Reviewed today: Scala!!!, Together 99, Vincent Must Die.
12.30pm: Together 99 [trailer]
Flip back to this site’s LFF 2000 reviews, and you’ll find a whole stream of warm gush aimed at Together, Lukas Moodysson’s film about the life and times of a commune in Stockholm in 1975. I loved it, the Film Unlimited people I was regularly hanging out with loved it (hi RMG), the Pals loved it when it turned up in VidBinge 2001. So the idea of a 24-years-later sequel initially appeals, until you think about it a little bit. After all, the director has gone through quite a few style changes in the last couple of decades. So which Moodysson will we get here? The one who insists that people are lovely and can all get on together, or the one who’ll reveal that the commune has been a hotbed of child abuse the whole time?
By the time we return to the Together commune in 1999, the total number of people staying there has been whittled down to two: Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) and Klasse (Shanti Roney). Göran, the eternal optimist of the group, gets uncharacteristically melancholy when he thinks about all the people who’ve drifted away since the commune’s heyday. Klasse notices this, and secretly arranges for all of the former inhabitants of Together to turn up for a surprise birthday party for Göran. It’s going to be an eventful night.
How do reunions work after the people involved have spent decades apart? Think back to the ones you’ve been to, and you’ll know the answer: you’ll start off having a great time reminiscing about the past, but gradually realise you’ll never get back to that state again. And this is the exact tone that Moodysson achieves in Together 99. You can’t complain that it’s less fun than the original, because disappointment is fiendishly baked into the very premise of the film.
Take that on board, and this is largely Moodysson in non-child-abuse mode, which is a relief. Obviously, there’s conflict (despite Göran’s best efforts), but it’s largely driven by character flaws that were already there 24 years ago, topped up with a few new ones as a result of the ageing process. Even the most pessimistic of the guests feels like a self-parody of Moodysson’s grimdark period, with Lena (Anja Lundqvist) abandoning the party at one point ‘to masturbate and think about death’. You’re almost keen to see what Together 23 would look like another quarter century down the line.
5.50pm: Scala!!! [trailer]
Full disclosure: I’m about to discuss a film that The BBG and I both put some money into. Obviously, it’s bloody great.
Back in the day, I wrote a piece for Europe’s Best Website on the history of the Scala cinema (accompanied by a wildly ambitious YouTube playlist which, twelve years later, is now completely full of holes). For most of my first decade of living in London, it was a huge part of my cinematic secondary education (taking my university film society as my equivalent of primary school). In a city that had a dozen or so repertory cinemas at the time, the Scala was the one with the most diverse programming, the biggest tendency to aim for the extremes, and the shittiest sound system. I’ve missed it hugely since it closed down about thirty years ago, and it looks like lots of other people feel the same way, given the large number of us who’ve contributed to the Kickstarter for the funding of this film.
Featuring a title with three!!! exclamation marks and the subtitle or, the incredibly strange rise and fall of the world’s wildest cinema and how it influenced a mixed-up generation of weirdos and misfits, Jane Giles and Ali Catterall arrange the story of the Scala into a handy three act structure. The early years, when The Other Cinema opened in Fitzrovia and gradually transformed into the Scala. The glory days, when they moved into a converted monkey house in sleazy Kings Cross, and programmers like Giles herself honed the mix of classic, kitsch, arthouse, horror, kung fu and porn that set them apart from all their competitors. And the end times, where one error of judgment sent the whole thing crashing down.
How can I review this objectively? I was there, and this film captures the atmosphere of the place in terrific detail, even down to the sound mix containing the subsonic rumble of underground trains that was a constant feature when you saw a film there. Giles and Catterall have assembled a fantastic array of former Scala visitors who went on to do extraordinary things creatively themselves, and who tell some glorious stories of the films and events they remember the most. Though the people interviewed seem to have seen a lot more sex, drugs and death going on in the building than I ever did.
If you were a regular visitor to the Scala, this film's full of nostalgic triggers – the membership cards, the programme leaflets, the vintage footage of the interior. And if you weren’t, the quantity, quality and subsequent careers of the film's interviewees stand as testament to the cinema’s effectiveness as a creative incubator. Studded with a ridiculous number of clips from old Scala favourites – and let’s hope their copyright lawyers are better informed than they were last time – it’s a hugely entertaining watch for anyone who enjoys the cinema experience .As far as we’re concerned, it was money well spent.
8.45pm: Vincent Must Die [trailer]
There's a trend I've observed over several years at the LFF, and I've finally decided to put an acronym to it: ASIAR. You read through the LFF programme, find a synopsis for a film that sounds a little bit odd and interesting, skip to the end to see which of their programmers is recommending it and... Ah, Shit, It's A Romney. I've been regularly disappointed by the selections of Jonathan Romney, the LFF's lead programmer for European Art Films That Are Never Quite As Good As He Says They Are, but I keep coming back to them because he keeps making the films sound odd and interesting. And to be fair, this one is actually pretty good for the most part.
Vincent (Karim Leklou) works in a design agency, and is reasonably happy in his job until the day an intern smacks him around the head with a laptop for no reason. The incident's curiously brushed under the carpet, and everyone forgets about it until a couple of days later, when another of Vincent’s colleagues tries to stab him in the office. When strangers start to attack him in the street, Vincent suspects that there’s something going on. But what is it?
As you progress further into Vincent’s hellish life, you find yourself admiring the level of control director Stéphan Castang and writer Mathieu Naert have over the pacing and narrative escalation, but also assuming there'll be a point where it'll tip over into ridiculousness. It never quite happens, but there’s definitely a drop-off in tension when you compare the first half (where it’s a surreal paranoid nightmare) and the second (when it’s pivoted to outright horror). Still, they manage to pull off a satisfying conclusion without feeling the need to spell out absolutely everything, which is refreshing in a film like this. You win this time, Romney.