LFF Day 6 – The Party | The Endless | Custody | AlphaGo | Person to Person

The Party

Writer-director Sally Potter has assembled an all-star cast too numerous to bother typing out for what is a sharp, short (71 minute) comedy that takes place in one middle-class house. With its single setting and a plot delivered purely through dialogue it isn’t hard to image The Party unfolding on-stage rather than in crisp black and white on-screen.

The film moves at a moderate pace and the dialogue is frequently witty and wry. As in all good comedy plays the initial decorum gradually unravels as revelations cause people to lose their cool and relax what little filters that started the evening with. Each character is delightfully hypocritical as we listen to half a dozen middle-class liberals fail to live up to their own moral standards.

A brief but enjoyable affair which is all leading up to a final punchline that will deliver a satisfying chuckle. The cost per minute is high so perhaps one to watch at home?

The Party screens at the festival on 10th and 11th October and then opens in UK cinemas from 13th October.

The Endless

Directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead were last at the London Film Festival with their excellent Spring, a genre hopping romance, and this year return with a film they not only direct but star in as two brothers.

The brothers in question live miserable lives having escaped from a cult years ago and failed to integrate fully into society since. After receiving a mysterious videotape they decide to return to their formal cult for a visit to get some closure. Back at the cult they find everyone alive, well, and completely unchanged since the brothers left.

As the brothers gradually uncover the mystery lying behind the cult the film morphs out of the genre you thought you were watching and into something entirely different. Films like the recent Coherence come to mind as a similarly unpredictable and uncategorisable bedfellow.

There are lots of things about The Endless that really should not work, including some clumsy exposition, but Benson and Moorhead give such authentic performances that the rest of the film just falls into place. I can’t wait to see what new fever dream they come up with next.

The Endless screens at the festival on 10th, 11th, and 15th October.

Custody

Debut writer-director Xavier Legrand has created an unbelievably tense 90 minute drama set in the aftermath of a messy divorce and during the tricky first few weeks of a new custody arrangement.

The wife (Léa Drucker) wants nothing to do with her former husband (Denis Ménochet) and has done everything she can to keep him out of her life with claims that he is abusive. Stuck in the middle of this emotional tug of war is their young son (Thomas Gioria) who now must spend every other weekend suffering an awkward handover between his parents.

I won’t say any more about the plot but the film is a painfully suspenseful and difficult to watch ordeal. Everything is perfectly performed and executed but the experience is every bit as unpleasant as it should be.

A masterpiece I will never watch again.

Custody screens at the festival on 11th and 14th October.

AlphaGo

Go is an ancient Chinese board game with more possible board combinations than there are atoms in the universe. Some humans have mastered the game well enough to make their livings as celebrity Go world champions but it was always thought that computers would never be able to master a game with so many possible ways to play.

Meanwhile… Google’s DeepMind team were looking for a challenge and built a machine learning algorithm called AlphaGo with the intent that if it was fed enough information about past games, and taught the rules of Go, it could slowly learn how to play better than any human.

Last year in Seoul AlphaGo took on world champion Go player Lee Sedol in a best out of five game of Go. This documentary follows the journey of a group of programmers in the UK as they build an AI and take it to Korea to defeat a man whose life is built on the ancient game. The result is a gripping sports drama filled with beautiful nerds that celebrates determination, ingenuity, and shows that AI is unlikely to take over the world any time soon.

Absolutely brimming with charm and best watched not knowing the outcome of last year’s battle of human vs. algorithm.

AlphaGo screens at the festival on 11th October.

Person to Person

Not everyone is going to love Person to Person as the plot is secondary to the characters that scattered across this 16mm shot ensemble piece. The result of watching it will either be frustration that your time has been wasted, or delight at the time you’ve spent in this film’s warm embrace.

The effect of having been shot on 16mm gives the film a timeless quality allowing it to easily fit into 70s cinematic canon despite the presence of mobile phones and the internet. Something about this visual softness endeared the film to me and I fell fully for its easy charms.

There are a few plots to choose from here; a new shirt, leaked nudes, a murder/suicide, a broken watch, a new friendship, and a rare vinyl. None are particularly important and all are portrayed with dry wit and charm. A particular highlight is Abbi Jacobson as a trainee journalist studying under the seasoned pro of Michael Cera.

I can understand someone watching this New York set collage and finding it incredibly frustrating, slow, and inconsequential but I love its lightweight approach to storytelling and would happily watch hours more in this warm universe.

Person to Person screens at the festival on 11th October.

Spring – LFF Review

Spring

What starts off as a grim tale in small town America quickly moves into a European romance before slowly evolving into a monster movie. It does all this with a healthy dose of humour and a sincere amount of heart. Spring is unlike anything I’ve seen before and is certainly not the film I was expecting from the opening scene.

The film opens on Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) losing his final family member, his mother, before getting drunk in a bar and beating up a local thug. With the possibility of being sued or attacked Evan does what any self-respecting film character would do; he flees the country. In Italy he stays in hostels before quickly finding work on a farm and falling for the charms of local girl Louise (Nadia Hilker). Despite initially rebuffing Evan’s advances Louise slowly falls for the foreigner over the course of a week and the independent life she leads is threatened by this change.

Spring 2

So far we have the plot of a wannabe Richard Linklater film. Spring certainly lives up to the comparison with a witty script from Justin Benson and impressively controlled direction from Benson and Aaron Moorhead which includes some admirable camerawork. Where this film swerves away from the emotional drama it sets up is in the sudden introduction of a decidedly fantastical element that puts Evan’s life at risk and threatens to end their budding romance before it can begin. What that element is I am hesitant to reveal but suffice it to say that Evan sees a much less attractive side to Louise and must prove his loyalty by dealing with a peculiar genetic abnormality.

What makes Spring the enjoyable feature I experienced is the fact that it refuses to stick to a genre or conform to any conventions. After starting with an American indie aesthetic it doesn’t feel jarring when the plot takes in fantasy/sci-fi elements as the directors make the plot fit their style and not the other way around. Having wild events take place in a grounded reality makes the unbelievable seem that much more believeable and allows the audience to swallow what they are being shown.

Spring is a romantic comedy sci-fi drama with a real sense of fun. I didn’t know what I was getting to when I trotted along to the screening and giving this film the element of surprise is highly recommended. Leave your scepticism at home and give this unique slice of cinema a try.

Spring is on limited release in UK cinemas.

BFI LFF 2014