Spank's LFF Diary, Thursday 06/10/2022
Spank's LFF Diary, Saturday 08/10/2022

Spank's LFF Diary, Friday 07/10/2022

Reviewed today: Nayola, The Woman In The White Car, The Worst Ones.

The Worst Ones1.15pm: The Worst Ones [clip]

Maylis (Mélina Vanderplancke) knows what’s going on. A film crew is in town to make a movie set in her housing estate, and they’re auditioning local kids for the leading roles. The director Gabriel (Johan Heldenbergh) knows exactly what sort of film he wants to make: gritty, realistic, urban. Maylis sees the kids he’s bringing in for audition and immediately works out what Gabriel is doing: “’re only seeing the worst ones, aren’t you?”

If you've ever felt queasy about all those films where working class deprivation is turned into middle class entertainment, then good news: writer-directors Lise Akoke and Romain Gueret feel the same way. And they've expressed that viewpoint in a movie about moviemaking, which guarantees them a slot in any film festival programme in the world. The Worst Ones follows the four teens we see being auditioned at the start – Maylis, Lily (Mallory Wanecque), Ryan (Timéo Mahaut) and Jessy (Loïc Pech) – as they make their way through the filmmaking process, It gradually becomes apparent to us how much Gabriel is exploiting their background for the purposes of his film. Pretty soon, it also becomes apparent to the kids, as well as to their neighbours in the estate. (Along the way, it’s amusing to realise that when a French film wants to show a director as being a little too far up himself, it has to make him Belgian.)

It would be very easy to play this story as a full-on comedy, with the conflict between the film crew and the estate being painted in broad strokes. It’s to the credit of Akoke and Gueret that they don’t do that – mostly we see that conflict played out in tiny exchanges that gradually get more heated. We also get to see that the real day-to-day problems of the estate residents are more complex than the big melodramatic moments Gabriel has put into his script, and less easily resolved. It’s a subtly constructed piece of work, made all the more astonishing by its cast of non-professional teenagers being played by actual non-professional teenagers. Is that just as exploitative? I don't think so - this film is pretty certain at all times who the villains are here. 

Nayola6.20pm: Nayola [trailer]

Here’s a thing. Justin Johnson is the programmer who introduced this screening. His main role in the festival is being in charge of the family strand, but he tells us in his intro that he also programmes animated features like this one. Presumably he specifically means that his job description bundles in animated features not aimed at families, even though we’ve spent the last thirty years or more trying to convince people that animation isn’t just for kids. So I guess that if we have to badger someone into bringing back the LFF's grown-up International Animation programme, then Justin's our guy...

It has to be said that this festival does all right with the few adult animated features it shows. Flee was my favourite film at last year’s LFF, and Nayola has a few stylistic and thematic similarities to that one. It’s a film with two interwoven strands to it. One of them is set in Angola in 1995 at the height of the civil war, as Nayola roams across the battlefields looking for her MIA husband. The second strand is set 16 years later, where Angola is no longer at war but still an oppressive place to live. A few people are out there resisting the authorities, and one of them is Nayola's young daughter Yara, a street rapper with lyrics that constantly get her into trouble.

This doesn’t seem like the sort of material that screams out animation – in fact, the original source for José Miguel Ribeiro's film is a stage play. But as with Flee, heavily stylised visuals tell the story as much as the dialogue does. The 1995 sequences are a blur of rich colour, depicting the jungles of Angola in a ravishingly beautiful way before the war tears them apart. For 2011, the visuals take a more realistic turn (with some subtle use of 3D CGI), but there's an almost dreamlike atmosphere to them as the story slowly moves into unexpected areas. The final scenes are utterly jawdropping in their fabulous strangeness, but somehow you've been prepared for them all along.

The Woman In The White Car8.40pm: The Woman In The White Car [trailer]

Korea’s fashionable these days, innit? The one-two punch of Parasite and Squid Game, along with the ten trillion K-dramas all over Netflix currently, means that the sort of films I’ve been raving about for the last couple of decades are now mainstream fare. Probably a good time for this one to come out, then.

It seems simple enough to begin with. A car pulls up outside a hospital, driven by Do-kyung (Ryeowon Jung), with her sister bleeding heavily in the passenger seat. Do-kyung describes how her sister suddenly turned up at her house with her psychopathic fiance, and a fight broke out that resulted in the two women being injured and the fiance being dead. There doesn’t seem much left for the cops to do here, but policewoman Hyun-ju (Jung-eun Lee) has her doubts. As would anyone reading that synopsis, I guess.

In fact, The Woman In The White Car is brilliantly constructed by writer Ja-yeun Seo and director Christine Ko as an avalanche of reveals: every time you think you know what's going on, they pull the rug from under your feet again. To say anything about the script's obvious influences would give a lot of the game away, but you’ll know them when you see them - the key thing is that they've been combined together into something that's entirely its own thing.

It would be all too easy for a film that's so relentlessly plotted to just become a cerebral puzzle piece, but the two splendid central performances stop that from happening. Jung-eun Lee's frumpy middle-aged policewoman with spectacular detection skills initially brings to mind Frances McDormand in Fargo, but before too long you're just thinking of her as Hyun-ju. Meanwhile, Ryeowon Jung owns the film completely as the embodiment of the mystery at its core. Amazingly, this was made by Ko and a TV crew in a ridiculously short 14 days of shooting - it was originally intended as a two part serial. But I'm glad they decided to glue the two parts together into a theatrical feature: it’s far too much fun to miss out on watching with an audience. 


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