1.15pm: August 32nd On Earth
In a brilliant opening sequence composed of jump cuts and very brief shots, a woman falls asleep at the wheel of a car and crashes it. At the end of two weeks at the Festival seeing a minimum of three films a day, I can kind of relate to that.
When Simone (Pascale Bussières) eventually gets out of hospital, she takes a little time to reflect on her life, and then makes up her mind that she wants to have a child now before anything else happens. She chooses her best male friend Philippe (Alexis Martin) as the man most suitable for the job. Philippe is daunted by the prospect: he's been friends with Simone for several years, but it's never gone beyond that, and besides he's been in a steady relationship for the last few months. He tries to put Simone off by saying he'll do it, but only if they conceive the baby in a desert.
Philippe has seriously underestimated Simone's determination, however. Within a few hours they've flown to Salt Lake City and are trying to negotiate a fare with a taxi driver for taking them out to the dazzlingly white Utah desert. During their journey, they'll spend much of their time trying to find out if they're really friends, lovers, neither or both.
Canadian writer/director Denis Villeneuve has produced a film that's quite unlike anything else out there. It starts off quite thoughtfully as Simone tries to pull her life together following the crash, but then lightens up considerably once her plan is put into operation, with some very funny scenes. Visually, it moves from a very intense, jump-cutting style in the early scenes to some beautifully flowing long takes in the second half of the movie. There are some staggering shots of the two as tiny black figures wandering across the huge white landscapes of the desert which are worth the entrance fee on their own.
The two principal actors have to carry virtually the whole film by themselves, and are wonderful. Pascale Bussières has an extraordinary face somewhere between Jean Seberg and a less pouty Daniella Nardini, and is compulsively watchable. Alexis Martin is a great comic foil to her increasingly bizarre ideas, having a lovely silly moment to himself in a space-age Japanese-style hotel where he pretends to be in space himself. I'd take issue with the incident that ultimately resolves their friends/lovers dilemma, but otherwise this is a very fine movie.
4.15pm: International Animation
Generally, the Animation programmes in the Festival are a bizarre mixture of shorts: one third beautiful works of art, one third imaginative comic pieces, one third pretentious wank. (At the end of two weeks at the Festival seeing a minimum of three films a day, I feel I've earned the right to make one or two sweeping generalisations.)
Getting the Pretentious Wank section out of the way first, films such as Patrice Mugnier's En Derive and Patrick Bokanowski's Flammes make the same mistake of assuming we'll be impressed by the fact that they're both flawlessly computer animated. Unfortunately, thanks to the audience's exposure to TV commercials and films like Toy Story, we all know just what computer animation is capable of, and unless you've got some sort of ideas behind all the glossily rendered sheen, we just won't be impressed by that sort of thing any more. Neither of these films showed any sign of ideas behind them, so out they go.
That's not to say that all computer animation falls into that category. In our self-defined Art Films That Work section, Betrand Charlot's Digest is a surreal little piece involving four restaurant diners and a battle with their table, in which the technique is used to make the increasingly bizarre imagery as realistic as possible, rather than just being an end in itself. Silke Parzich's Frühling (Spring), a four minute dance for furniture and wood shavings to the sound of Vivaldi's eponymous movement of The Four Seasons, shows the old techniques still work just as well as they always did. Two of the prettiest shorts are attempts to animate existing works of art: Laurent Gorgiard's The Man With Pendulous Arms and Raoul Servais' Papillons De Nuit, the latter based on the paintings of Paul Delvaux. And somewhere on the border between art and comedy is Marie Paccou's Un Jour, a gently unnerving little piece about a woman who finds one day that a small man is sticking horizontally out of her torso.
Finally, the Out And Out Funny Stuff includes gems such as Christa Moesker's Sientje (a beautifully bold-lined cartoon about a little girl's temper tantrum), Carsten Strauch's Futter (Feeding) (a silly little dialogue between two stoned lions and a very British antelope), and Jan Pinkava's Geri's Game (last year's Oscar winner, a typically detailed character piece from the Pixar stable that brought you Toy Story). Best of all is the final short in the programme, Paul Driessen's 3 Misses. Three stories of botched rescues of females - a woman falling from a high building, a cowboy saving a girl tied to a railway track, the seven dwarves trying to stop Snow White from eating the apple - interweave in and out of each other to hilarious effect.
I know it's a Closing Gala and all, but sixteen bloody quid for a ticket! As I pointed out to Spank's pals in the restaurant beforehand, for that sort of money, if Warren Beatty himself didn't show up, there'd be an awful lot of pissed off people in the cinema.
Warren Beatty himself didn't show up. He sent a filmed apology explaining that overruns on his current movie meant he'd had to pull out of attending at the last minute. He emphasised his great love and respect for the English moviegoing public, as could be seen by the way he fluffed his lines halfway through the message and didn't bother going back for a retake. Am I bitter about this? Of course not. Let's move on to the film.
The thing that immediately springs to mind when watching Bulworth is the Mr Plow episode of The Simpsons. Looking for gimmicks to promote his new snow-ploughing business, Homer suggests doing a rap - "I'm Mr Plow / And I'm here to say / That I'm the ploughingest guy / In the USA!" Bart and Lisa's horrified reaction to this ("Promise us you'll never do that again") is the clearest statement I've ever seen of a simple, self-evident fact: the sound of old white people rapping is the most embarrassing thing on the planet. So it's a bit disturbing to find that around one-third of the running time of Bulworth is dedicated to the sound of old white people rapping.
Jay Bulworth (Warren Beatty) is a California senator at the end of his tether. He's running low in the polls on the final weekend before the elections, he's not eaten or slept for three days, and is trying to stop his staff from finding out he's having a nervous breakdown. In desperation, he hires a complex chain of hitmen to assassinate him during the final weekend's campaigning. With nothing to lose, he starts telling the truth about the American political system during his rallies. Amazingly, his honesty attracts a whole new group of supporters, including Nina (Halle Berry). After a night in a hip-hop club with Nina, and totally out of his mind on sleep deprivation, he starts adopting a new approach to campaigning, performing rap numbers explaining what's wrong with the current system. Bulworth's popularity goes through the roof, and he starts enjoying the political life again: unfortunately, due to the complex way in which he set it up, there's no way he can call off the assassination...
If an old white guy tried in real life to appeal to the black community by doing rap and wearing street clothes, the black community would probably only give him five minutes before bursting a cap in his white arse, as I believe the phrase has it. But because Beatty wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film, he gains their respect and admiration for his actions, and he gets to cop off with a woman half his age as a bonus. So the racial aspects of Bulworth just don't ring true at all. The more general political satire is on surer ground, however: the one thing that stops Bulworth's attempts at rap being totally embarrassing is that some interesting ideas on American political life are put across, even if only sketchily. And there are some good belly laughs in the picture, notably from Oliver Platt as Bulworth's main advisor, desperately playing up to the fly-on-the-wall crew following the campaign, and talking inspired bollocks after a cocaine binge.
Towards the end of the film, following five days of campaigning with no sleep whatsoever, Bulworth curls up on a bed in Nina's house and doesn't wake up for two days. At the end of two weeks at the Festival seeing a minimum of three films a day, I can kind of relate to that.
And Finally, I'd Like To Thank The Academy...
To finish off with, a quick word of appreciation for the various people who've been involved with the past two weeks.
Thanks to Adrian Wootton, Sandra Hebron and all the staff of the London Film Festival for putting all this great stuff on.
Thanks to the staff and management of the various Festival venues: the Odeons West End and Leicester Square, the National Film Theatre, the ICA, the Ritzy and the Tricycle.
Thanks to the makers of my five favourite films in the Festival: Slam, Aprile, Welcome To Woop Woop, Your Friends And Neighbors and Final Cut.
Thanks to Brian Logan and Imogen Tilden at the official London Film Festival web site, for providing lots of information, reproducing some of my reviews (with almost perfect sub-editing) and plugging this site just a little bit more.
Thanks to all of Spank's Pals who've accompanied him to movies over the past fortnight: Ken, Jon, Lesley, Old Lag, Anna, Pat, Alison, Sylvia, Mary, Rob D, Rob G, Christine, Phil, Fred, Rosie, Liz, Mabel, Nick, Helen and Smudge The Cat.
Special thanks to those of Spank's Pals who've contributed reviews. Obviously the tireless Ken leads the pack, followed by Rob D, Jon, Old Lag, Rob G and Rachael.
Get Better Soon to Jon, Christine and Smudge, all of whom ended up missing some films at the Festival due to illness. (To quote Smudge on her stomach bug: "Brown: it's the new black.")
Get A Better Job Soon to Old Lag, whose callous employers sent him to work in some Godawful place in the Midlands for the duration of the Festival, just after he'd bought loads of tickets that he now couldn't use.
And last of all, thanks to the staff and management of the Hand and Racket on Whitcomb Street, the Official Pub of Spank's LFF Diary and a popular winding-down venue for Spank and the Pals following a hard day's gawping at films. Good jukebox, fine beer, and a long and distinguished association with British comedy: Galton and Simpson used to drink there, Paul Merton and Jack Docherty still do. And it's the only pub I know that has Aleister Crowley's "Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law" graffitied down the cistern pipe in the gents.
True story. Ask around if you don't believe me. Though I'll understand perfectly if you don't. Being a monkey, and all.
Notes from Spank's Pals
Ken - Political comedy starring Warren Beatty as a senator who in the midst of his re-election campaign hires a hitman to give him a very unorthodox assisted suicide, and while waiting to die chooses to tell the truth in his campaign. Naturally his campaign advisors are aghast, but in the great cinematic tradition his support grows, and he desperately tries to call off the hit. What hurts the film is the great American obsession with racial stereotypes, with drug pushers, former Black Panthers and Beatty rapping. If you can overlook this sickeningly racist side to the film (try pretending it's because they're Americans and have different values), there are some good comedy moments to be enjoyed, and it may be even funnier if you know more about US politics.
Ken's Top 5 Festival Movies
- Welcome To Woop Woop
- The Opposite Of Sex
- Waking Ned
- Hideous Kinky
- B Monkey
Ken's Bottom 5 Festival Movies (worst first)
- First Love Last Rites
- Two Girls And A Guy
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