LFF Day 9 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer | The Lovers | The Florida Project | On the Beach at Night Alone

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Two years ago Yorgos Lanthimos made his English language film debut with The Lobster and cemented his place in the hearts of diehard cinephiles. Now he is back, and reunited with Colin Farrell, in a similarly disjointed story of revenge and morality.

Farrell plays a surgeon who has befriended the son (Barry Keoghan) of a deceased former patient. Farrell’s surgeon has a perfect life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children but the introduction of Keoghan into their lives brings with it a sinister game and drastic consequences.

In any other director’s hands the plot of the film would be a run of the mill thriller but Lanthimos would never be so boring. As with The Lobster all dialogue is delivered in an emotionless deadpan that is increasingly at odds with the events as they unfold. The result is an incredibly creepy and deeply unsettling atmosphere in which I genuinely didn’t know what would happen next. The low energy delivery from Farrell makes any moments of emotional outburst all the more explosive and adds to the overall sense of dread that permeates the film.

As strange a film as you have come to expect from Lanthimos but with a more focussed plot than a lot of his previous work.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer screens at the festival on 13th and 15th October and in UK cinemas from 3rd November 2017.

The Lovers

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as a couple whose marriage has run its course. Both have been having long-term affairs (with Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters respectively) and have separately chosen the impending visit of their son as the moment to leave one another. As the big day grows closer the illicit relationships start to feel more and more like hard work and, after an unplanned evening in with a bottle of wine, old sparks start to fly again for the couple.

Winger and Letts beautifully realise a relationship well past its sell by date and then the shock and excitement as the pair start to fall for each other again. The script by writer-director Azazel Jacobs is very clever and beautifully executes flirtation via subtext as the married couple somehow end up seducing one another through their lies about their whereabouts. It’s not often you witness a conversation with at least three layers of understanding to unpick.

There is a lot to love about The Lovers. Don’t underestimate this film, it has a few surprises up its sleeve and one beautiful cover song by Tracey Letts.

The Lovers screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October.


Sean Baker blasted into the collective consciousness with his 2015 iPhone-shot debut Tangerine and now follows it up with a more traditionally shot drama surrounding the occupants of a rundown motel in Florida. The motel is named after Cinderella’s castle but the lives of the inhabitants are far from fairytales.

The focus of The Florida Project is six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberley Prince) and her painfully young mother (Bria Vinaite). On the surface Moonee has a terrible upbringing; living in poverty with a mother who has to hustle each week to pay rent on a cramped motel room. Moonee is often left to her own devices and has adventures during the day with whatever local kids she can convince to come with her. In reality Moonee is incredibly loved; her mother showers her with attention and tries to bring joy to her life and the motel’s manager (Willem Dafoe) keeps a watchful eye over the pair too.

Both young inexperienced actresses give bold performances in a film that meanders through one summer in their character’s lives. Authenticity is the key to a film like this and The Florida Project positively oozes it, or rather it aggressively spits authenticity in your face.

Funny, uplifting, and heartbreaking.

The Florida Project screens at the festival on 13th and 14th October and opens in UK cinemas on 10th November.

On the Beach at Night Alone

Hong Sang-soo has an incredible rate of work with at least one new film coming out each year. Hong reunites with his now frequent collaborator, and controversial real life love interest, Kim Minhee in a story of the aftermath of a love affair. On the Beach at Night Alone is the story of what happens after the credits have rolled on a typical love story.

Kim plays a woman recovering from a relationship with a married film director, a relationship that oddly mirrors her own with Hong. When reviewing Right Now, Wrong Then two years ago I listed the Hong Sang-soo tropes and while his traditional visual style is present this film is firmly focussed on its female lead and not on a bumbling romantic male.

I don’t Hong has ever been so on the side of the female in his film. Here we spend all our time we Kim, we see her struggling to connect to people, and it is her that embarrasses herself while drunk; a role usually left to a man in a Hong Sang-soo film.

On the Beach at Night Alone feels deeply personal and offers a very intimate portrait of a young woman with a broken heart. Long may the Kim and Hong collaboration continue.

On the Beach at Night Alone screens at the festival on 15th October.

LFF Day 4 – Apostasy | Last Flag Flying | The Final Year | Pickups

Apostasy

Every morning as I head to Woolwich Arsenal station to get the train to the festival I pass two Jehovah’s Witnesses standing next to a magazine rack filled with copies of The Watchtower. They never make any move to talk to me, just stand there waiting for someone to speak to them so that they can reveal The Truth to them and save their soul.

Apostasy is the debut feature from Daniel Kokotajlo, a former Jehovah’s Witness, and deals with a mother and her two daughters (Molly Wright and Sacha Parkinson) who struggle to follow their faith in a world at odds with their beliefs. As the mother Siobhan Finneran gives a masterclass in subtlety as a woman so sure of her beliefs she will put it before everything else, including her daughters.

Kokotajlo’s film is not explicitly critical of the religion, instead presenting events as plainly as possible and even showing the human side of the devout that we so often walk past on the street without a second glass. It is up to the audience to judge for ourselves the subtle ways the women are controlled and oppressed by their community and the devastating consequences of life in a patriarchy.

With three strong central female performances Apostasy is a stripped back and quietly devastating film.

Apostasy screens at the festival on 8th, 10th, and 14th October.

Last Flag Flying

Richard Linklater has had nothing but critical acclaim lately thanks to his hat trick of films Before Midnight, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some!!! so it was about time he made something that was just OK.

Steve Carell gives a subdued performance as a grieving father who enlists the help of his fellow Vietnam vets to help him bury his son. He gathers two old friends in the form of a charismatic drunk (Bryan Cranston chewing every piece of scenery he can) and a born again preacher (Laurence Fishburne). The reunited trio embark on a reluctant road trip and along the way reminisce about the joys and pointless losses of war.

With a period setting of 2003 (frequently cemented by repeated references to flip-phones) the film gives the war in Iraq a lot of head shaking disapproval that might have been edgier 15 years ago but now simply echoes popular consensus. While the film tries so hard to be cynical it is undermined by frequent lapses into sentimentality and a few too many close-ups of the American flag. I couldn’t pick up on what the film was trying to convey beyond the fact that war is bad and friends are good.

A fun enough experience but Last Flag Flying ends up overstaying its welcome and then ending abruptly. Not a Linklater classic.

Last Flag Flying screens at the festival on 8th, 9th, and 10th October .

The Final Year

When Greg Barker set out to make a film about the final year of Obama’s administration he can’t have imagined the devastating end the film would have. Trump lurks throughout the film long before his name is even mentioned as the administration discuss various things we now know he is undoing. There’s nothing more devastating than the bad guy winning in the end and realising you’re in the world he’s won.

The film follows Secretary of State John Kerry, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and to a much lesser extent than expected Barack Obama himself. In their final year we see them work to tackle climate change through the Paris agreement, create solid intelligence sharing with Europe and beyond, work on reducing nuclear weapons, encourage immigration, and advocate for diplomacy over military action. The film, as you can imagine, is positively dripping in dramatic irony.

Without the context of Trump the film might not have been so interesting. It doesn’t allow as much unfiltered access as I had hoped and in no way seeks to interrogate its subjects or show them in anything other than the best light. Those we spend time with appear to be the greatest, most flawless, government employees to ever grace the Earth and while they talk of arguments (“structured discussions”) we certainly never see anything close to an uncensored moment.

Fascinating thanks its belated historical context but ultimately toothless The Final Year is an otherwise fascinating look at how good we had it only just over a year ago.

The Final Year screens at the festival on 8th and 9th October.

Pickups

I really can’t help you with this one…

Jamie Thraves directs Aidan Gillen in a drama/documentary about Aidan Gillen (real or otherwise). Gillen is an actor so method that he becomes a serial killer in order to help prepare for a role. At least he does for a while and then is just a lonely weekend dad and beleaguered celebrity just trying to pick up his dog’s poo in peace.

I have no idea.

Pickups screens at the festival on 8th and 12th October.

Everybody Wants Some!! Sing Street – Film Review(s)

The Boys

Last week I inadvertently scheduled myself a thematic weekend of cinema by seeing Everybody Wants Some!! and Sing Street on consecutive days. The films are quite different but I can’t find a way to talk about one without bringing up the other and so I have decided to review them both completely separately and intertwined. Excuse me while I try to impress you.

In Autumn 2014 Richard Linklater returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Texas and filmed Everybody Wants Some!! in which Jake (Blake Jenner) starts at a new college and joins his baseball teammates in pursuit of girls. For Linklater the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of childhood and adulthood running through his earlier work Dazed and Confused and more recently Boyhood.

In Autumn 2014 John Carney returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Dublin and filmed Sing Street in which Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starts at a new school and leads his reluctant bandmates in pursuit of a girl. For Carney the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of music and romance running through his earlier work Once and more recently Begin Again.

In Everybody Wants Some!! we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe unfamiliar to myself: the jocks. We follow the jocks from party to party as they clash with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the girls they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from pursuing girls in a country club to chasing girls in a grunge club their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be grinding to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a cassette release alongside the more traditional CD.

In Sing Street we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe familiar to myself: the nerds. We follow the nerds from genre to genre as they sing with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the music they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from imitating the style of Duran Duran to writing music like The Cure their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be singing to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a vinyl release alongside the more traditional CD.

The Girls

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Everybody Wants Some!! also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young college student, played incongruously by a man in his twenties, pursuing sex in sun drenched America is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a jock or stepped foot on American soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Sing Street also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young school student, played accurately by a boy in his teens, pursuing escape in grey and drizzly UK & Ireland is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a musician or stepped foot on Irish soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

At the film’s core is a story of lust and the pursuit of many women. Aside from his love for all women the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Beverly (Zoey Deutch); a performing arts student who catches Jake’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) passing the Bechdel test the film spends no amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Beverly is a two-dimensional character of whom we learn very little and probably isn’t even developed enough to earn the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Beverly is primarily treated as something to be won and I wasn’t convinced that our protagonist deserved to “win” her.

At the film’s core is a story of love and the pursuit of stardom. Aside from his love for songwriting the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Raphina (Lucy Boynton); an aspiring model who catches Conor’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) not passing the Bechdel test the film spends a good amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Raphina is a three-dimensional character of whom we learn a lot and the film slowly reveals enough for her to ditch the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Raphina is treated as a character in her own right and any romance feels authentic and earned.

Overall the film is a success within the familiar framework it is working and will likely be enjoyed by fans of the genre or the director’s work that it follows on from. The soundtrack will be what sticks with you the most once you’ve stepped back out into the real world and will run through your head on your journey home. I had fun.

Both films are on release in the UK now.