Post-Festival thoughts from The Cineaste, Suzanne Vega Fanclub, The Belated Birthday Girl and yours truly.
It’s rather presumptuous to make sweeping generalisations about a festival on the basis of seeing just 13 films, but for me this was my most disappointing LFF. Apart from a few notable exceptions, many of the films I saw were very disappointing – directionless, plotless, unentertaining and just plain dull. I didn’t see a good comedy, I didn’t see a good thriller, and I didn’t even see a quirky, oddball, east European number. Perhaps the best measure of the festival is the fact that of the two films vying for top spot, one was 45 years old and in black and white, the other was a disappointment for Spank.
Best Film: Lunacy. Maybe I haven’t seen enough of Svankmajer’s films to compare it against, but this had lots of scenes I found jaw-droppingly fantastic.
Special Mention: The Bandits of Orgosolo, Requiem, The Year After.
Worst Film: From a disappointingly long shortlist, Dans Paris clearly stood out from the rest for its irritating pointlessness.
Additionally, the resurrection of a category that’s fallen into disuse in recent years - Worst translation of foreign title: Buenos Aires 1977 (although I didn’t see it) is the translation of a title that in its native Spanish that reads Chronicle of a Struggle.
So that’s it then for another twelve months. Au revoir LFF06, and, based on what I saw, good riddance too. A big thank you as ever to Spank, for putting up yet again with my incoherent ramblings, and an even bigger well done for managing it all despite the demands of a new(ish) job – the true dedication of a committed movie fan.
Finally (I’ve nearly finished), with the notable exception of The BBG and Suze, what’s happened to all the rest of Spank’s Pals? We know you were out there – your reviews were conspicuous by their absence. We’ll be expecting better – much much better – next year.
Suzanne Vega Fanclub
Having read my Wrap Party notes of the last few years, it would appear I don't like coming to these film festivals all that much. The actuality of course (as I have mentioned before) is that how good a festival one judges it to be, is inevitably governed by one's choice of films. Thus on that score this has been the best festival (for me anyway) for a number of years. This doesn't mean everything was brilliant; however there was very little on show that I couldn't get something out of.
So to categorise my standard ten films.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED CATEGORY (in alphabetical order)
The Boss of it All
The Family Friend
TELL US SOMETHING WE DON'T ALREADY KNOW CATEGORY (in best first, and
last worst order)
Buenos Aires 1977
The US v John Lennon
Primo Levi's Journey
Fast Food Nation
DON'T PUT ME IN A BOX CATEGORY (in alphabetical order)
The Missing Star
I MAY NOT LOOK LIKE A BALLOON BUT I AM OVERINFLATED AND FULL OF HOT AIR
CATEGORY (in worst first order)
So what else? Oh yes, big thanks to Spank and The BBG for getting me the tickets (and the nice lady in the booth at L/Sq who twice didn't charge me the extra pound for being a non NFT member). Also given that 9 of my 10 were at the Odeon West End, it is nice to see the push and shove queuing fiascos of last year didn't reoccur (for me anyway). I was slightly disappointed on my one trip to the NFT, to see that the hot chocolate kiosk had vanished from the cafe (perhaps it is a concession to try and get me to rejoin). Also more than a little disappointed with the unnamed person who tried to charge me double the ticket face value for the Forest Whittaker talk (I have officially dispensed with his services over that). Also extra extra disappointed that nobody has come forward to solve the mid film panic mystery, that took place three quarters into Fast Food Nation.
Two final non film highlights were Sandra Hebron's shiny black boots (which took on a life of their own for me anyway), and the brilliant pre-film LFF/BFI trailer. Both of which I never grew tired of seeing, and always seemed to have the knack of getting my heart racing.
The Belated Birthday Girl
1. Big Bang Love, Juvenile A
2. The Bridge
Bubbling Under (in alphabetical order): Babel, Black Book, Heart Beating in the Dark (2005), The Lives of Others, Love Story, The Prestige, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, This is England
1. The Holy Mountain
4. Lights in the Dusk
One of the most noteworthy things about this year's festival again is the number of excellent documentaries: two extraordinary ones made it into my Top 5. Both music documentaries I saw were also excellent, each taking very different approaches to great effect, and only missing out on being in that list by there being such other strong films on show. I'm also pleased after last year's disappointing showing for the Japanese films that this year's are much better: a new Miike - and a particularly good one, at that - heading the list. As well as that, Hana was lots of fun, reminding me in some ways of the pleasure I got from A Chinese Odyssey 2002, although not quite up to that standard, and the back to back two Heart Beating in the Dark films were a truly rewarding experience, with the 2005 film being particularly good.
There were also some great "smaller" films, most notable Slumming, which, particularly if it doesn't get a distribution deal (it doesn't have one at the moment, as far as I know) is exactly the sort of thing which makes going to the LFF so worthwhile. It was nice also to see The Lives of Others recognised with the Satyajit Ray award. And most of the "bigger" films I saw which will get wide releases, were varying degrees of good, although I will be surprised to find any of them troubling any "Best of the Year" lists.
I saw two shorts programmes this year. From Nuggets, I was particularly taken with (yet another documentary) We Are The Faithful, and Hombre Kabuki, which was incredibly well written and would make an excellent calling card if the filmmakers wanted to move into features. From the International Animation Panorama, I especially liked Printed Rainbow, and also enjoyed Mr Schwartz, Mr Hazen & Mr Horlocker.
Overall, this year's was a decent festival for me, with a total of 38 features films, 2 shorts programmes, 2 screen talks and 1 script factory, and a very high hit rate of good or better. There were a couple of disappointments, but there were some nice surprises, too - including a quality Surprise Film, at the Odeon West End, at least. Of course, there is the minor gripe that with the removal of the matinee voucher scheme, this year's festival cost me quite a bit more than previous ones, but that gripe aside, I had a good LFF 2006.
Spank The Monkey
Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that.
I tend not to keep lists in my head as I go through a festival: I prefer to live it in the moment, and take a bit of time out at the end to decide what my favourites and least favourites were. I think it was reasonably obvious as I watched it that This Is England would be far and away the best film I saw this year, and nothing I watched in the last two days changed my mind on that score (though all I managed to watch in those last two days were two films and a DVD). England is the culmination of everything Shane Meadows has done up to now, and covers wild emotional extremes that his previous movies could only dream of. You need to run to your local cinema when this one comes out.
But if I had to produce a list of the five best films at LFF 2006, what would occupy slots 2-5? I sat down with the list of everything I'd seen this year, scribbled some titles down off a pure gut reaction, took out one or two borderline ones to get the numbers right, and ended up with a list of four.
Here's what I wasn't expecting: they were all documentaries. Love Story and Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, two different approaches to the if-you-will-rockumentary, both succeeding where others fail because they realise how central the music has to be. (Much to the chagrin of Seapea, whose main criticism of 30 Century Man is that it fails to give the viewer useful biographical information, such as 'is Scott seeing anyone right now, and if not does he fancy a drink later'.) Blindsight sets itself up as a heartwarming tale of a group of kids struggling to meet a challenge, before it gradually reveals itself to be a study of conflicting philosophies under pressure. And The Bridge takes the kind of subject matter that could easily be treated in a sensational or trivialised way - by, for example, the festival sponsors - and produces from it a sensitive portrayal of how fragile we all can be.
Does this make it a really good year for documentaries, or a really bad year for narrative cinema? Probably a bit of both. There were a couple of dramatic films on my 'promising' list - Opera Jawa and The Family Friend, both having visual style to burn, both coming teasingly close to being flat-out great. But that 'promising' list has three more documentaries on it as well: the ecstatic football short We Are The Faithful, the Eastern European travelogue of Primo Levi's Journey (which I might have liked even more if I'd seen the first 15 miniutes), and the visually stunning finale of In The Pit.
Interesting to note that my five biggest disappointments of the festival were all fictional. Container and Lunacy showed two of my favourite directors, Lukas Moodysson and Jan Svankmajer, going through a career slump (although Moodysson's is currently looking more long-term). Drama/Mex had all the visual and narrative tricks we've come to associate with the new Mexican cinema, but forgot to include any characters you gave a damn about. The Missing Star was a shaggy dog story in search of a punchline, driven by its lead character's obsession but refusing to share the reason for that obsession with the audience. And I'm a little reluctant to include The King And The Clown on this list, owing to the makeshift circumstances of its viewing: but I suspect that even in a packed cinema on a huge screen, it would look somewhat thin.
Still, that's the LFF over for another year. As ever, huge thanks to Sandra Hebron and the tireless crew who organise the London Film Festival, even the ones who take ages to reply to emails I send them. Immense gratitude to your equally tireless correspondents for this year: The Belated Birthday Girl, Suzanne Vega Fanclub, and The Cineaste. Only slightly reduced gratitude to those of Spank's Pals who came along but didn't write anything: Anna, Des, Jon, Lesley and Seapea. And nuff respek to da FU Posse. If this final analysis has taught me anything, it appears to be that real life is generally better than made-up stuff, so maybe I should look into doing some of the former now. Being a monkey, and all.