, essentially someone who shares one distinct trait with them, or be transformed into an animal of their choice. The Hotel is run by Olivia Colman who gives lectures on why being in a couple is a good things and how it might prevent you from dying or being raped. The message here is clear; if you are single you might as well not be human.
Out in the forests hides an outcast group who cannot live in polite society anymore. This group is known as the Loners and are led by a militant Léa Seydoux. In this group being in a couple is the ultimate betrayal and even kissing or flirting are punished violently. Independence is the only valuable attribute and each Loner is even expected to dig their own grave in case they die. Running away to join the Loners is your only alternative if your time runs out at the Hotel and you want to keep your human face.
Our guide through this peculiar world is David (Colin Farrell) who reluctantly checks into The Hotel at the start of the film with his dog-shaped brother in tow. He has 45 days to find himself someone with a matching distinguishing feature or he will find himself transformed into a lobster; the logical form to choose for his post-human years. Inside the hotel he is joined by a limping man (Ben Whishaw), a woman who has nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), a man with a lisp (John C. Reilly), a woman who loves biscuits (Ashley Jensen), and a heartless woman (Angeliki Papoulia). All of them, barring perhaps the heartless woman, are desperate to find whatever passes for love in this world. Meanwhile out in the woods the likes of Michael Smiley and Rachel Weisz do their best to be friendly but not flirty and evade capture from The Hotel’s residents. The cast is crammed with a fine selection of British actors and it is a great endorsement that director Yorgos Lanthimos chose to make this film in the UK rather than the US.
Yorgos Lanthimos has brought his distinctly dry humour to his first English-language feature. As you can presumably tell from what I have described the film forms a scathing satire on the modern world of dating and selecting a partner out of desperation based on the most trivial of compatibility criteria. Every line spoken in the film in done so in a completely deadpan manner making the more absurd dialogue seem sane and turning mundane conversation surreal. I got the distinct feeling that Lanthimos has looked at the world, found it ridiculous, and wants to show us the insanity he sees.
The Lobster is an incredibly funny and smart film. It takes the norms of our societal rituals and expectations and blows them up to be seen for the madness that they really are. The film has a lot of clever ideas and humorous moments and is a pleasure to watch but struggles when trying to thread a plot through all the metaphor. This being a film about love it can’t resist having a love story rear its ugly head. The romance in question is sweet but the insistence on deadpan delivery dampens any emotions. That said the muted nature of the romance adds to the general mood and message of the film so is far from out of place.
The Lobster will provide you plenty of chuckles and a few wry knowing smiles and is a unique confection from one of our most creative modern filmmakers. Once you’re in sync with the film’s unique rhythm you’ll be lost in its world.
Lobster screens at the festival again on the 15th October but sadly has sold out. Luckily it is released on the 16th anyway so not to worry.
In a French community obsessed with country and western a teenage girl runs of with her Islamic boyfriend. In a haze of suspicious and xenophobia the girl’s father (François Damiens) fears the worst and embarks on fruitless trips across numerous countries with his son Kid (Finnegan Oldfield) in tow in search of the missing young woman. As the years pass Kid becomes disillusioned with the hunt and stay at home leaving his father to pursue his sister alone.
This first chapter of the film comes across as a decent thriller with a desperate father on the hunt for his daughter. I was expecting some conspiracy to be uncovered and for the father to come out victorious in a manner that would make Liam Neeson proud. This does not happen. Instead this section of the film comes to an abrupt end and we jump forward a few more years.
Now our focus is on Kid who is working for what I assume was an aid agency in Asia. Here Kid quite literally stumbles across the path of John C. Reilly playing some kind of evangelical human trafficker. Naturally Reilly’s American wanderer thinks he might know where Kid’s sister might be and so the two embark on an adventure across the desert and into a rough urban landscape. After some dramatic moments we head back to France and jump forward a few years. Again.
Having had the thriller and the action adventure Cowboys ends with a shorter chapter more along the lines of an emotional drama. One that neatly brings the story to a close and ties together loose threads in a neat, not necessarily satisfactory bow. With that the film is done. The plot of the film having chopped and changed numerous times we finally reach some sort of conclusion.
Each of the three chunks of the film are well made with tonally appropriate direction and fine acting but the three sections don’t sit well when sat flush against each other. The tone of the film kept changing which made for a jarring experience and no individual chapter got the proper resolution they deserved; as soon as something got interesting it would abruptly stop so we could move a few more years down the line.
Cowboys is by no means a terrible experience but is too uneven to be a great watch.
Cowboys screens the festival on the 15th and 16th October and tickets are still available online.