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.

Carol – LFF Review

Carol

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.

Carol 2

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.

Hanna – Review

I’ve approached this post many times since seeing Hanna a few weeks back, but have struggled to successfully review Joe Wright’s latest film, a fast paced actioner about a young girl raised as a killing machine and set the task of assassinating an intelligence agent. The film is such a mash-up of styles and genres that I am going to have to review it in pieces and then as a whole.

Here are the pieces:

  • The beginning is essentially Leon in a forest, as a well-meaning European takes care of a girl and teaches her his best skill: killing. This is done well and sets an off-kilter tone to the film. Good stuff.
  • I say a well-meaning European but Eric Bana’s accent is very hard to place and is a bit distracting. Bad stuff.
  • An early chase scene is shot in such a dynamic way and edited with fantastic kaleidoscopic energy that it felt like a music video, not least because of the score provided by The Chemical Brothers. This from the director of Atonement? Amazing stuff.
  • Cate Blanchett plays more a caricature than a character as Marissa the intelligence agent both hunting and being hunted by Hanna. Think more the white witch from Narnia than Scully. Although the hair… Alright stuff.
  • On her travels to kill Marissa and reunite with her father, Hanna comes across a bohemian British family on holiday. Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams are the comedy middle class parents who find Hanna’s independence charming, while Jessica Barden is the snobby daughter who befriends Hanna and brings one of the films touching moments. For fun and heart: Good stuff.
  • On two separate occasions Hanna manages to stumble upon locals of the various countries she visits engaging in spontaneous group singing that perfectly reflects the local culture. It’s a bit too ideal. Mediocre stuff.
  • Tom Hollander plays a suitably creepy European sex club owner who for some reason doubles as a suitably creepy bounty hunter, happy to torture his way to finding Hanna for Marissa. Odd stuff.
  • Towards the end there is a pretty lame plot twist that you see coming early on. Disappointing stuff.
  • What made me love Atonement was a single shot that involved hundred of extras, a long beach and a skillful camera work. Hanna has a couple of these shots, not quite as impressive but each its own technical marvel. Awesome stuff.
  • Finally it should be said that Saoirse Ronan is amazing as the deadly but naïve girl who is utterly selfless and will kill you as soon as kiss you. Brilliant stuff.

So Hanna is filled with stuff of varying levels of quality. Joe Wright is certainly talented and is breaking new ground for himself but lacks consistency within the one film. Quite satisfyingly (from a linguistic point of view) his directing style flits between Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, at one moment moving his camera in a controlled and understated fashion and the next he whips and cuts like he’s scared of losing your attention.

This is precisely what is wrong with Hanna, while the film has plenty of good stuff it doesn’t all gel into a coherent film. Joe Wright has got two jigsaws mixed up and the pieces may look like they go together but on closer inspection don’t quite fit.

Good fun though.