LFF Day 5 – Happy End | Thoroughbreds | Funny Cow | Gemini

Happy End

Michael Haneke is anything but a boring director and as Happy End opens with the live streaming of an overdose it feels like we are in for a controversial treat. Sadly in reality the film’s most controversial aspect is its almost gleeful avoidance of plot or dramatic events. In fact the real meat of the story is skipped over with the audience left watching characters refer obliquely to events without us actually seeing them.

With Funny Games Haneke tortured the audience by making them complicit in the suffering of the characters. With Happy End Haneke instead tortures the audience by boring them with tedious inaction and irrelevant diversions. No film of the festival has been such a slog or required so much energy to just stay awake.

The BFI’s synopsis claims this film to be “formidably intelligent” and a “slyly satirical gem”. Clearly the film was too smart or too sly for me as I truly did not enjoy it, and not in an exciting or scandalous way; I was just bored senseless.

With a cast including Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones Happy End is a waste of good talent and everybody’s time.

Happy End screens at the festival on 9th and 13th October and is released in UK cinemas on 1st December.

Thoroughbreds

From a disappointing master to an encouraging newcomer. Thoroughbreds is the debut feature of Cory Finley and stars the always impressive Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy as a pair of privileged young women who start off as reluctant study buddies and, without ever really becoming friends, start to flirt with murderous ideas.

The two leads handle their unsympathetic roles with confident assurance and are accompanied briefly by the late great Anton Yelchin as a local drug dealer out of his depth with two women who have everything to lose but the privilege not to ever risk losing it. Despite there being no likeable characters the film absolutely sucks you in and has you rooting for the baddies.

Finley directs with a witty eye and his script and imagery are accompanied by a perfectly off kilter percussion-heavy score. The result is a dark and deeply satisfying little gem.

Thoroughbreds screens at the festival on 9th, 10th, and 11th October and is in UK cinemas on 9th March 2018.

Funny Cow

Funny Cow is a curious beast. The first feature written by actor Tony Pitts, the film follows an aspiring comedian (Maxine Peake) from her childhood, through an abusive marriage, to success as a stand-up. I was expecting a familiar rags to riches period drama following the rise of her career but Funny Cow is nothing so simple as that.

It is hard to explain what Funny Cow actually is without just showing you the entire film. It is not a comedy; let’s make that clear for a start. This film is a bleak drama with occasional light relief and then when the laughs really start coming they are marred with period-appropriate inappropriate jokes and then a deeply depressing trip to the toilet. Even when we see Peake’s comedian as a success in scenes peppered throughout the film she isn’t being funny, instead she delivers a dark monologue to camera.

Without any marketing material out yet I can’t tell whether Funny Cow meets expectations or not but I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel so deflated by the end. Maxine Peake is incredible in the lead role and I hope she gets more chances to showcase her skills. It is refreshing that Funny Cow does fall into the formulaic mould of Billy Elliot or numerous other British films but at the same time I wish it had found its own coherent shape.

Funny Cow screens at the festival on 9th and 15th October.

Gemini

I am unfamiliar with the work of writer-director Aaron Katz but having seen and enjoyed Gemini I have a sudden urge to devour his back catalogue.

Lola Kirke is the personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s movie star but after a night of partying Kirke finds herself turning from assistant to amateur detective when tragedy strikes and blood is spilled. The resulting film is a joyfully authentic modern noir set in modern-day Hollywood and filled with self involved murder suspects.

Aaron Katz has produced a film that looks stunning, is deftly plotted, and has enough self-awareness to be incredibly amusing throughout. The film has a lot to say about the town in which it is set, and the perils of celebrity, but it never stops being fun and never strays from its noir influences.

One of those films that I struggle to explain the joys of so please just go and see it for yourself.

Gemini screens at the festival on 9th and 11th October.

Valley of Love – Film Review

Valley of Love

Gérard (Gérard Depardieu) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) are a long divorced couple sent from their native France to California’s Death Valley by their son’s suicide note. He has asked them to spend the week together and put together a precise schedule for them to follow. Forced together after years apart the couple reminisce about their son and their marriage while an unsettling undercurrent runs through each scene.

The couple are visibly uncomfortable. Not only is the intense Californian heat almost too much to bear they are forced to confront their past and in what ways they might have let their son down. All the while spending time together with someone they chose to divorces decades before. Depardieu and Huppert are seasoned pros and tackle the low-key drama with aplomb. It is easy to believe there’s a real history between them and their conversation is filled with a relatable blend of tenderness and bitterness. If Valley of Love were just this, two great actors performing against a beautiful backdrop, then I would have loved the film. Sadly there was another element at play that muddied the waters.

Valley of Love 2

That unsettling undercurrent I mentioned earlier grew throughout the film and bloomed from a subtle element into something a little distracting. How do I phrase this? There was a hint of the other to the film; an exploration of the idea that death may not be the end. My issue is actually not that this idea was included in the film but that it wasn’t delved into a little deeper. As an emotional drama the film was complete but as the supernatural element felt unfinished and unsatisfying.

Again let me stress that my frustrations do not come from the performances. Everything about the two leads is authentic, heartbreaking, and subtle. Guillaume Nicloux as a director is also praiseworthy as he gives the actors room to perform whilst capturing the majestic landscape that lay behind them. Where my issues lie are with Nicloux’s script. Whilst excellent at the human element it fails to follow through on the unnecessary additional of otherworldly influences.

It could have been perfect but instead was sullied by a bold idea half executed.

Valley of Love is in UK cinemas now.