LFF Day 10 – Thelma | Downsizing | You Were Never Really Here | Let the Sunshine In

Thelma

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is living away from her devout Christian family for the first time to study biology at university. Isolated from her loved ones Thelma finds university to be a lonely place before she inserts herself into the life of the popular but welcoming Anja (Okay Kaya).

Anja and Thelma become close in ways that the latter isn’t prepare for. As Thelma begins to question her own identity she starts to suffer from seizures and experiences strange visions. Before too long an undercurrent of the supernatural has seeped into proceedings and Thelma can’t decide whether to be afraid or if others should be afraid of her.

Thelma is a striking film to look at and filled with nuanced performances but didn’t strike the right tone for me. An exciting blend of the supernatural and a character study but sadly lacking in the thrills I kept expecting to be around the next corner.

Downsizing

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing is a tricky film to review; I don’t know whether to review the film it sells itself as, or the film it actually is.

The film we are sold is a comedy starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to fix all their troubles by being shrunk down to five inches tall so they can join a thriving community of small people. The idea here is that being small means you need fewer resources and create less waste; it’s the only way to save the planet! Oh, and your money is worth a thousand times more in the small economy. The idea is intriguing and executed well down to the smallest detail. We get to see the scepticism of those around the couple prior to the downsizing, and the small world and the procedure required to get there are convincingly realised.

So far so good! I wonder what the film will explore in this unique situation…

With the first act finished the film takes an alarming left turn. Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau are introduced as questionable racial stereotypes and a different plot is introduced that focuses less on the small world but on issues affecting the world we live in. My man bug bear really is that this plot could have been explored without the whole downsizing premise, and that a second film could have been made to make the most of that squandered opportunity.

The resulting film is amusing but very messy.

Downsizing is released in UK cinemas from 19th January 2018 and I cannot wait to hear what you make of it.

You Were Never Really Here

It is a tragedy that Lynne Ramsay hasn’t directed a film since 2011 and We Need to Talk About Kevin so her new film was met with a long queue of critics anxious to devour her latest. And boy was it worth the wait.

The always compelling Joaquin Phoenix stars as a weary gun-for-hire who will perform any task for a bundle of cash and who is plagued by traumas from his past. Phoenix is called upon to rescue a young girl from a sex trafficking ring and finds himself embroiled in a bigger conspiracy than he first realises.

What makes this film unique is that Phoenix’s character has no interest in unravelling the conspiracy or getting to the bottom of everything. He has a single focus; protecting a young girl from harm and inflicting violence on those who are to blame. Often armed only with a hammer Phoenix is a hulking bundle of sore muscle who is relentless in his pursuit.

If this sounds like Taken then forget that notion as what we have here is something without contrivance, extraneous details, or pulled punches. The violence her is unshowy and brutal. Brawl in Cell Block 99 may be more graphic but this film is much more visceral and harder to watch for it. We spend a lot of time in Phoenix’s head and see flashes of his past as they intermingle with unfolding plot. The results is a heady brew of cinematic gold.

Ramsay’s direction is perfection. Phoenix’s performance is sublime. Jonny Greenwood’s score is bone rattlingly good. An absolute trauma of a film.

Juliette Binoche

Claire Denis directs a showcase for actress Juliette Binoche as she plays a divorced artist searching for love and finding quantity rather than quality.

A witty film in which we watch Binoche work her way through a series of lovers that she finds unsuitable in a variety of ways, all the while declaring her love life to be over. The film is a fun examination of how we are often our own worst enemies and rarely know what we actually want unless it is the one this we cannot have.

Maybe I was too emotionally assaulted by the previous film but Let the Sunshine In failed to grab me in any deeper way. A fun but forgettable affair.

We Need to Talk About Kevin – LFF Review

Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s hit novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin focusses on Eva (Tilda Swinton) as she struggles with memories of her son from hell and deals with the aftermath of his violent actions. From birth, Kevin (Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell and more) favours his father (John C. Reilly) and treats his mother with extreme disdain. If you’ve ever wanted to see a toddler express pure contempt, this is your film.

In the film’s opening sequence the ratcheting sound of a garden sprinkler sets the tone for the film. Resembling the ticking of a clock gathering pace as the camera slowly moves towards an open patio with curtain billowing, it creates a sense of tension and embeds the idea of the film building towards a devastating climax. This simple shot had me unsettled from the very beginning and the film didn’t relent until the credits rolled and I could escape from its hold. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a powerful beast.

Poor Eva has a traumatic time throughout, unable to earn the love of her son and later, unable to escape the crimes he has committed. In the earlier scenes flashes of red are scattered throughout, be it a red kettle in the kitchen or a stripe along the wall. In the present day the red becomes overwhelming, from a wall of tomato soup or paint thrown over Eva’s house. Numerous times we watch Eva trying to wash the red stuff away, never able to get the blood spilled by her son off her hands. Lynne Ramsay’s use of colour may not be subtle but it is beyond effective. As a director Ramsay does not glorify the violence in the scenes, instead emphasising the emotional turmoil as expressed by her excellent cast.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fantastic film, brilliantly put together by Lynne Ramsay and with perfect performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. Be warned though, it will either put you off having children or if it’s too late, prevent you from teaching them archery or buying them a guinea pig.

We Need to Talk About Kevin screens again today at 14:45 in the London Film Festival and is in UK cinemas this Friday 21st October 2011.