4.15pm: They Came Back
They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Merde! could be the title of this if it was a Sufjan Stevens song rather than a French movie. Over a period of about two hours, seventy million people across the planet have suddenly risen from the dead - thirteen thousand alone in one French town. They're a bit slow now, verging on the autistic, but otherwise reasonably healthy. At least three members of the town council have been reunited with formerly deceased relatives as a result - the mayor (Victor Garrivier) with his wife, Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas) with her former boyfriend, and Isham (Djemel Barek) with his young son.
It's an intriguing premise, and director Robin Campillo plays it as cerebral science fiction rather than as a zombie horror flick. Which is fine by me - recently, Primer pulled off a similar trick with the time travel story. It's interesting to see that only one small child asks the burning question "what was it like when you were dead?" - for everyone else, the dead are less of a source of wonder, and more a problem to be solved. And the focus is very clearly on that problem: all the revenants have been dead for up to ten years, their relatives have grieved and moved on, their jobs have been given to other people, and suddenly there are seventy million people who need to be reintegrated back into society.
I don't have a problem with a genre premise being reworked for a film of ideas. However, you really need to have more than two ideas to make it work. And once Campillo has set up his intriguing premise, he faffs around for some considerable time not knowing how to develop it. Eventually he loses his nerve at the climax, and resorts to the time-honoured method of Blowing Shit Up to give his film an ending. What he really needed to do was to follow through on those initial ideas with as much rigour as possible, or just go all-out commercial and make Jean Of The Dead: this halfway house approach isn't going to satisfy anyone.
6.30pm: An Enticing Proposition
Nick Cave and John Hillcoat should, of course, be familiar from yesterday's screening of The Proposition. This cheesily titled event is an on-stage discussion on the making of the movie, featuring the writer and director, and hosted by Screen International journalist Nick Roddick. He's not a terribly good host, and by the end Cave and Hillcoat are slightly taking the piss out of him: one of Roddick's lengthy scene analyses is greeted with a long silence followed by "You got it! Well done!" However, the two of them are talkative enough to keep the evening moving under their own steam.
The talk is organised by the good people at The Script Factory, meaning that the focus is on the process of writing the script - obviously interesting in this case because Cave has previous form writing in other forms, notably songs. He's amusingly dismissive of the process of scriptwriting: during the closing Q&A, he gets into a lengthy debate with a screenwriter in the audience who can't quite believe Cave's claim that he wrote the first draft in three weeks ("hitting the space bar to get the names lined up in the centre of the page was the hardest part"). A song can take Cave at least a month to craft, mainly because the hardest part is finding a theme to write about. Here, Hillcoat gave him the basic theme of an Australian Western to work on, and Cave then saw his job as "making up a set of characters and getting them to write the script for me."
Hillcoat's main role in the writing process was to read the pages Cave sent him each day and provide guidance as required. Hillcoat did most of the historical research, and could act as a sounding board for any questions Cave had about the period. (He claims to have just read one or two books about the Aboriginal situation, but no more - "it's only a film script...") Hillcoat and Cave also talk about the structure of the script (Cave's plan was to set up the premise in the first five minutes, then let the characters take it from there), their influences (this period's been largely ignored by Australian cinema, but the debt to The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith is gratefully acknowledged), and the pressure they were under from outside forces to make a more conventional narrative (some of which they gave into and still regret). We also get three long clips from the movie, which have got me itching to see it again. A fascinating evening, and the sort of event that makes film festivals worth all the effort.
9.00pm: Shin Sung-Il Is Lost
South Korean cinema, as you may have noticed, continues to thrive on the festival circuit (or at least on the bits of it where I hang out). Shin Jane's movie marks a rare foray for the territory into the LFF's Experimenta section. Shin Sung-Il (Cho Hyun-Sik) is a young boy living in a hellish Christian orphanage, along with a bunch of similarly disadvantaged kids. The orphanage director (Ye Soo-Jung) has brought the children up to believe that food, rather that sex, is the primary cause of Christian shame. As a result, the kids spend all their time eating Choco Pies in the toilet and under the bed where nobody else can see them, while the director and the orphanage guard secretly pig out on stirfry. When new girl Lee Yung-ae (Moon Seul-Ye) comes into the orphanage with knowledge of how eating works in the outside world, trouble inevitably follows.
Shin Sung-Il Is Lost is almost as thin on ideas as They Came Back was earlier today, but manages to scrape by on gentle sacreligious charm for a reasonable part of its running time. There's a lengthy, tedious punishment sequence at its centre which threatens to derail the film completely - actually, in the end it does, but in an interestingly unexpected way. But in the end this would probably work better as an extended short than a 100 minute feature, and the end credits bear this out - they feature an entire plot synopsis for a sequel, which amusingly takes the themes and structure of the film we've just watched and waters them down for comedy effect. And that only takes three minutes.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Cineaste - This was clever stuff. Godet's film looks at the stresses and strains everyone's feeling within a small company run by an exploitative brute, and what happens when an otherwise well-meaning employee is pushed just that bit too far.
Olivier Gourmet plays the ubiquitous Francois, and gives a commanding performance. Well it had to be commanding, because for the first part of the film I couldn't help thinking how, with his small square-rimmed glasses, he looks a dead ringer for Eric Morecambe. Although not exploited as much as some of his colleagues, he's not immune himself from his boss's overbearing tactics, and is forced to cancel his family holidays, much to his wife's dismay. The film develops with various scenarios at the company, showing that it's a simmering melting-pot of tensions and grievances. Something has to give, and it still makes me flinch just thinking about it.
The one criticism I have is that you get a momentous event about half way through, which means afterwards you're expecting the rest of the film to build up to a grand finale which never really happens. Which is a shame, because otherwise this was a very creditable noirish thriller, well-paced and well-acted. And it's also got Julie Depardieu in it who, I hardly need add, is a helluva lot better-looking than her dad.
The Cineaste - 'Twas a balmy October evening in Leicester Square…. which was just as well, 'cos I seemed to be queuing for bloody ages to get into this film. And the queue was a dual-purpose one, with folk also queuing for another late evening movie, so I wasn't sure how many tickets the cinema would have to sell before I had chance of getting one. Add in some sharp queuing practices (a pair of women of a certain age who claimed they'd "reserved" their place immediately in front of me, and then were joined by some more mates), and I could sense my chances of getting to see the film were dwindling down to zero. But lo I did get a ticket - just about the last one - right at the front, almost at the extreme widest point, and with a ferocious blast of icy air from the air conditioning shooting down by back. It'd better be a good one to make it worth while. And wow, it was.
This was a fun movie about groups of people going about their business in a normal suburb of Barcelona. The situations they're in might seem unremarkable - two young lads working in a supermarket, thinking of birds, booze, Bruce Lee and football (we even get to see a poster of David Beckham), a bloke running a tapas bar whose wife leaves him, which leaves the whole operation in a big mess, an elderly couple trying to supplement their pension - but it's the amusing situations, ideas and dialogue which bring this film to life. Very enjoyable, some great laughs, some very Almodovar-like humour, and an upbeat tone throughout. And there's a lot of cooking, so it makes you ravenous and come out at the end wanting to feast on a banquet. Now, I wonder what I do with this pot noodle thingy…..
Twist of Faith
The Cineaste - As is customary with operations at the Ritzy, serial (if not serious) delays are standard practice, so that five minutes after the scheduled start time we were already about half an hour late (yeah, OK, I think I've copied that directly from one of Spank's previous LFF reviews).
This is a staggering and sometimes harrowing documentary looking at many cases which have recently come to light of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the USA. The footage is often shot by the protagonists themselves, showing them at home, talking about their own story with friends and family, or how they're going to deal with it, interspersed with scenes from the trial of one (now defrocked) priest who turned out to be a serial abuser. There is no voiceover but intertitles add in any necessary information.
The fulcrum of the documentary revolves around the case of one man, Tony Comes. Now 34, married with a young family, he moves house and soon afterwards has a heart-stopping moment when he sees the priest who abused him when he was a young lad. Fr Dennis Gray lives just five houses down the same street - and 20-odd years of Comes' buried emotional history comes gushing up inside him, unstoppable. We get insights into this turmoil he's suffered, and comments from his wife. Gradually he finds out that several of his fellow classmates at school were abused and they get together to offer each other mutual support. What makes all these abused so disgusted is that the church authorities (bishop and auxiliary bishop) knew about the cases but did absolutely nothing.
The documentary was quite moving as Comes and his childhood friends come to terms with their past ands bring lawsuits against Dennis Gray. What struck me as incredible was the equanimity his friends and family (wife and mother amongst others) showed when talking about his abuses. The whole documentary was very sensitively handled without ever being mawkish or sentimental.
As an on/off Catholic all my life, the one thing about the church I find reprehensible is its tendency to airbrush anything unsavoury from its past (reference The Magdalene Sisters two or three years back). This was a brave and bold film, and should be obligatory viewing for all Catholic authorities from archbishops down to seminarians.
The Cineaste - Fabulous stuff. Dominik Moll made the dark thriller Harry He's Here to Help a few years ago, and Lemming continues in the same vein, only more pronounced. Alain (Laurent Lucas) is a whizzkid techie, and seems to have the ideal life - great job, great wife, great lifestyle. One evening he has his boss and his wife (Charlotte Rampling) to dinner, and things start getting unusual from then on. For the first half of the film it's more-or-less conventional thriller, but then events take a deliciously surreal turn, with twists to the plot a-plenty. The great thing about the film is that it was totally unpredictable, it was impossible to second-guess what might be happening next.
Sandra Hebron introduced Dominik Moll beforehand to say a few words - he didn't say much, but what he did say was very reassuring - "if you can't seen to follow the logic and get lost, don't worry - it's supposed to be like that."
Hugely engrossing with strong acting.
The Cineaste - The idea was a good one. Take a major international express - the Sud Express runs from Paris to Lisbon - and use it as a vehicle to look at various people along its route, and how the train might link them. Only it just didn't work. We get scenes of cabbies arguing in Paris, immigrants in Lisbon trying to earn a living, and various other individuals, but their lives were so banal, ordinary and unremarkable that I really can't remember much about them. The trouble with the film was there just wasn't any major story/plot/thread to make it interesting viewing. No obvious beginning, no middle, no end. Just a couple of hours afterwards I can't even remember how it ended, other than that it came at no obvious denouement whatsoever.
Now a film where very little happens doesn't have to be a non-event, it only needs some enthusiasm for life's affirming themes - love, food, humour, philosophy, whatever. This film had none of these things - it really was a tedious disappointment.
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