Week 1 of the 61st London Film Festival was a blast! A team of our finest attended a whole raft of industry and press screenings at the BFI across the week and we’ve put together a blog compiling brief reviews of all of the titles we saw so you can make a more informed choice about the tickets you may want to pick up for the public screenings – or to give you an idea of what you’d like to see in the future when some of the best of these films play at our beloved Genesis!
We’ve included the good, the bad and the middling but please keep in mind these reviews are the opinions of Michael James Hall and Thomas Kelly only and do not represent the views of Genesis Cinema as a whole! Let us know your thoughts…
Sicilian Ghost Story (Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza, 2017)
This European co-production finds co-directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza taking the real-life kidnapping of an imprisoned mafiosa’s son as a jumping-off point for an acutely well observed meditation on teen rebellion, friendship and love – however doomed it may be. Lead actor Julia Jedilowska is painfully believable – her teen anguish writ large as the disappearance of her young suitor Giuseppe (played naturally and with charm by Gaetano Fernandez goes unaddressed by both her local community and those closest to her.
Her one refuge is her closest friend Loredana (enthusiastically essayed by Corinne Musallari) and it is this relationship that holds the most interest and genuine chemistry despite strong competition from that of Loredana and the absent Giuseppe and between Loredana and her overbearing Swiss mother.
For a film with two directors it rather obviously plays like a movie of two halves. Earlier scenes taking place largely in a relatable, often beautiful reality are what is most intriguing and satisfying here while later as the symbolism and surrealism is ramped up in a series of elongated dream and fantasy sequences, it’s still possible to admire the deft direction and bold imagery but the film suffers for it – becomes gradually less engaging when it should be at its peak.
Ultimately it’s a flawed but gorgeous and sometimes moving film that veers into cruel, strange darkness a little too often to truly fall in love with. MJH
Person To Person (Dustin Guy Defa, 2017)
After a run of acclaimed shorts director Dustin Guy Defa arrives with his debut feature, captured on film on the streets of New York City. Defa eschews the usual sights of the various bridges, statues and fame buildings that populate so many NY-set flicks and instead focuses on the small – local stores, apartment blocks, the streets of Brooklyn as he flits between a series of low-key scenarios boasting acting talent like Michael Cera (as you would expect portraying an eager-to-impress, amoral newspaper journo), outstanding young star Tavi Gevinson and Wire alumni Isiah Whitlock Jr. (who gets to pal around impersonating Sinatra in one particularly amusing scene).
These are minor tales, told with charm and style – every scene feels pieced together with lashings of love and attention – occasionally calling to mind Wayne Wang’s ‘Smoke’ or some of Hal Hartley’s earlier work. The dialogue is laced with irony, the situations bizarre but believable (a pushbike chase across the city being a real highlight) and the ensemble cast outstanding. It’s atmospheric, fun, funny and fully engaging – recommended for fans of the American indie scene everywhere. Oh and that soft soul and jazz soundtrack is pure magic. MJH
The Cured (David Freyne, 2017)
David Freyne’s future-zombie horror set in Ireland takes a novel idea (there’s a cure for the infected – but there are violent prejudices against those who are cured)and does little with it, giving nominal lead Ellen Page little to do (though offering Tom Vaughan-Lawlor chance to chew the scenery with relish as uber-villain Conor) and falling through huge gaps of internal logic at regular intervals (Terrorist meetings are consistently held with the door ajar; people remark on information they couldn’t possibly be privy to; a baseball bat beating leaves a lead character with nary a hair out of place, let alone a scratch or bruise). It’s ambitious but dull and when the inevitable third act violence erupts anticipation swiftly gives way to disappointment. It will pass the time for horror fans but expect little more. MJH
Ava (Lea Mysious, 2017)
Despite a tremendous, bright lead performance from first-timer Noee Abita this is a confused and lengthy portrayal of a girl coming to terms with her impending blindness that somehow fails to tackle the issue at hand, eventually derailing itself with a lovers on the run escapade and heist plot line that leaves one wondering where that film about teen hood, loss, love and hope disappeared to. Despite moments reminiscent of last year’s festival darling, Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, this French production offers moments of illumination that sadly do not add up to a satisfying whole. There’s a really cool bit with a dog on a scooter, mind. MJH
Promised Land (Eugene Jarecki, 2017)
Wonderful and compelling documentary that uses Elvis’ rise to fame and subsequent descent into addiction and ultimately death as a sometimes extremely ill-suiting metaphor for the decline of the United States – with Trump’s election being the full-stop-dead-fat-on-the-toilet point.
Excellent contributions from Alec Baldwin, EmmyLou Harris and, surprisingly, an extremely downbeat Ashton Kutcher make for a thrilling, informative and truly thought-provoking ride.
There’s an interesting, well-informed point made about every 20 seconds for the film’s duration which only adds to the self-aware, well-executed nature of the film as a whole. Fans of Adam Curtis are certain to adore this eye-opening film. MJH
Beauty & The Dogs (Khaled Walid Barsaoui, Kaouther Ben Hania, 2017)
Directors Khaled Walid Barsaoui and Kaouther Ben Hania deliver this Tunisian parable on the aftermath of rape that echoes both Cristi Puiu’s The Death Of Mr Lazarescu and any particularly upsetting and frustrating Kafka novel. The relentless male aggression is hideously ugly, the cruelty inflicted on the lead character immeasurable and the constant barrage of hideous misogyny and victim-blaming all too real and all too much to take. An ugly but necessary picture that is relentless in its depiction of a culture, more, a world in which women are persecuted for the crimes committed against them. MJH
Let The Corpses Tan (Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani, 2017 )
Dual directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani serve up an horrendous mishmash of surrealism, Leone Western, 70s exploitation and faux-Jodorowsky symbolism with none of the fun or intellect of any of the above. For trash its boring; for art its lacking in insight and intellect. A gunplay movie with dead-dull action, terrible dialogue, no characters and a solitary ray of sunshine in the shape of the ever-awesome Elina Lowesnsohn – hopefully we’ll see more from her in the future as this nonsense is not really worth her talents. MJH
Gemini (Aaron Katz, 2017)
A loose, luscious LA Noir from US indie director Aaron Katz that drops us into a genuinely funny celebrity world before left-turning us with a whodunnit that, due to the nature of those involved, seems to have its very nature investigated along with the crime itself.
Zoe Kravitz and Lola Kirke are uniformly outstanding in the lead roles and kudos has to go to Katz for a Chandler-lite script that captures much of the mood of ‘70s sun-drenched crime thrillers – sadly not quite grasping their need for satisfying complexity along the way, though that’s a relatively minor quibble.
It’s shot wonderfully, has numerous moments of genuine quirk and good humour and, yes, the central mystery will have you gripped. With flashes of Mulholland Drive and nods to The Last Goodbye this is a minor but delightful success. It should play beautifully to an indie crowd.MJH
Mutafukaz (Shoujirou Nishimi, Guillaume Renard, 2017)
By Thomas Kelly
French-Japanese co-production Mutafukaz is based on one of France’s most popular comic books which follows Angelino, a teenage delivery boy, in Dark Meat City (a clear allegory for LA) who is hunted down for unknown reasons by a mysterious and alien government agency – the shadowy men in black.
With a huge amount of touchpoints and influences, the animation style and story are an amalgam of different layers of pop culture such as video games, comics, cartoons etc. From the look of a GTA-type city and characters, the direct references to Pac Man, Baird and Eastman’s Ninja Turtles comics and Batman to the animation of certain characters deriving from a range of mediums and stories – from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to Ren & Stimpy as well as many other early to mid-nineties cartoons, particularly those that were being produced by Nickelodeon like Aaaah!!! Real Monsters, as well as more Japanese influences with touches of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away as well as Akira. Splashed with hard-core, bloody violence, heaps of adventure and humour to boot, this animation is a breath of fresh air layered with intelligent, environmental subtext. Although it loses steam slightly towards the end, it’s a riotous, colourful and fast-paced pleasure of a film – especially for those who like a touch (or a giant dollop in this case) of 80s/90s cartoon and comic nostalgia. TK
& By Michael James Hall
A French/Japanese co-production that hurls hip-hop against manga, comic strip antics against visceral violence and crazed humour against apocalyptic dark fantasy and somehow comes up with a win. Co-directors Nishimi and Renard are relentless in their pursuit of a vast but relatable vision as we are thrust into ‘Dark Meat City’ and a world of hidden beings, unseen forces and absolutely slammin’ tunes.
It’s an action movie that refuses to let up and while it may eventually become exhausting the strange sweetness of its protagonist and a constant need to know what the hell is going to happen next make for an enthralling confection. MJH
Loveless (Andrey Zvagintsev, 2017)
From Leviathan director Andrey Zvyaginstev comes a tale of inhumanity that refuses to compromise or let any of its’ unlikeable characters off the hook. As a result its audience is made party to the thoughtless, emotionless actions of the film’s protagonists.
Unbelievably bleak and peopled by unbearably awful characters this reads like Haneke with a deeper sense of depression, a more profoundly observed lack of worth in humanity itself. It’s a wonderfully well crafted film and dramatically powerful – but its so relentless inits vision of a collapsed, unfeeling society as to leave one entirely bereft at the end of the screening.MJH
Cargo (Gilles Coulier, 2017)
Giles Coulliers film is a tragic, beautiful and understated tale of the sea, familial discord and, ultimately, the overwhelming power of a true vocation.
Gentle yet affecting and in some ways noirish, Couillers explores the dynamic of a family of poverty stricken fishermen when their patriarch takes a tumble from their fishing boat and is rendered unconscious, no longer able to steer either vessel or family. Dissent obviously ensues and as revelations follow the beating hearts of this group of brothers are revealed with truly moving results. A sobering and earnest watch. MJH
Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer, 2017)
Imagine a low-key American Indie take on Single White Female (actually referenced in the film itself) with a little sprinkling of What About Bob? Matt Spicer offers a well-observed and timely tale of alienation, obsession and cultural obsolescence as Aubrey Plaza’s damaged Ingrid pursues the friendship of the seemingly perfect Taylor (captured perfectly by Elizabeth Olsen) against abandoning all common sense and embracing any number of cringe-worthy moments along the way.
While the film dips in to silliness in its second act it’s buoyed by a sharp script and a tremendous supporting performance from O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ingrid’s kindly, lonely neighbour Dan who seems to be about to steal the whole movie at any point. MJH
Makala (Emmanuel Gras, 2017)
The intimate, strictly observational and non-interfering eye of director Emanuel Gras’ camera gives a telling insight to the work and daily routine of a young Congolese farmer making and selling charcoal in this turbulent and humbling documentary. The subject of the film, Kabwita, is a man attempting to make money the only way he knows how so he can continue to buy materials for the aspirational house he wishes to build his young family.
An experience as much as a study of a subject, this documentary is unflinching in its portrayal of a man who is pushed to limits far exceeding any of those that we experience in the developed world. It is brutally honest in its observation of Kabwita’s life, showing him to be a typical Congolese man, one of millions in West Africa, arbitrarily and seemingly nonchalantly trying to survive and make something so he can bring up his family in good health and in safe habitation. The film highlights the physical exertions he goes through, sometimes so intensely that you wish the cameraman would just put down the camera and help him – from chopping a huge tree down by himself to walking 50km with what must be ten times his body weight in charcoal on a bicycle to the closest town over incredibly harsh terrain – yet pointedly Kabwita never complains. it also emphasises the savvy and intelligence of these people showing how Kabwita makes the charcoal and then manages to fit it all onto a bicycle. It is a harsh but necessary reminder of how lucky we are in the developed and prosperous world that builds to a powerful crescendo of how Kabwita and many in Africa find solace in their difficult, yet loving and heartfelt lives. TK
Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary, 2017)
Youtube and Saturday Night Live sensations Dave McCary, Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney have, to our great surprise (considering the track record of such things) delivered one of the most heartwarming, joyous and inspiring indie films of the last few years in this delightful, sad and ultimately touching tale of a man-child whose favourite, titular TV show is cancelled and the adventures that follow. No spoilers!
The performances are wonderful, the tone pitch-perfect and its genuinely funny to boot. For lovers of DIY filmmaking and charmers like Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite this is…to be frank, considerably better than both. See it at your first possible opportunity. MJH