Reviewed today: Birds Of Passage, Etangs Noirs.
12.00pm: Birds Of Passage [official site]
Digression #1: I got it wrong on Tuesday when I said that with the exception of the Cineworld/Picturehouse chain, I was going to be seeing at least one film in every LFF cinema this year. That's because I thought this film was showing in Curzon Soho. It turns out that yes, there's a screening in that cinema later on today, but this particular one is in the Vue West End. I won't be seeing anything at the Curzon Soho at this festival after all, so everything is RUINED.
Digression #2: Clare Stewart's at this screening. That may not seem like a big deal, as she's been in charge of the LFF since 2012. But she announced a little while ago that she was taking a year off for this one. She's temporarily handed over the reins to her deputy Tricia Tuttle, whom I've always seen as the Robin to her Batman, or perhaps the Fred Dinenage to her Dickie Davies. Tuttle's been very visible in the press, talking quite a bit about the improvement in women's representation at this year's festival, but we've not seen much of her in person: our one sighting so far has been on her phone outside BFI Southbank during the preparation for Peter Jackson's red carpet event. Meanwhile, Stewart's sabbatical took an unexpected turn when she announced on Twitter that she'd be spending a chunk of it still at the LFF, but as a spectator rather than a director. It'll be interesting to see if the audience experience changes next year as a result of her research.
Birds Of Passage is one of the films in this year's Official Competition, which may be why Stewart was keen to see it. Set in Colombia from the 1960s to the 1980s, it's based around an indigenous tribe known as the Wayuu. They're a tribe steeped in ancient traditions, such as the one that requires a man to come up with a sizeable dowry if he wants to get married. Rapayet (José Acosta) has been quoted a price of several goats, cattle and necklaces before he can marry Zaida (Natalia Reyes), and the only way he can raise the money required is by getting into drug dealing, selling pot to the visiting Americans from the Peace Corps. After the wedding, Rapayet's illegal business continues to grow, bringing in more and more of his extended family along the way. It's a slippery slope, and by the time we hit the 1980s things have spun totally out of control.
Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra's film is a unique mixture of ethnography, history and gangster story. This is the first time that the Wayuu have ever been seen on film, and so we get a one-off opportunity to observe their rituals, their mythology (notably the birds of the title), and the specific procedures behind their criminal activities - for example, the tradition of a 'word messenger' who performs any negotiation required when relationships between clans break down. It shows you how Colombia became a byword for the drug trade, giving you the perspective from the inside, showing how easy it was for a family money-making scheme to end in a pile of bodies. And on top of all that, it's a taut crime thriller, with an edge of Greek tragedy and a oddly dreamlike atmosphere, what with its constant references to signs and portents. You won't have seen anything like this before, at least not in a single movie: it's the only Official Competition entry I've seen so far, but I wouldn't have any objection to it picking up the prize this weekend.
3.15pm: Etangs Noirs [official site]
Digression #3: Alongside the Official Competition (see above) and the First Feature Competition (see Tuesday), there's one other prize on offer at the LFF - the Grierson Award for best documentary. Unfortunately, we're not seeing any of the shortlisted Grierson films this year, although we were going to - we had tickets for Bisbee '17 this evening at NFT3. But a couple of weeks ago, there was suddenly a huge series of programme changes made, apparently because something else had been scheduled to take place at BFI Southbank. As a result, Bisbee '17 was moved from there to Picturehouse Central. It seemed ironic that a film about the horrific treatment of striking workers would require us to cross the picket lines at Picturehouse: but happily, the LFF were okay refunding our tickets in this instance, and we got to explain to them why we were doing it. This film, effectively, was a last-minute replacement for that one in our schedule.
Digression #4: Somebody made a brilliant comment on Twitter recently, and I wish I could remember who it was or find the original tweet. It went something like this, anyway: "if you're at a film festival Q&A and you start a sentence with 'it's not so much a question, more an observation' then you should be physically thrown out of the building." I mention this because there are certain types of films which inspire that sort of arseholery in their discussions afterwards, and Etangs Noirs seems to be one of them.
In a housing estate near the Brussels Metro station of the title, Jimi (Cédric Luvuezo) has been sent a parcel for another apartment by mistake - it's actually in a separate building across from his. So he goes over there to give it to its rightful owner. That shouldn't be too difficult, should it? Well, inevitably it is, developing very slowly into some sort of Kafkaesque nightmare, where it's sometimes hard to work out how much of it is only happening in Jimi's head. Part of the problem seems to be that Jimi has a very definite idea about how the transaction is going to take place, and he gets particularly stressed when things don't go as planned. Which is often.
Beyond that, it's hard to describe more of the plot here, because a large part of the pleasure of the film is slowly realising what it's actually about. It's at its best when the possibilities are wide open: but gradually, it narrows down to just one possible outcome, and by the end you're reduced to merely waiting for it to happen. As The BBG noted, it's the sort of theme that filmmakers typically use for a short - the novelty here is seeing the conceit stretched out to a feature of seventy-odd minutes.
You can't help feeling that Etangs Noirs is more of an intellectual exercise than a satisfying film, despite Cédric Luvuezo's fine efforts at giving an emotional core to the first half of the story. The final scenes feel rather overstretched, but the ultimate resolution is nicely handled by writer-directors Pieter Dumoulin and Timeau De Keyser. It's a resolution which leaves at least one question very conspicuously unanswered. And inevitably, this is one of the questions asked in the audience Q&A, along with several others where people state their theories and ask for them to be confirmed. Show some respect for mystery, you literal-minded twats! You could have asked how they filmed the Metro scenes on what appeared to be actual rush hour trains, but I guess that would have been too practical for you. Bah.
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes]
Well, talk about bad timing. Back in the early days of the LFF, when I was young and felt indestructible, I had no qualms about drinking the odd pint or two before going to see a film, even if it meant I ended up sleeping through part of it. These days - particularly as I know I have a public out there that's desperate to hear what I think, yes you are, don't interrupt - I tend to avoid drinking to excess during the festival.
Except now I'm committed to drinking around fifty beers and seeing ten films over a four day period. Oops.
Here's the thing. Remember LFF 2013? That was the last time that BrewDog's Collabfest clashed with the film festival. The idea is this: every year, BrewDog runs a beer festival in which each of its bars collaborates with a local brewery to produce a new beer, and then all of the beers are sold in all of the bars for a limited time. Back in 2013, we sampled seven of those beers in the gap between two films, and it just about worked. Five years on, and Collabfest has grown to the point that fifty bars have produced fifty beers, and they're on sale in BrewDog bars from October 18th to 21st - the last four days of the LFF. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a challenge to me.
But there's more - because on the first of those four days, a brand new BrewDog bar opens in London, and as regular readers will know The BBG and I have been making our way across the brewery's bars since 2013. Strictly speaking, the bar opens to the public on October 19th, but shareholders like us get to go to an exclusive preview night the day before. Which means that we're temporarily pausing a festival of movie premieres to attend a bar premiere instead. It's kind of perfect, isn't it?
So: welcome to BrewDog Canary Wharf. Located slap bang in the middle of the high-rise office district, there are lots of office workers observing the queue outside the door with interest, looking for afterwork drinks but being told they can't come in unless they have a ticket. With our tickets, we can get in at 6pm and head straight for the Collabfest beers - only five of them are on tap, so that the staff don't have to deal with the complications of multiple keg changes on their opening weekend. However, as it's a gathering of BrewDog shareholders, we're all interested in those Collabfest beers, and so three of the five are sold out within ninety minutes of the opening. As in previous years, we're liveblogging as we go on the surprisingly-still-going site Moblog, so you can find our thoughts on Collabfest beers 1-4 there.
With that bit of admin out of the way, we can relax and look at the bar itself. It's built out of the guts of an old dead Jamie's Italian, and it shows - it's a very odd shape for a bar, spread over a large single floor with nooks and crannies all over. Still, the design team have done their usual job on it, filling the space with the standard collection of benches and booths. It's another one of the oversized craft palaces that BrewDog bars tend to be nowadays, but the subdivision gives it intimacy regardless. Most people will be happy enough with twenty taps of beer and a place to sit. The food is the usual burger menu (The BBG reports that her Clucky This Time seitan burger came with added coriander, which she approves of): they're also hoping to cater for the nearby office trade by opening early for breakfast, an experiment they tried at Tower Hill earlier this year but abandoned after a few months.
Canary Wharf appears to be one of those bars where they've attempted to impose a theme based on the stereotype associated with its surroundings. For Soho, it was smut: for Tower Hill, it was the City and Old Money. They've decided that Canary Wharf is all about New Money, and as such they've thrown in a couple of gimmicks to tie in with that idea. One of those is that this is the first of their bars to take Bitcoin payments, allowing you to buy beer with the same convenient and secure method you use to buy your drugs and pornography. Another is that the price of one of the beers - currently it's Cybernaut - will be tied to the FTSE 100, and will go up or down by a few pence each day depending on how the markets are doing.
Whether you're paying for your beer with MasterCard, Visa or NonceDollars (no cash taken here), I suspect that this particular bar's aimed more at the local workforce than the casual drinker on a night out. Let's be honest, no other BrewDog bar's doing a cheap deal on Grand Cuvee Brut that's only available on Fridays. But as long as the gimmicks are still accompanied by decent beers - like the Lickinghole Creek One Lion Imperial Stout we finished off with tonight - then it should hopefully work out just fine. And I'm not just licking hole when I'm saying that, honestly.