Spank's LFF Diary, Sunday 09/10/2022
Spank's LFF Diary, Tuesday 11/10/2022

Spank's LFF Diary, Monday 10/10/2022

Reviewed today: Bardo: False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths, Godland.

Bardo: False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths1.45pm: Bardo: False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths [official Netflix site]

After two consecutive days of four-film binges, you’ll be pleased to hear that we’re taking things easier today and just seeing two. However, they’re both quite long, and the first one has a title long enough to take up the space here that would normally be allocated to a third review. Mind you, it could have been an even longer day: in between the publication of the LFF programme and the day of this screening, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has cut his film by 22 minutes, reducing it from just under three hours to just over two and a half. Coincidentally, 22 minutes is about the length of time at the start that we get for an onstage chat between “Tricia, the festival director” – why does she never give her surname at these things? – and Iñárritu, who’s been a fixture at the LFF since his second feature 21 Grams back in 2003. 

It always worries me whenever a director turns up before the start of a film to tell you how you're supposed to watch it. Here, Iñárritu suggests we go with the flow and try not to apply too much logic to what we see. Within a few minutes of the start, you can see what he means. It’s the story of Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho), a filmmaker in his fifties specialising in docufiction. As he travels between his current base in America and his original home in Mexico, he’s in an introspective mood, pondering what it means to be a journalist, a father, a Mexican, a man. Some of what we see of this inner journey is in his head, some of it isn’t. Which is which? Even Silverio finds it hard to answer that one.

It'd be tempting to say that Bardo looks like nothing you've seen before, but in fact it looks like lots of things, some of which I've seen very recently. At the beginning, it reminds me of how I felt watching EO yesterday, as Iñárritu presents you with one extraordinary image after another. But after a while, the more-is-more aesthetic starts to get a bit wearing, and I start thinking about another film I saw yesterday, Foolish Wives, and how that one in its lesser moments looks like a director showing off how much money he's been given to play with. (Birdman, I suspect, killed off my enthusiasm for his long takes full of... stuff, because they never seem to serve any narrative purpose: they're just there to look cool.)  Eventually, it becomes apparent that what you're watching is Iñárritu's equivalent of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, in which he gets to work out his mid-life crisis on camera and doesn't care how self-referential you find it. (Self-referentiality comes with the territory, I guess – at one point a former colleague confronts Silverio with a critique of his work, which turns into what sounds like a critique of the film we're watching.)

Does that make it a bad film? On balance, not really. It's wildly ambitious and tries to do absolutely everything cinema can do, as illustrated by one of the key incidents in Silverio's life being played for broad comedy in the opening scenes and then for something else entirely at the end. In between, there are flashes of genius interwoven with stretches of self-indulgence - personally, the film lost me about two thirds of the way through, before getting me back with its ending. But for all that, it's definitely a piece of cinema, and if you're going to watch it then it deserves better than being watched on your phone on Netflix.

Godland6.00pm: Godland [trailer]

It was three years ago, at LFF 2019, that we went to see a film starring Björk and started dropping hints about something involving Iceland in the very near future. Well, the pandemic got in the way of that, but we finally visited Iceland earlier this year in a seriously over-documented holiday. As ever, we were looking to see a local film while we were in another country, and at one point Godland was definitely on the shortlist. Unfortunately, it wasn’t showing in Reykjavik during the few days we were in town, so we had to make do with Allra Síðasta Veiðiferðin, which was dogshit.

Thankfully, Godland is in the LFF Official Competition this year, so we’ve finally had a chance to catch up with it. Back when we were doing our prep for the Iceland holiday, the promotional image for the film grabbed your attention immediately – a priest half-collapsed on a beach where he’d obviously just landed after an arduous journey, carrying some sort of religious equipment on his back. Seeing the film fills in a lot of the gaps in that description: the priest’s name is Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove), and he’s sailed from Denmark at the tail end of the 19th century, on a mission to construct a new church in a remote part of Iceland. He’s been warned in advance of the dangers inherent in the journey: the people speak a weird language, their volcanoes smell like beshitted pants, and the constant daylight sometimes sends people potty. (The BBG and I find ourselves both nodding in agreement as these facts are listed in the film.)

As for that religious equipment: that turns out to be one of those new-fangled cameras they've just invented, because Lucas is hoping to get some rare pictures of this exotic island and its people. His key contact in Iceland is local guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), and it's probably a bad sign that the two fail to hit it off almost immediately. The journey across Iceland to the proposed site of the church is indeed hard work, but the problems don’t stop once Lucas gets to his destination.

Director Hlynur Pálmason – coincidentally, his previous film A White, White Day was our other possible choice of Icelandic film in LFF 2019 – has come up with something pretty special here. Shooting in a boxy 4:3 aspect ratio (rather like Lucas is with his camera), there's a defiantly analogue look to the film that gives an edge of realism to the period setting. The sheer strangeness of Iceland - the barren landscape, the punishing weather, the local songs that people keep breaking into - is presented in such a way that you could either embrace it or run away from it in terror, and ultimately the film's about which of those choices Lucas takes. Pálmason is especially terrific at showing how the constant daylight messes with your sense of time, with some spectacular sequences following the landscape from season to season, somehow always changing but always staying the same. Another long film (two hours 20 minutes in this case), Godland may have quite a deliberate sense of pacing, but it's never ever dull. You might even  fancy a trip to Iceland after seeing it.


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