Simian Substitute Site For November 2011: Powder Monkey Fireworks
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Spank's LFF Diary: The Wrap Party 2011

Bye Sandra (mixed media, 2011, click to enlarge)Or perhaps we could go with SpodoKomodo's suggestion of 'The Creeping Sense of Post-Festival Ennui' as a title this year. Whatever. With London Film Festival 2011 fast becoming a distant memory, here's our reviewing team to sum up what they thought of it - new reviews from Lesley, and final thoughts from The Cineaste, The Belated Birthday Girl and me.


A few notes on what I saw this year.

Wild Bill, Sun 23rd. [official site] Just 12 hours 35 minutes from having got home from holiday, I'm into my first film - and a real return home. Having spent 32 years of my working life in or around Poplar it was amazing to watch on screen an area I know so well, the fish shop where I'd bought chips, the pub which had been the scene of many end of term final booze ups, and both going under their true names! Amazing. The film certainly worked for me, the kids and their plight were totally believeable, I'm sure they've been part of my life, and as for acting, that last shot of Bill himself - unsurpassable. Great film, I hope the East End Gangster overload doesn't deter viewers.

The Kid With A Bike, Sun 23rd. [official site] French film by the Dardenne brothers. Another great take on a boy with a dilemma. My credibility was stretched by the way in which he was taken under the wing of a caring adult. I'm sure that here she would have been vetted to death. But otherwise well acted and the story well told.

Nouka Dubi, Mon 24th. [trailer] Lush melodrama set in Hindu Bengal of indeterminate recent period. Based on a tale by Tagore. Possibly Bengal's Downton Abbey though I'll probably be lynched for suggesting the comparison. Very cultured, and rather lovely to look at. It was amusing to see the number of Indian viewers who expected an ad and trailer introduction and arrived 15 minutes into the film, to the tuttutting of the people already seated.

The Student, Tue 25th. [official site] Argentinian film directed by Santiago Mitre about university politics. I first wrote 'campus' but felt that its U.S. connotations did not really reflect the global/European flavour of the parties and their dialectic. It took me right back to my student days in the late 60s - but that was a long time ago, and ultimately the acquisition of worldly knowledge and disillusion by the protagonist left me feeling that for many viewers the lesson may have been primary school stuff. Lively presentation though.

The Jewel, Tue 25th. [official site] Spank summed it up nicely. Q & A showed the extent of the use of the real case, even to the cutting and pasting of the fake fake account, which apparently was how it was done in real life.

Footnote, Tue 25th. [official site] Directed by Joseph Cedar, who did a Q&A after. I like to catch an Israeli film at some point during the festival, and much to my surprise this turned out to be just about my favourite film this year. Father and son are in competition for academic laurels from the community of elite scholarship. The smooth and likable son seems light years ahead of his irrascible father, but then the unexpected happens. For me, a remarkably perceptive view of the machinations of academia, and an utterly believeable father/son relationship.

Target, Wed 26th. [official site] Hours long, but nice shots of remote Russia beyond the Urals - ref. next holiday destination?

Small Town, Wed 26th. Shorts programme, featuring Chalk [interview], Gömböc [official site, ish], Destiny Lives Down the Road [official Facebook], I'm Never Afraid! [official site], The Father [official site], and Compulsion [British Council page, which is the best one I could find - Spank]. Nothing bad here, but I think that the long haul of Target diminished my appreciation of what I was watching.

and finally

Faust, Thur 27th. [trailer] Sokurov's conclusion to his 'tetralogy about the spiritual shortcomings of men of power' (quote LFF programme). Taken from the Goethe version of the legend we are already in serious head stuff land, and to be honest I could by this stage in the festival have done with something a little lighter, or a little more razamataz. 134 minutes in a mittle-Europe plague and starvation ridden village vaguely referencing the middle ages/30 years war/early 19th Century, there certainly was no sign of the positive benefits of selling your soul to the devil. I suspect that a true cine buff could find many influences here, or anyone au fait with intellectual development in the late 18th/early 19th Century (must brush up on my Goethe), but for me hard work and heavy going. I think I got the ending though!

That's it for another year.

Louise WimmerThe Cineaste

It’s probably inappropriate or presumptuous to make any sweeping/defining conclusions about this year’s LFF given that I only saw ten films, and these all in the first week (family matters I won’t bore you with took over the second week). The first thing that struck me, considering all these ten collectively, was that I didn’t have any strong reactions or responses – none of them were really awful, most of them were reasonably good, none were truly outstanding, although special mention to those below.

Favourite film: joint favourites, two very different films, were Louise Wimmer and Headhunters.

Special Mention: as I reported in my review terminal brain cancer hardly strikes you as a subject matter to get excited about, but director Andreas Dresen treated this subject so sympathetically it made Stopped On Track a joy to watch.

Worst film: none were really woeful but the first two Dreileben films (Beats Being Dead, and Don’t Follow Me Around) were disappointingly insipid.

Sweeping/Defining Conclusions: Having been in and out of the LFF for 10 years now (pah I hear some of you say), it’s struck me that, irrespective of the quality of films on offer, to full enjoy the LFF experience you need a combination of things – time, energy, stamina and money, and a complete lack of interference from outside matters. So I’m starting planning for LFF 2012 now. See you there.

The Snows Of KilimanjaroThe Belated Birthday Girl

Final tally for this year: 47 events, of which 41 were feature films, 2 were interviews, and 4 were shorts programmes. This was the first year that I've taken the whole time off work, so was able to go weekday daytimes every day, as well as evenings and weekends. Exhausting (and expensive!) but fun. Not guaranteeing I'll be keeping up the same rate next year, but you never know. Watch this space.

Top 5:
1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
2. Chicken with Plums
3. Let The Bullets Fly
4. Bernie
5. I Wish
Also highly recommended: Volcano, The Day He Arrives, Shin-Heike Monogatari, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Whores' Glory, Take Shelter, Damsels in Distress, Mitsuko Delivers, Headhunters, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, A Simple Life

Bottom 5:
1. Last Screening
2. Target
3. Sarah Palin - You Betcha!
4. Shock Head Soul
5. The Monk
Also disappointing/not recommended: Rampart, Asshole

Most overrated: The Artist (the backlash starts here).

As always, any film I saw not mentioned above is generally recommended.

Big shock in the Top 2 places both being taken by French films. But the films of Robert Guédiguian have always resonated with me for their unashamed left-wing sensibilities, and Kilimanjaro is a particularly fine and thought-provoking example; and the type of whimsy of Chicken with Plums just really works for me, although I imagine it will grate with some. Let the Bullets Fly was one of the most fun films I saw at the festival, and if it hadn’t taken a slight dip in the middle, it might well have been my top film. Bernie was both highly entertaining and also interesting for its blurring of the BOATS and documentary boundaries. And I Wish was simply a delight, and including volcanoes (and one of my favourite volcanoes, at that) and bullet-trains, it was always likely to appear high on my list. It's not quite up there with Still Walking, but still very highly recommended.

In total, 11 of the feature films I saw would be billed as documentaries. Of these, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom deserves a special mention because of the ongoing situation in Japan. The scale of the devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and attendant problems at the Fukushima power plant should not be forgotten, and this film made a beautiful and moving tribute to the people in Tohoku. It was I think the only film I cried at in the festival.

None of the documentaries quite made it onto my Top 5 list - although we could argue whether Bernie is really less a documentary than Shock Head Soul - but most of them were pretty good. Sadly, a couple did make it onto the Bottom 5. The main problem with the Sarah Palin film was that it didn't land any big punches about things we didn't know. OK, it showed her up as being extraordinarily vindictive, and made you wonder why she'd even ever have wanted to be President. But without her giving the semi-promised interview, it didn't feel that it had a lot to say, and now that she's not running for President, feels somewhat irrelevant. And I don't think I've anything to add to what I’ve already said about Shock Head Soul.

In a sort-of karmic balance, it turns out that as well as the best, the worst film I saw at the festival was French. It's actually a close call, as Target was pretty bad, and compounded its sins by going on for so long. I am reminded of Southland Tales, which swung between brilliance and dreadfulness. Target never actually achieves brilliance, but does hit dreadfulness. But I have to admit that it does have some things to recommend it, notably the overall look. Which is more than can be said about Last Screening. And The Monk I just found overblown and predictable.

So, overall I would say I had a very good LFF. I've been attending since only one year before Sandra Hebron took over, and my good experience of the festival over the years has to be in part down to her excellent running of it. So, in case she is reading this, just to say "Thank you" to Sandra. And in case she is reading it, just to say to Clare Stewart "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!". Sandra leaves the LFF most definitely not broke, and I look forward to coming back in 2012 to see how it carries on without her.

Dreams Of A LifeSpank

Well, at least this year's Wrap Party is fractionally more timely than last year's, thanks to the lack of last-minute decisions that I need to go and work in Gibraltar or something. 

A fine festival this year, I think: a strict batting average of three films a day meant I bought 45 tickets in total, 43 of which were used to create the final send-off to Sandra Hebron seen at the top of this page. It was the climax in a series of increasingly desperate attempts to get quoted in the daily BFI email. I'd kind of lost all hope of getting mentioned by the end, particularly when it looked like the easiest way to get included in their daily roundup was to say something like "hi, I'm Edgar Wright, and I saw a film at #LFF today". Still, my social media strategy wasn't a total loss: several kind retweets and mentions from people throughout the festival, with quite a few hits for the review of the London Calling shorts (I'm presuming - they're all from Facebook so I can't see exactly what drew them), and official acknowledgement of The Cineaste's review of Louise Wimmer from the film's own Twatfeed (I soon put them straight on the attribution).

I've explained elsewhere why I thought Dreams Of A Life was the best film at the LFF this year: it had a sizeable emotional impact on me. And the next three best were also fairly touchy-feely to one degree or another - The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, I Wish, and Mitsuko Delivers, all of them inclusive tales with basic human decency at their heart. Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad And The Politician rounds out my top five: in a year full of fine documentaries, the combination of three very different directoral approaches and hot-off-the-press subject matter puts it way up there.

If this was a top ten, there would be five other films under those which all came close to greatness. The Day He Arrives: Hong Sang-Soo is as entertaining as ever, but his unpredictability is starting to get predictable. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia: of these five, this is the one that I suspect could have been top five material if I'd seen it early in the day rather than late and tired. Bernie: this, meanwhile, is the one that's been growing on me more and more after the fact, particularly when I try to explain to people just how its layers of fact and fiction interact. King Curling: it may just be a big dumb sports comedy that gains additional interest purely by being Norwegian, but it's just what I needed on a Saturday night (cf "sometimes you just want a cheeseburger," Mostly Film's review of its Scandinavian neighbour Headhunters). And finally, Damsels In Distress: because it's fun to watch stupid people get angry at things they don't understand, whether it's on a screen or in a Surprise Film audience.

The two worst films, coincidentally (or otherwise), were both championed by Jonathan Romney in the programme and also on stage. (I concur with Phil_on_Film's analysis.) I'd say that Last Screening was the absolute worst because it took a solid genre premise and then completely failed to do anything interesting with it. Target was a close second, but there was at least the odd moment of visual interest buried within its two and a half hours of bad ideas and worse satire. The other three in my bottom five - Rampart, Sarah Palin - You Betcha!, and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai - were more disappointments than actual failures, all from people I've trusted in the past. (Even then, Hara-Kiri would, I suspect, be a rather good movie without the 3D. I'd be keen to see it again in 2D form to confirm that.)

So, to wrap up another year's LFF coverage, thanks to all the usual suspects. To guest reviewers The Cineaste, The Belated Birthday Girl and Lesley: to Chris and the others who came along quietly: to all the Mostly Film posse, especially Phil, Indy, Matthew, "Ron" and Malcotraz: to everyone who read and tweeted along, including you if you've got this far. And one last set of thanks to Sandra Hebron, who sent a rather sweet handwritten message to her fans on her final day. I'm afraid that all I know of Sandra's successor, Clare Stewart, is what I learned from Mostly Film's own Preposition Joe, and a piece he wrote about her when she was running the Sydney Film Festival. "The subscribers refer to the festival’s current director simply as 'Clare'. They speculate, not unkindly, about her private life, and make faintly catty remarks about her taste in clothes. Really Clare, those boots?"

Those boots? You know, I think she's going to fit in here just fine. Being a monkey, and all.



Interesting comparison of Target to Southland Tales. And yes, I'd rather see Suothland Tales a thousand moer times than rewatch a single frame of Target.

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