LFF Day 3 – Columbus | Abracadabra | Golden Exits | Manifesto

Columbus

A slow but pleasant start to the day with Kogonada’s cinematic debut about a man from out of town (John Cho) visiting his sick father who meets a young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) who can’t escape her hometown of Columbus for fear of her mother not being able to cope.

The two meet and spend long days exploring the Modernist architecture of Columbus and talk about their lives, hopes, dreams, and parental obligations. Their blossoming friendships feels incredibly real as their dialogue is punctuated with as much silence as it is insightful banter.

Kogonada has an amazing eye and the film is filled with exquisitely framed shots of beautiful architecture. As someone with the most amateur interest in architecture this film is an absolute delight. Cho’s character made a great brutalist pun at one point but sadly only myself and his character laughed.

I absolutely adore this film. It was gently moving and a feast for the eyes.

Columbus screens at the festival on 7th and 11th October.

Abracadabra

With my heart filled and brain sedated I moved onto Pablo Berger’s Abracadabra. Kat saw and reviewed Berger’s Blancanieves five years ago so I was intrigued to see what he had produced this time.

Abracadabra is a broad Spanish comedy about a woman (Maribel Verdú) whose selfish husband becomes possessed by a ghost. At first she is delighted by new elements of his personality as he takes an interest in both housework and dancing but before long she uncovers the darker side to her husband’s new persona…

The film is gloriously over the top and had some critics howling with laughter throughout. As for me? I did laugh along occasionally but it was all a bit too much. Perhaps the previous film was still in my head because I just couldn’t get settled into Abracadabra and its frenetic energy.

Abracadabra is a lot of fun but isn’t going to give you a spiritual awakening any time soon.

Abracadabra screens at the festival on 7th, 8th, and 14th October.

Golden Exits

Alex Ross Perry is becoming a festival regular; two years ago Listen Up Philip blew me away, and the following year Queen of Earth pissed Kat right off. This year’s entry falls back in the former category as Perry’s new drama deals with the arrival of an attractive young Australian (Emily Browning) and how she quietly disrupts the lives of the New York couples she entangles herself with.

This makes for a good pairing with The Meyerowitz Stories as both center on New Yorkers dealing with their siblings and the impact their parents’ successes have had on their lives. The influence of Browning on the older men is well-played as is the subsequent impact of those men’s wives. There are no big dramatic showdowns instead small moments of desire, doubt, and derision. Though Browning could come across as a harlot seeking the attraction of married men her character is instead more complex and confusing than that. It is never clear what her intentions are nor whether she should be sided with or railed against.

Everyone in the film is weak, flawed, and lonely. One character repeatedly describes the most mundane aspects of his life and work as “thrilling” but the subtext in his every glance betrays him. Golden Exits is very well observed and shows the less pleasant side waiting to be revealed in all of us.

Golden Exits screens at the festival on 7th and 9th October.

Manifesto

To end the day I saw Cate Blanchett in 13th different roles (and in the flesh) in Julian Rosefeldt’s art installation turned feature film. As she switches between characters and landscapes Blanchett performs monologues culled from various manifestoes on assorted topics; modernism, futurism, communism and Dogme 95 to name the few that the BFI have listed in their synopsis.

The result is a film without narrative and with a single speaking performer (just about). Blanchett changes her appearance as Rosefeldt changes the detailed settings and her new accent starts to deliver a manifesto on a different topic. I cannot pretend to have followed the whole film as my brain constantly fought to pay attention to the words rather than the meticulously crafted imagery that accompanied, and often clashed with, them.

As enjoyable and truly cinematic as a piece of art is likely to get, Manifesto will occasionally lose even the most well read individual but Blanchett is utterly captivating and their of flashes of genius to be found. A humourous and mind-boggling exploration of ideas that should stir something within.

Manifesto screens at the festival on 8th October.

Queen of Earth – Film Review

Queen of Earth

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is in a troubled place. Left by her boyfriend a few months after her revered artist father committed suicide, she looks for solace in her old friend Ginny (Katherine Waterston) and a lakeside retreat. Bad choice. Catherine is with the last person who can help her come to terms with the tragedies that have come her way, while arguably, Ginny has no good reason to offer help in the first place.

I knew almost nothing about this film before seeing it, only that it was a low-budget drama led by two women, pretty much putting it in my wheelhouse. Another Martha Marcy May Marlene, maybe? I was excited!

Queen of Earth switches its timeframe between Catherine and Ginny’s present break in the cottage and their equivalent stay the year before. It shows how their actions on the first holiday have had consequences for the second and Waterson and Moss both put in thoughtful performances of two friends who really shouldn’t be any more.

Everything about the film is designed to maximise your discomfort. From too-close shots of people’s faces that make you want to physically lean away from them, to the suspenseful music that never once lets up. By the end of the film I was exhausted from being bullied into feeling tense for the whole 90 minutes. Despite the score’s hard work though, I was frequently bored.

Queen of Earth 2

Long monologues – expositional turnings over of past, personality-shaping relationships – can easily be imagined in the context of a conversation with real-life friends who are trying to analyse how they got to where they are now. However, they’re just tedious when you are the spectator of characters who you don’t even like. Without exception, I grew to loathe everyone on screen, as the behaviour of both main and supporting characters pushed the believable boundaries of what a person would be willing to put up with from their ‘friends’, let alone strangers. Despite the strength of the lead actors, the script failed to convince me that Catherine and Ginny were ever friends in the first place and so I had nothing on which to hang my belief that they’d be willing to endure each other’s unpleasantness now. It was also surprising how, for a film that almost never leaves these two women, it struggled to pass the Bechdel Test.

It isn’t hard to imagine this as a very different review. A parallel-universe me could be praising Queen of Earth for its suspense, dark reading of interpersonal relationships and insightful portrayal of depression. Sadly, in this universe Queen of Earth left me frustrated and worn-out, and no amount of admiring the craft can mitigate that.

There is an interesting film to be made about growing away from your old friendships but not breaking the bond. I don’t think this is it.

Listen Up Philip – LFF Review

Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip starts with a detailed voiceover courtesy of Eric Bogosian; a voiceover that details the precise actions, inner thoughts and intentions of the main character; voiceover that possesses the deep tone of the opening vocals at the start of (500) Days of Summer but at a faster pace. This voiceover does not relent and for the first few minutes I grew convinced that the entire film would be told by a narrator but thankfully after these first few minutes the narration stopped only to reappear at random intervals throughout the film. What this voiceover added was an almost literary like level of detail about the inner working of a character’s head; the very detail that often makes books tricky to adapt into films. Why might a film want to add literary levels of detail? Because the lead character is an author or course.

Jason Schwartzman plays the titular role of Philip, a newly successful author whose sense of self-accomplishment has reached a level that has made him emotionally distant from his photographer girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) and generally an insufferable prick. Schwartzman has played an unlikeable author before in the TV series Bored to Death but with Philip he is taking the idea to an extreme and plays a person who is rude to everyone he meets and so naturally becomes more attractive to the women in his life. As part of his success-driven mid-life crisis Philip strikes up a friendship with an equally acerbic older author, and personal hero, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Ike enjoys the presence of a young adoring author and so invites Philip to stay at his country retreat. From here Philip spends 108 minutes of film behaving appallingly and ruining his life. The details of which I advise you to see the film to find out.

Listen Up Philip 2

Listen Up Philip is a curious beast and avoids any sense of predictability or formulaic ststorytelling. There is no real structure to the film as Philip just meanders along being irritating to a variety of people in a variety of circumstances in an incredibly enjoyable way. The fact that Schwartzman has played this character, or someone very like it, before means that he is well suited to the role of self aggrandising protagonist. There are few people I could watch being this unpleasant for this long but thankfully Jason Schwartzman is one of them. What was also pleasing about the film is that it often lets focus wander away from Philip. Initially I was concerned that Moss had been given an unforgiving girlfriend role but soon enough she had her own narrative, and her own narration, as we saw how she lived life whilst Philip was away. The film widens its scope, stretches its running time, and risks trying its audience’s patience by fleshing out the lives of a few supporting characters. While a little unfocused I think that without this the saturation of the caustic character of Philip would become too much to bear.

Writer and director Alex Ross Perry has given the film a very tactile autumnal aesthetic. There is a golden glow to most of the scenes and an abundance of beards, jumpers, and jazz. I have said before about films, that I felt as though I could reach out and feel the texture of the film. Listen Up Philip is all about people rubbing each other up the wrong way and the screen is filled with itchy looking fabrics and faces that help compliment this irritable feel. The voiceover can occasionally become a little heavy handed but I can only assume that this is the way it would feel to read one of Philip’s novels. The rest of the film, though a little long, is an enjoyable character study that shows how a modest amount of success can be someone’s undoing and if nothing else looks lovely. I quite liked it.

Listen Up Philip is in UK cinemas from today.

BFI LFF 2014