1.30pm: Ten Days Without Love
It's very nice to discover that a large number of people from either Spank's Pals (Lesley, Old Lag) or Film Unlimited (CherylA, FilmFan, moto748, RichardM) are at this screening primarily on my recommendation. After all, for as long as I've been covering the Festival on this site, there's been a film by Miguel Albaladejo showing there: The First Night Of My Life in 1998, Manolito Four Eyes in 1999, Verbal Assault in 2000, and now this one. And I'm starting to get a little fed up of repeatedly saying how good he is, only to find that these films are never seen again in the UK outside of the LFF. Hopefully this'll be the one to change that, as it's his best yet.
Ten Days centres around the character of psychiatrist Miguel (Sergi López). The opening scene sets up the chaos of his life with splendid economy: not only has his wife just left him and fled the country, she's also arranged for her mother Elvira (María José Alfonso) to stay with him for a few days on medical grounds. On top of all that, Miguel has his wallet stolen by one of the endless parade of loonies that passes through his surgery: but it's while he's trying to track it down that he meets the thief's sister Jasmina (Mariola Fuentes), and things start looking up again.
After four films, I suppose I should have some sort of defined idea of why I like Albaladejo so much - I'm still not convinced that I have. But I know enough to realise that last year's Verbal Assault was a bit of a disappointment mainly because of its structure: a string of vaguely related two-person dialogues. Ten Days is a return to form because it capitalises on a couple of strengths that Assault didn't: Albaladejo's feel for character and his way with a digressive plot.
Aside from the leads (particularly López in sturdily reliable form), all the supporting characters are beautifully drawn, whether they just have a couple of lines like the patients (including co-writer Elvira Lindo as a kleptomaniac) or a large showy support role (like Geli Albaladejo - relation, presumably? - as Miguel's gobby receptionist Carola). And the plot takes a couple of surprising turns on the way to the inevitable conclusion: the revelation of the depth of Miguel's wife's betrayal is especially well handled. Lots of laughs, oodles of charm, a cracking theme song: if someone doesn't release this in the UK over the next twelve months there'll be trouble, believe me.
4.00pm: Dead Or Alive 2: Birds
Miike Takashi is another director who seems to find it difficult to break out of the film festival ghetto in the UK, though hopefully that should change soon. Since last year's screening of Dead Or Alive, the only film he's had released in this country is his touching romantic comedy Audition. But one or two of his later works can be imported on DVD from Asia (notably City Of Lost Souls), Tartan Video have bought the rights to half a dozen or so for video release here, and festivals still exhibit the odd one like his digital video experiment Visitor Q ("even the incest and necrophilia scenes pale beside the hyper-lactation scenes" - Tony Rayns, Time Out).
Dead Or Alive - and I'm going to have to give away the ending of the first film here, so you may want to look away for ten words or so - climaxed with the destruction of the entire planet in a Yakuza gunfight. It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that its sequel doesn't strictly follow on from that point: rather, it gets the same two lead actors (Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi) and puts them in another (wholly unrelated) tale of Japanese gang warfare. They play two hitmen who enounter each other while both trying to assassinate the same guy: it turns out they already know each other, and have done since they were both in an orphanage as children. They travel back to the island orphanage to escape the gang war that follows the hit, and gradually come up with an extraordinary plan to pool their talents as a force for good. But inevitably, that pesky gang war is going to catch up with them again.
This is a comparatively elegaic film for Miike Takashi: I was reminded initially of Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine, with its violent opening and closing contrasting with the surreal quiet of the middle. That isn't to say it's his most conventional film, though: along the way, we get the usual demented touches we've come to expect from this director, confounding our expectations of what a Yakuza film should deliver in a totally surprising way. Well, it would have been totally surprising if the idiot reviewer from Time Out hadn't given away the most astonishing one in her review. But along the way, we get a demonstration of the mechanics of gang warfare using three packets of cigarettes: a scene performed entirely in text messages, sent between people who are standing no more than three feet away from each other: a complex computer graphic sequence illustrating what happens when someone gets shot: and a scene involving a dead gang boss with a four foot long pixellated cock. So yes, a surprisingly understated film for this director: rumour has it, this Tuesday's Ichi The Killer could be a little more unpleasant...
Jia Hongsheng is - or rather, was - a very successful Chinese actor, as evidenced by the cheeky vox pop interviews that play over the opening credits of this film ("he looked cool, but he wasn't very good" seems to be the general opinion). After a period of success in the early nineties, he retreated from public life and spent a messy few years dabbling with heroin smoking. Zhang Yang's film is basically a document of Jia's road to recovery, notable for the unusual step of having all the lead participants - Jia himself, the sister he lived with, the parents who travelled to Beijing to intervene - play themselves in the movie.
On smack, Jia appears to have been appallingly noxious and self-obsessed. (Mind you, even though he's cured now, how self-obsessed do you have to be to play the lead in your own biopic?) Ashamed of the peasant background of his parents, he abused them at every possible opportunity and claimed he was really the son of his hero John Lennon. It didn't help that his father had a low-level problem with alcohol himself, a fact that Jia ruthlessly exploited to get his own way.
Quitting isn't an entirely successful experiment - in the end, no matter how much bravery it must have taken for Jia to portray himself as such an arsehole, you just wish someone had smacked him upside the head and got him into a clinic much earlier in the film. And the structure of the movie - it's actually the film of the stage play of the life - can be a little too tricksy at times, though the shot that first reminds us of its stage origins is wonderfully pulled off. But the acting is astonishingly good throughout: Jia's parents were both actors as well, and they're completely convincing. And it's amusing to hear what the lyrics of 'Da Betus' sound like when translated into Chinese and back into English again (Let It Be becomes Take It Naturally).
8.30pm: Surprise Film: Hearts In Atlantis
Spank's Pals have kinda given up on the Surprise Film these days: only Anna from the regular crew attended this year's. They've all been disappointed in the past and don't feel it's worth the risk. It's a shame, because I still like the buzz of the event: that electric period between the curtain going up and the title of the film appearing, and the audience reaction to that (even if it's the outright booing that Johnny Mnemonic provoked in 1995). The reaction when Hearts In Atlantis was revealed as this year's surprise was an interesting one: because there was virtually no reaction. Actually, I'm pretty sure I heard FilmFan over on the other side of the cinema yelling "noooooooooooooo!", but I could be wrong.
Still, he had a point. Adapted by William Goldman from a Stephen King novel, Hearts is a coming-of-age tale set in fifties America. Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mother Elizabeth (Hope Davis): his dad died a few years earlier leaving them struggling with gambling debts. Into their lives comes a new lodger, the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins). He pays Bobby to read him the daily paper and warn him of any 'low men' that may be snooping around town. So what's he hiding from?
Frankly, I could drop more hints, but it's not worth the effort, really. This is Stephen King in mush mode: a few bug-eyed monsters could have livened this up no end, but all we get are a couple of bits of child abuse and rape late in the story to shake it up a bit. The revelation of Hopkins' secret - which is really the core of the movie, despite all the attempts to cover it with rites-of-passage fluff - is appallingly botched: it comes virtually out of nowhere, and is hardly referred to again afterwards. And anyone who's read William Goldman's books Adventures In The Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? will be intimately familiar with all the tricks he uses here to pump up the feeble story. For all his complaints about the weakness of current Hollywood screenwriting in his books, he hasn't written a half-decent script himself since Misery ten years ago.
Oh, it's all competently directed by Scott Hicks, and the cast are fine, including the reliable David Morse playing grown-up Bobby in the framing sequences. But really, this is incredibly dull stuff that feels an awful lot longer than the trim 101 minutes it apparently lasts. A movie to put people off the Surprise Film all over again.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Ten Days Without Love
Old Lag - Ten Days Without Love is Miguel Albaladejo's straightforward romantic comedy. Miguel, a depressed psychiatrist whose wife leaves him, meets up with the vivacious Jazmina whose patient brother has stolen from the doctor and who sets about returning the goods. All the other characters are originally for the wife but get turned around to Miguel by the end of the film. There were lots of guffaughs from the women in the Leicester Square audience so the film worked as it set about to. It would not stand up to any detailed scrutiny. The one interesting thing about it was that Jazmina was in her late thirties and with complicated family ties. This beat the stereotype of advertising's Oxo family where an older man is tied with a younger woman - see also Sleepless in Seattle. A good fun film.
The Cineaste - YOICKS! This film gave me an initial, severe cultural shock, as I found I had made an enormous and embarrassing faux-pas, the equivalent of, say, a BR manager catching the wrong train at Bristol Temple Meads. No, I didn't find myself watching the wrong film, but, for some reason, I was expecting
Mostly Martha to be an Aussie film, and was looking forward to my first
English-language film of the festival, when all of a sudden this Kraut one
turns up. What sneaky NFT sod swapped them over at the last minute?
With calm assuredness MM reveals itself to be a hugely enjoyable and
exuberant romp through German gastroland. Martha's life revolves very
successfully, albeit rather one-dimensionally, around her career as a
brilliant chef in a high-class restaurant. Several scenes are shot in the
kitchen, giving a genuinely contented foodie feel. Blessedly, said kitchen
is staffed by sane and sensible people, a world apart from Gordon
Ramsay-type monsters. Gradually developments crop up in Martha's life, a
situation which brings potential difficulties. The consequences are
handled sensibly and with intelligent humour, enhanced by Martha's amusing
visits to her therapist. The main plot could have been a rather tired and
cliched one, but the well-weighted subplots, and the clever handling of the
whole, maintain the storyline's originality and steer the film well clear
of the formulaic woman-meets-man-whom-she-originally-doesn't-
both-fall-madly-in-love plot. Overall, a fun and feelgood film, in the
The ensuing Q & A session (with the film's director and lead actress)
provided the icing to the cake: some wag cheekily asked (to lead actress
Martina Gedeck) "Did you have any cookery lessons before filming?" "Yes,
because beforehand I didn't have a clue how to cook." Star rating: four.
SeaPea - Well I went in there knowing I would like it. Given I love German cinema, food, Italy and romance, I was not disapointed. Terrific film about how a woman can have everything - good job, sex, emotions, children and of course the sun. Brilliant fantasy ending which I aspire to - but it is only a film.
Dead Or Alive 2: Birds
Old Lag - Some Japanese gangsters vs Triad claptrap. Characters escape a hit and return to their childhood haunts. Bloated over complicated nonsense. Why are the Japanese aping the worst of European cinema? Is Japanese cinema subsidised such that they have no heed for an audience? That this is not uncommon suggest there is too much money swilling around Tokyowood. [We can talk about this later, but for now I'll just limit myself to 'bollocks' - Spank]
The Last Kiss
The Cineaste - Adrian Wootton self-importantly introduced this screening, complete with
shockingly inaccurate pronounciation of director Gabriele Mucchino's name
[programme notes' spelling is wrong]. We may be more integrated with
Europe, we may even be more receptive to arty-farty European cinema, but by
heck lad, don't expect us Rosbifs to deign to learn any Euro-lingo-crap.
This situation was happily redeemed by some moments of genuine hilarity, as
the director himself made some comments about the film and contrived to
contradict himself at every sentence.
Last Kiss is a bit of an oddball. It's basically about coming-of-age rites, but not featuring teenagers, but progressed through life's journey by a dozen or more years, so that the protagonists are a group of long-standing friends aged around thirty. The usual suspects of issues surface. There are some promising signs that the film will not be intelligence-insulting: a hint of the idiosyncratic Almodovar humour (I've got this coke I found in my son's bedroom: I used to tell him if I ever found drugs in his room, I'd throw him out of the house; as it was, it was me who got thrown out); and a scene whereby an aeroplane passing overhead completely drowns out a strategic mobile phone conversation could be a homage to Bunuel. However, the more the film went on, the more it became apparent that it was aimed at the dumbed-down level, with comparisons with American coming-of-age films of the more nauseous kind. The continuous outpouring of Latin emotions grates after a while (about the first three-quarters of the film is almost non-stop dialogue), and you begin to wonder if the director has heard of the words "variety" and "contrast". Still, the film has been a soaraway success in Italy and, if Wootton is to believed, several other countries around the globe, so it must be doing something right. Probably one for later in the evening, after a few drinks, when the brain has switched off. Star rating: two.
Sea Pea - In two minds about this film - maybe just like Jackson. Felt like self indulgent b----s but on reflection could be an insight into the artist. Did not know anything about Pollock but like his work - interesting to gain a bit of info about him. The film lacked passion and was self absorbed but it was Ed Harris's beginnings as a director. Second film of my day that featured the upturnings of tables and car crashes as major turning points in the destiny of the protagonist.
Old Lag - The biopic of the American artist Jackson Pollock. Directed by and starring Ed Harris and his wife Marcia Gay Harden, both of whom were nominated for Oscars this year: with Marcia winning the Best Supporting Actress award for playing Pollock's wife, the artist Lee Krasner. As we discussed it down the pub afterwards, we felt somehow the film was not meaty or complicated enough for such a difficult man and an interesting relationship. In fact it was all spelt out in a story simply told. Pollock was a man incapable of looking after himself, subject to mental illness and drink problems let alone building a career in the commercial art world. Lee Krasner felt him to be a great artist and devoted herself to supporting him and building his career. As an artist he did what he felt was right for him and was not manipulative towards the art market. Lee felt him to be needy and as much as she could handle - forsaking children for both of them. After Pollock's untimely death Lee went on to build her own art career and look after his estate for 24 years. The film was an interesting story and not told through either characters' eyes, as such it was difficult to feel involved or care about the participants. A good story all the same.
LFF Food And Drink Reviews
Sea Pea - Just because we are all dashing from one film to another does not mean we have to eat pizzas all the time. Rock Garden in Covent Garden are producing good meat and vegetarian dishes combined with great service. In the afternoon they have a two for one offer on alcoholic drinks. I did not take kindly to our official LFF pub [the Hand & Racket, Whitcomb St, as ever - Spank] closing at 9.30pm on Sunday. Kept quiet cause I did not want Rob D to be banned from yet another venue.
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