Kim Hopkins is a Yorkshirewoman with a Cherokee father, which curiously makes her the ideal choice to direct this documentary about life on a Dakota Sioux reservation: as she said in her Q&A afterwards, the Sioux distrust the US media so much that an American crew would never have got the access that she did. Her film follows a number of police officers who work on the Pine Ridge reservation, riding around with them on their beat. We find out about the problems encountered by present-day Native Americans that lead to crime: the wide availability of booze, the threats of damnation from Christian churches ("as bad as two boys fucking on a Sunday", says our narrator, Lieutenant Howard Brewer), the inevitable racial tensions. But there's something else too: over a period of fourteen months, the bodies of eight Sioux men have been found in the local creek. Aside from a single article in the LA Times, this has never been reported outside the res. You can see why the Sioux distrust the media.
Hopkins' film takes a long time to make its point: for the first half at least, it's little more than a Native American version of Cops. It takes a bit too long to become apparent that the Rapid Creek murders aren't going to be the main focus of the documentary, but rather a symbol of the issues facing Native Americans today: the worst form of racism is the one that makes people invisible to the outside world. The film's inventively shot, with some clever use of split screen during the police car sequences, but its argument is presented in a somewhat ragged fashion. It's one of those films which I warmed to more after hearing its director speak: she's completely honest about the flaws in the film, and the way she'd do things better in her future work.
4.15pm: Some Day In The Future
The Belated Birthday Girl has a vision. One of these days, someone will give her insane amounts of money for no apparent reason, and she'll use it to build her own cinema. The twist is this: it'll be a cinema dedicated wholly to subtitled films from non-English speaking countries, but it'll specialise in their mainstream entertainment movies, rather than the more intellectual arthouse fare that's typically imported by UK distributors. Why shouldn't we see what action thrillers and comedies from other nations look like? From the writeup in the LFF programme, you'd imagine that the Sri Lankan film Some Day In The Future would be an ideal candidate for a cinema like this. You'd be wrong.
Dhammika (Saumaya Liyanage) and Lionel (Wasantha Moragoda) are two rather crap hitmen, dragged into a political situation they don't understand - though I suspect the audience is having just as much trouble understanding it as they are. Having pulled off the assassination of a politician for their mysterious boss, they're put in his house for a few weeks to hide out until the heat dies down. They quickly get bored, escape the house and go on the run, hoping to blackmail the boss into early payment. Unfortunately, they're such idiots that they choose the location of their next hideout on the basis of a photo of a pretty girl they find in the boss' house.
I'm quoting from Cary Rajinder Sawhney's writeup from the LFF programme: "Dharmasena Pathiraja maintains on-the-edge tension in this rollercoaster ride of two small time hitmen on an out of control killing spree." Now I'm not sure what kind of shitty ramshackle 2mph rollercoasters Sawhney has been riding on lately, but he's making promises that Some Day In The Future simply isn't good enough to keep. The relationship between Dhammika and Lionel should be the key to a film like this, but it's sketchy as hell for the first two acts. And it gets worse in the third act, when an incident is thrown in randomly to crudely separate them into Good Crap Hitman and Bad Crap Hitman. Towards the end of the film, a token attempt is made to tie in the violence to the wider political situation in Sri Lanka, but it's too little too late. It's just too slow to be a decent genre thriller, while being just too thin to convince on any sort of intellectual level, so it's hard to see what it's doing in the LFF. (Other than overrunning enough to cause our first major scheduling headache of this year's festival.)
6.30pm: Curtis Hanson Guardian Interview
There was one nice consequence of getting to this event a few minutes late, following the delay of Some Day In The Future. The BBG and I walked in as they were showing some clips of director Curtis Hanson's earlier movies (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, The River Wild, LA Confidential), and we got to watch them from the back of the room while the man himself stood just a couple of feet away, waiting to take the stage. Hanson did a few minutes worth of Q&A last night following the screening of his latest film 8 Mile, and he came across as a thoughtful and articulate speaker. This interview with LFF Artistic Director Sandra Hebron just confirms this impression, although it's interesting to note that some of his quotes on the new movie are word-for-word identical to what he said last night.
Hebron takes the traditional chronological approach to Hanson's career. His initial entry point into the business was working as a writer and photographer on a film magazine, using his position to make contact with his idols like John Huston and Arthur Penn. He noticed that these directors started out as scriptwriters before making a film themselves, so that's the approach he took, not realising that the death of the studio system meant that this didn't really exist as a career path any more. Roger Corman offered Hanson the chance to direct either a women in prison flick or a biker movie: after some haggling, Hanson eventually made a Psycho rip-off called Sweet Kill. Corman took the film off him, edited in more shots of tits and retitled it The Arousers. ("I learned a lot about the value of final cut there.")
Eventually Hanson found his own voice with a series of suspense thrillers starting with The Bedroom Window, but it wasn't until LA Confidential that he got to exploit the leverage achieved by making a number of commercial successes, in order to pursue a more personal project. He discusses the main elements of this breakthrough film and how they've been important in all his subsequent work: the gathering of the right ensemble cast, the importance of location and how it should affect the story, the use of both an original score and songs, the general theme of a character who's pushed himself into a corner and needs to work out who he really is. And, of course, he talks about working with Eminem on 8 Mile, and the way that director and star had to build up a relationship of trust. Hanson made it clear to Eminem early on that he was less interested in making a vanity project than in exploring the issues of art, race and society that arose from the story, and it looks like this approach is what ultimately brought the two of them together. A fascinating and detailed interview, which you can hopefully see transcribed on Guardian Unlimited Film in the very near future.
11.00pm: The Rules Of Attraction
Speaking of FU (as we still call it despite The Guardian's desperate attempts at rebranding), talkboard regular Datta recently insisted that on the basis of a single viewing just a few days ago, the dancehall sequence of City Of God was now his favourite piece of film of all time. I'm really not sure that you can jump to conclusions like that after only seeing a film once. But if you can, then the European vacation sequence of The Rules Of Attraction is now my favourite piece of film of all time.
Roger Avary is best known for his co-screenplay credit on Pulp Fiction. His first film as writer/director, Killing Zoe in 1994, really wasn't much cop at all: if you make a crime thriller when everyone knows you as That Pulp Fiction Guy, don't be surprised if everyone compares it unfavourably to the earlier film. Eight years on, he's finally got around to a follow-up, and thankfully he's got out of Tarantino's shadow and made something that's uniquely his. Based on the Brett Easton Ellis novel, The Rules Of Attraction follows the students of Camden college in New England - notably creepy Sean (James van der Beek), cute Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) and confused Paul (Ian Somerhalder) - as they fall in and out of love with each other and indulge in all manner of decadent excesses. How decadent? Well, the fundamentalist buffoons at CAPalert apparently ran from the cinema screaming after fourteen minutes of attempting to review the film, which is always a good sign.
It's a fairly simple plot, but Avary hits it with every cinematic device known to man, and the result is a breathtaking rush. There are sequences in here - a restaurant disruption, a bathtub suicide, a messed-up drug deal, the European vacation - that will become instant cult classics. The cast are uniformly excellent, with van der Beek in particular so convincing that he might never work on Dawson's Creek again. As with Avary's other work, the morality is all over the place, and left to the audience to sort out. This may not necessarily be a good thing, given the generally crowd-pleasing nature of a lot of the film: I'm not sure what it means when a shot of van der Beek punching Jessica Biel in the face gets a round of applause from a West End audience on a Saturday night. But Avary said at the start that his aim was to get people talking rather than just accepting a film at face value, and he's certainly achieved that, leaving a packed crowd on the pavement afterwards still buzzing at 1.30 on a Sunday morning. Memo to Cary Rajinder Sawhney: this is what a fucking rollercoaster feels like.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Dancer Upstairs
The Cineaste - This film was sold out, so I joined the queue for returns, and waited. This enabled me to see the arrival of John Malkovich and lead actor Javier Bardem, to a welcome of hordes of screaming female fans. Eventually I managed to get a ticket, despite the door-staff at the head of the queue trying her best to make the process as awkward as possible (and I won’t use this experience to make a comment about OWE’s cutting-edge personnel practices, they’ve provided plenty already). So, a sold-out OWE2 for an eagerly-awaited film.
Bardem plays police investigator Augustin Rejas, called in by the government to investigate the signs of a revolution. Dead animals are being found tied to lamp-posts, with slogans proclaiming support for a president Ezekiel. Various public figures are being assassinated. But the revolutionists are difficult to track down, with no headquarters, seemingly no political agenda. What is going on? Rejas, disillusioned by the corruption rampant through the society, strives to do an honest job when the odds are against him. The film was interesting at first, a bit difficult to get a grip on. It was part thriller spoof, and as such worked well for the first hour. But then I thought it meandered weakly, and in order to resurrect itself, it turned part love story as Rejas becomes attracted to the teacher of his daughter’s ballet classes. But this was all part of the overall plot, and merely showed a human and understandable weakness on the part of Rejas. It was intriguing stuff.
Of the films I’ve seen at the LFF so far, this one is the one I’ve thought about most afterwards. At times I thought it was disjointed, at other times brilliant with my understanding disjointed. Immediately after the film I had explained to me various relevant strands to the plot the significance of which I had been unable to figure out myself, so probably there are other bits I missed the relevance of. There was quite a bit of quirky idiosyncratic humour, which certainly made it more attractive. There were some fine shots of the unnamed city, and also of the countryside. Bardem’s acting was strong, although somehow I didn’t find his character totally believable. Overall the film was an intriguing, creative effort but which left me undecided.
In A Lonely Place
Suzanne Vega Fanclub - When I was a kid there were usually two occasions when my dad would take charge of the TV and insist we all watched as a family. One would be when Mohammed Ali was taking part in a fight, the other was whenever there was a Humphrey Bogart movie on TV. Now I have pretty much seen most Bogart movies (Key Largo being the one I would particularly recommend), however I had never previously seen In A Lonely Place. Thus showing as the restored classics part of the Film Festival, this was too good to miss. To my surprise a lot of people felt the same way, as the Odeon West End 2 was four fifths full for a 1.00pm screening!
Bogart has always been the archetypal American Adam; namely the rugged, independent, self driven, anti hero. Usually he can be found as some type of private gumshoe. Here however he is a Hollywood screenwriter Dixie Steel, having the usual hassles of finishing a script from someone else's dodgy novel. Enlisting the help of a cloakroom girl to precis the story for him back at his apartment, he ends up becoming murder suspect one when she doesn't make it home in one piece. Not that this seems to initially bother neighbour Gloria Grahame who provides an alibi of sorts to the feds (just trying to use the right jargon here). Thus a tempestous affair begins between Bogart and Grahame. The problem being however, is that he has a tendency to fly off the handle for nothing, making her think that he may have murdered the cloakroom girl after all. Of course by the time the real killer coughs up, she is ready to fly away to New York to get out of marrying him, making him mad as hell, and ready to murder her. The usual sort of thing don't you know.
This made quite a refreshing change to see a film from 1950 blown up on the big screen, and retained one's interest, when one probably wouldn't give it a second glance on the TV. Bogart said in the Q&A afterwards that he thoroughly enjoyed making it, and would like to act more often, if he could still find directors working in black & white.
A Lucky Day
The Cineaste - I certainly wouldn’t question the fact that Argentinian cinema is all the rage at the moment, but having picked the exception that proves the rule for my last Argentinian film, I was just a little bit anxious that A Lucky Day turned up trumps. It certainly did.
Director Sandra Gugliotta has given us here a quite a wonderful, clever and interesting spectacle. The storyline covers four or so main protagonists: young lads and lasses, stuck in dead-end jobs, fed up with their ambitions far exceeding their reality, occasionally doing drugs. One lass, Elsa, encouraged and intrigued by her grandfather’s exotic tales of the Italy he left behind many years ago, and attracted also by the lure of rekindling a former flame, decides to head off for Rome. So she plots her journey, and despite a casual boyfriend in Buenos Aires trying to dissuade her, she heads off.
Now if all this sounds a little bit stereotypical, it certainly wasn’t. Because what makes the film so fresh and engrossing are the ideas, the direction, the shots and scenes, and some relevant subplots. Many scenes are shot outside on the streets of Buenos Aires, with jerky close-ups, quite reminiscent of Amores Perros. There were some creative and rather surreal shots with cows, set, as Gugliotta explained in the Q & A afterwards, to music she wanted to sound like Pink Floyd. And also, very poignantly, there were shots of Buenos Aires with the electricity supply failed, yet again, and the city plunged into darkness, and therefore near shambles, with people taking to the streets in protest. With disorder not very far away, the military were in attendance to keep the peace, a situation at times they had difficulty maintaining. Periodically through the film there was humour, which offset the tone quite brilliantly. All this made for a very engaging spectacle. Considering this was Gugliotta’s debut film this was a striking and impressive effort. Bravissimo.
Some Day In The Future
Suzanne Vega Fanclub - Set in current day Sri Lanka, this is the tale of two obnoxious oiks who go around hassling women, and taking part in the occasional assassination of local dignitaries. Ultimately events get ahead of them, and they end up on the run from both the local military and their boss paymaster. This is all set to the subtext of martial law, and the ongoing atrocities between the government forces and (I think) Tamil separatists.
To be honest I can't really say much on this because I didn't think it was all that good. If anything, what it did for me was reinforce what a brilliant film the recent South African movie Hijack Stories was. Nevertheless there was some interest to be had in admiring both the beautiful lush Sri Lankan landscape, and colonial infrastructure of the place.
Anyway that's my World Cinema part of the festival almost done (just tomorrow's Argie one to get through then).
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