London Film Festival: Days Four to Seven

19 Oct

OK, so it’s been a while since you last heard from this blog- or as it has now become, me. I spent the first two days waiting for Dilworth to post, then I got a little freaked out and went looking for him. I admit it- I don’t know London. And hey, why should I? I’m a foreigner and I can’t get with the whole “chips/fries” thing you guys do here. I may not know the city, but I know Dilworth- after a coupla days spent around Leicester Square, I found him outside the Japan Centre on Haymarket with a can of cider begging for small change. I swear, give that man three minutes on his own and he turns into the biggest alcoholic since some apocryphal down and out picked up a dirty beanie and decided the old “quality v. quantity” equation didn’t apply to booze. I couldn’t get much sense out of him, but he claimed he’d taken up residence in an abandoned pub around the corner. It has no internet connection, he says. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, I’ve broken up my detective works with watching movies that fit perfectly into the categories good, bad and the ugly.

Of the last category, I think it’s fair to say that Swedish director Gabriela Pichler’s Eat Sleep Die, might be the most appropriate to mention; focussing on the daughter of an unemployed Montenegrin immigrant to Scania, it tells a heartbreaking story about a fringe of Swedish society that doesn’t once fall into fatalistic poverty porn but at the same time never gives us any true reason to celebrate. Ruzica Pichler is faultless as Rosi, the lead, and the photography is so ceaselessly inventive that it makes even the salad-packaging factory where she works so wonderfully cinematic that it made me want to wear a hairnet as a fashion statement. Then I realised I’d look like a dick.

White Elephant was another ugly motherfucker, this time set in Argentina and focussing on a flawed Belgian priest working in a favela. I enjoyed what I saw, but I fell asleep halfway through. Fuck Dilworth- I was up until 3am looking for him.

Of the movies which fell into the “bad” bracket… well, what can I say? It takes a lot of mismanaged money to get a movie that stinks into a film festival, but these were bad, and not in the Shaft way. Shot over a five-year period, Michael Winterbottom’s new picture Every Day took two interesting gimmicks (the five-year bit and some shit about the family patriarch being in jail) and did a great big NOTHING with them. Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, on the other hand, took every gimmick in the postmodern director’s handbook and tried to do everything with them. It failed on almost every count. It turned stereotypes of both the Irish and the Californians into grotesque, annoying stereotypes of themselves while stringing us along with meta-plots that even a guy who’d just watched the seen-it-all-before new Rolling Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane found it hard to care about. This, for me, marks the death of the Tarantino generation, the unfunny joke by which the Campbell’s Soup tin of split chronology and self-referential narrative was finally heated beyond boiling point. At one point, Quaker dog-kidnapper Hans (Christopher Walken) accuses author Martin (Colin Farrell) of writing women into his scripts only as window dressing- self-referential and knowing this may be, but it doesn’t make it OK. If you happened to be a female character in Seven Psychopaths, you’d either be killed off after thrity seconds of sex and dialogue or simply dismissed as a ‘cunt’. If this was funny maybe it wouldn’t be so offensive, but it’s not, so it is. It got a lot of laughs from the more jockish wing of the theatre- I’m guessing this is going to be a hit with the kind of cro-magnons who have a mistaken belief in their own intelligence. Oh yeah, and if you can find a more irritating supporting actor than Sam Rockwell in any movie that comes out in the next twelve months, I’ll buy you a beer.

What was good really was good, though. Movies like No by Pablo Larrain and Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog, for example. While the first completes the Chilean director’s Pinochet trilogy with the story of the General’s downfall at the hands of a stupidly handsome and annoyingly self-confident proto-Don Draper (Gael Garcia Bernal), narrating the transition to democracy through the medium of advertising and blurred film stock, the second must be Belarus’ first true Spaghetti Western . Just make that ‘lard’, rather than ‘spaghetti’ and attach the acronym ‘USSR’ onto the end of ‘Western’. This is also the best war movie since Downfall. Close-ups of partisans staring at trees and local policemen and ex-communist Nazi cronies also looking up trees must take up half the running time, but when the action comes, it comes like a man who hasn’t touched his penis in a decade. It’s the most devastating thing to come out of these parts since the Chernobyl fallout, and it has a body count to match. Enough with the national stereotypes- though I might just throw in a “Lukashenko” while I’m on the subject- if this movie does eventually screen in whatever country you have the misfortune to be in, you gotta see it. Ditto No- Larrain’s distinctive blend of mixed media and unconventional camera-work has come of age, and it defies everything anybody ever tiredly burps out about “Latin American Cinema”. It’s a feelgood picture with a feel-bad subtext- now that’s something I’d like to see more of.

Marcus P. Hernandez

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