1.30pm: The Big Brass Ring
The story goes like this: in 1982 Orson Welles wrote a political thriller called The Big Brass Ring with his regular collaborator at the time, Oja Kodar. Like most of Welles' projects in later life, this screenplay ended up in a drawer and never got made... at least in his lifetime. Now director George Hickenlooper (previously best known for Hearts Of Darkness, the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now) has taken this screenplay and adapted it to produce the movie seen here.
The election of Governor for Missouri has added interest this year, because both of the main candidates are running as independents: the charismatic Blake Pellerin (William Hurt) and the not-played-by-a-famous-actor-so-obviously-not-as-charismatic Sheldon Buckle (Ron Livingston). With only a few days to the poll, it looks like Pellerin could just take the post and be on his way to the White House. However, lurking in the background is his former mentor Kim Mennaker (Nigel Hawthorne), who seems determined to drag skeletons out of Pellerin's closet. What was their relationship in the past? Is that really Pellerin in those dodgy gay porn photos? And where does Pellerin's brother Billy, missing presumed dead in Vietnam, fit into all of this?
The film's history means that unfortunately, you spend all your time trying to decide who wrote what rather than caring about the story. Welles' original screenplay was set in 1980, and was centred on a scandal involving Pellerin's affair with a Vietnamese woman: Hickenlooper's adaptation ditches this in favour of overwrought plots involving long-lost brothers and compromising photos, neither of which were in the original. The top-line cast (including Miranda Richardson as Pellerin's wife, and Irene Jacob as an unconvincing reporter) certainly do their best with the script, but its tone is all over the place: one minute coming up with some beautifully biting one liners ("the public will always choose a bigot over a faggot - check your history"), the next shoehorning obvious references to Welles' earlier work as in-jokes (Citizen Kane and Chimes At Midnight are both quoted here, and there's a link to both Welles and Hickenlooper in the allusions to Conrad's Heart Of Darkness).
The Big Brass Ring was made for television (Showtime Cable in the US) and it shows, particularly in the flat shooting style and heavy reliance on huge closeups, which don't quite work when it gets an outing on the big screen. It's not bad for a TV movie, but don't expect another Welles classic. Though I did like the bit with the farting monkey.
3.30pm: The Bridge
It used to be the case that every LFF had at least one Gérard Depardieu film in it. Judging by his entry in the IMDB, Depardieu's work rate is still as insanely high as ever, it's just that less and less of it makes its way over the Channel. This makes the appearance of The Bridge especially welcome, particularly as it also marks Depardieu's second film as a director, in close collaboration with Frédéric Aubertin.
We're in a small town in Normandy in 1962. George (Depardieu) and Mina (Carole Bouquet) have been married for 15 years, for reasons primarily to do with their 15 year old son Tommy (Stanlislas Crevillen). To make ends meet, George has to take a job working on the construction of a bridge, which requires him to live away from home five days a week. With her husband away on weekdays and too tired to do anything at weekends, it's not surprising that when Mina meets Matthias (Charles Berling) at the cinema, their initial talks about favourite soppy movies develop into something potentially more damaging.
Gosh, a French film about a married woman's adultery, that's a first. But co-director Frédéric Aubertin said in the post-film Q&A that his and Depardieu's aim was to try and do something different with standard material, and I think they've succeeded. For one thing, the approach is totally non-melodramatic: it's accepted that these things happen to people, and we watch them try to work something out like grown-ups. Even the brief confrontation between George and Matthias doesn't amount to more than a few seconds of shouting and pushing that quickly fizzles out: nobody's being judged as being right or wrong here, nobody has to be punished for what they've done. (Compare and contrast with Alain Leblanc's source novel Un Pont Entre Deux Rives, which ends with Mina dying of cancer.)
Depardieu is in fine form as ever, but as he spends long periods of the movie working away, the acting honours go to Carole Bouquet. An actress previously notorious for her untouchable ice-maiden image, she started to show cracks in her persona when she sent it up mercilessly in Michel Blanc's Grosse Fatigue a few years ago. ("I'm sick of being cold and inaccessible! FUCK ME LIKE A SECRETARY!") The Bridge is evidence of a full-blown thaw: there's a real warmth in her performance here that I've not seen before, which could be the start of a whole new lease of life for her career. And a quick word in praise of the meticulous design and costume work, which establishes the period as effectively as the soundtrack of cheesy sixties French pop (notably a French version of Lance Percival's Shame And Scandal In The Family).
6.30pm: Jesus' Son
Directed by Alison Maclean, responsible for the highly regarded Crush a few years ago, Jesus' Son takes its title from Lou Reed's song Heroin. It follows the adventures of a seventies junkie (Billy Crudup) who's never actually called by his real name: given the catastrophic effect he tends to have on other people's lives, he's known almost universally as Fuckhead. Over the period of a couple of years we watch him drifting in and out of dead-end jobs, cleaning up, getting hooked again, and trying to maintain his relationship with Michelle (Samantha Morton), the one constant thing in his ever-changing life.
Jesus' Son fits quite nicely into the picaresque template of the junkie movie that Trainspotting defined a few years ago: a series of disconnected vignettes held together by a central narrator, veering from the comic to the horrific. By its very nature, such a film is going to be patchy, and during the duller bits you find yourself waiting for the scenes where some pretty big names do brief walkons (notably Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary and Holly Hunter).
But the bits that do work, work splendidly. Fuckhead's narration is a nice pointer to the state of his mind, all hesitations, repetitions and backtracks to things he forgot to tell us earlier. Crudup's not bad in the role, but it's current Time Out cover star Samantha Morton who lives up to all the hype she's currently being showered with. The doped-up feel is beautifully enhanced by Adam Kimmel's photography (with grainy overblown hues and unexpected drifts in focus) and some wild hallucinatory scenes, notably one featuring a chorus of cotton wool balls crying "help us". And if there's a funnier scene anywhere else involving a man with a hunting knife stuck in his eye, I want to hear about it.
8.30pm: The Girl On The Bridge
Like Ang Lee, Patrice Leconte is one of those directors it's virtually impossible to pigeonhole. Dark voyeuristic drama (Monsieur Hire), zany misogynist comedy (Tango), period costume drama (Ridicule)... it's difficult to come up with any connecting thread in his filmography, other than his unnatural ease in whatever genre he tries to take on. Here in The Girl On The Bridge, he presents the story of two lovers as a kind of fairy tale, rather like Leos Carax in Les Amants Du Pont Neuf: but where Carax closed down bridges, let off fireworks and spent ludicrous amounts of money to get the feel he wanted, Leconte seems to achieve it almost effortlessly.
When we first meet Adèle (Vanessa Paradis), she's telling the story of her life, and how she's made a multitude of bad choices throughout it. Reaching the end of her tether, she stands on a bridge over the Seine, preparing to throw herself off. She's rescued from her fate by Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), an unemployed knife-thrower who cruises the bridges of Paris looking for suicidal girls who can work for him as his target, because they won't mind too much if he makes a mistake. With nothing to lose, Adèle takes him up on his offer, and predictably their relationship soon goes beyond the professional.
As with today's other French bridge movie, the film's charm is not so much in its story as in the manner of its telling. A traditional boy-meets-girl story is supercharged into something wholly other by means of its style: the hyperactive black and white photography, the snappy editing, the surreal twists and turns of the story. Auteuil and Paradis make a great couple that you positively end up willing together, as in all the best romantic comedies. Sure, in the end it's fluff, but it's magnificent loveable fluff that sends you out of the cinema with a big cheesy grin on your face. In short, it's not Humanity.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Ken - The Limey is Terence Stamp, reprising the role of a cockney crook named Wilson he played in Poor Cow in 1967. Now Wilson is out of prison and has flown to L.A. to avenge the recent death of his daughter. The director (Steven Out of Sight Soderbergh) inserts shots from Poor Cow as flash backs. Unfortunately he also inserts far too many flash backs to recent events, with the result that in parts the action is disjointed and difficult to follow. The first five minutes of the film are particularly irritating in this respect, but get through that and the rest of the film will pay you back handsomely. There are many comedic touches - for example Wilson goes to 'take a butchers' around the baddies' house and his Yank chum assumes he's going to butcher someone. A DEA agent complains there's just one thing he doesn't understand - "every damn thing you say". If he couldn't, I'm not sure how the American audience this film was made for was supposed to understand. There is also some shoot 'em up action and human interest issues - such as what it means to be a father. A definite go see movie, and I must see if I can get Poor Cow on video.
Old Lag - Is revenge a vice? It is delicious enough to be one. Particularly when
cocktailed with a lone man's killer instinct. Terrance Stamp is Wilson, an
East End Gangster. Out from one of one of many spells in jail. He travels to
America to find out the truth behind his daughter's death. He does not
believe she died in a car crash.
The film is low key. Wilson's emotions and memory of a fractured relationship with his daughter are dealt with in flashbacks. These include sections from a film of Stamp's youth by Ken Loach, manipulated to authenticate the history behind the story. Flash forwards speculate on his desired actions without destroying, rather reinforcing the linear progression of the story. All Wilson's speeches, in Cockney, to partially comprehending Americans are cut into short, angle changing shots. It creates a sense of urgency and importance without forcing the acting up a pace. Stamp's wistful and dangerous character is well matched by the charming, wealthy but weak villain, carried off by Peter Fonda. Amusing aside: recently Brits have played the bad characters.
The film builds to the denouement in the last minutes, which I can say,
truthfully, for the first time in a movie, sent a slow chill down my old and
On a minor point, the opening song of the sound track brought an inner groan
to more modern ears. Our hippy consultant however attested to the periodicity
and brit-ness of the music. Certainly came out of this delicious mid-budget
movie without a groan.
Soho Shorts - Avid Technology Animation Awards [not LFF, but in the same building - Spank]
Old Lag - 77 minutes of excellent, non-film-festival shorts. The best were an opener about war, I guess in South America: pastels overlaying some hazy real film. The Chicken, a hen's escape from her name sake's frozen nugget factory, in sophisticated coloured pencil. Style, a superb, part film, part high-tech animated journey of a bed bug around a block of flats! Laughingly a tale, for Old Lag, of the last smoker in Britain. It was difficult to gauge the importance of computers in these films, despite close reading of the credits. Preceding these shorts, it was quite clear that the ICA gets the trendiest and cleverest cinema ads in London. Where does influence lie? They were an entertainment in themselves. PS The lack of goggle lagged product is all Spank's fault. He did not apply moral or physical amphetamine on my return from America! [Meaning, Old Lag was too knackered to book any advance LFF tickets on his return from America, and now he's trying to blame me for it - Spank]
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