11.45am: Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar
Is there such a thing as a Catholic work ethic? You know, something like a Protestant work ethic but with more guilt attached? It's just that I felt a bit lazy this morning after only seeing two films yesterday. (I'd actually bought tickets for three, but the Q&A for Siegfried And Roy: The Magic Box overran to such an extent that I had to pass up on seeing Night Train.) Anyway, I'd originally only got three movies planned for today, but on a whim I decided to follow up Old Lag's rave review from Sunday and catch an early morning screening of the film that's either called Dr Ambedkar or Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, depending on which version of the LFF programme you read. I'm going for the title that appeared on the opening credits: I'm too lazy to go back and change Old Lag's review to match, but it's the same film, trust me.
Jabbar Patel's film tells the true story of the title character. Born into the lowest caste of Hindu society in India, he spent his life fighting against his "untouchable" status and for the rights of the millions of others forced into a miserable life by an accident of birth. Untouchables were prevented from drinking water from sources used by higher castes, forced into the worst jobs and housing, and routinely attacked and beaten. Ambedkar gave these people a voice and attempted, during his 30 years in politics, to bring about social equality in India.
This is a good, solid, old-fashioned biopic, telling the life story of a man whose contribution to Indian history has been somewhat glossed over: his campaign was considered a dangerous irrelevance that could potentially harm the country's simultaneous attempt to gain its own independence. Indian movie star Mahmootty is charismatic enough in the title role to make Ambedkar's struggle believeable, and the events of the period are carefully given a dramatic structure, so that we understand the circumstances in which drinking water could be considered as a revolutionary act. It's a long film (around three and a quarter hours), but its length is well used to get across the slow process required to bring about change to the basic principles of Hinduism itself. There's also a very interesting portrayal of Gandhi by Mohan Gokhale: after his saintly treatment by Richard Attenborough, it's a bit of a shock to see him depicted as merely a cunning politician (and one who was in constant conflict with Ambedkar's views). If there is a flaw to the film, it's the truly abominable post-sync dialogue dubbing, which seems to affect every performer with the exception of Mahmootty. That apart, a fine piece of work.
3.00pm: Topsy Turvy
While we're on the subject of Catholic guilt and related matters, one of the major warping experiences of my childhood was being part of the chorus in a production of The Mikado at my Catholic all-boys school. The absence of money for costumes meant that the chorus all hid in the orchestra pit and didn't have to dress up, which was fine by me. The absence of girls meant that the female leads had to all be played by boys with unbroken voices who did have to dress up. It was all fairly traumatic and I thought I'd blocked it all from my memory, until I saw Topsy Turvy and found myself humming the alto part of all the chorus numbers. (Yes, alto. I was young, they hadn't dropped yet.)
Mike Leigh's Topsy Turvy is, of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan project he's been promising us for some time now. It's 1885, and the popular partnership of librettist William Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) is on the rocks. Their last comic opera, Princess Ida, is doing unspectacular business. Gilbert is losing faith in his talent following some bad reviews: Sullivan is desperate to break free and write more serious music. The two struggle to come up with a new work to put on the stage of the Savoy, but draw a blank... until the day Gilbert visits an exhibition of Japanese culture, and the seeds of The Mikado are sown. The rest of the movie takes through the production process and all the way up to the opening night.
Obviously this isn't your typical Mike Leigh territory. It is, however, a fantastically entertaining film, and its two hours and forty minutes fly by like that. (Although if you're not particularly fond of the music of G&S, you may feel it takes a lot longer: there are several numbers from The Mikado and other operas, and they're all performed more or less in their entirety.) At the centre of it all is the chalk-and-cheese relationship between the two leads: Gilbert a grumpy craftsman incapable of accepting praise for his own work, Sullivan the artist always striving for something greater than what he's doing now. But all the performances are superb, especially those by the cast of the production of The Mikado which climaxes the film. Timothy Spall excels as the conceited Temple, a jolly figure of fun until the heartbreaking scene where his main song is cut, and there's also fine support from Shirley Henderson, Kevin McKidd and Martin Savage. A mention too for Dick Pope's photography, which lights up the screen in a orgy of gaudy colours, notably in the musical numbers. All in all, a witty, beautiful looking gem, even if you ignore the music.
6.30pm: Savage Honeymoon
Heads up Lee, this one's yours.
The Savages are a West Auckland family going through some hard times. Mickey (Nicholas Eadie) and Louise (Perry Piercy) have been married ever since their biker days, but the magic seems to have gone out of their relationship. Son Dean (Craig Hall) is furious over the marriage of his ex-girlfriend: daughter Leesa (Sophia Hawthorne) is desperate to start riding the family motorcycle herself, despite her parents' fears following Dean's recent crash: and through it all drifts Mickey's mother (Elizabeth Hawthorne), fag in one hand, drink in the other, always getting in the way.
When all their troubles are brought to a head by the arrival of large quantities of stolen goods in their garage, Mickey and Louise hook up the trailer and go off on a second honeymoon to sort things out, inadvertently bringing the rest of the family with them. But when they arrive at the trailer park where they used to hang out, they find it's changed a hell of a lot over the years. And as they'll discover over the course of a couple of days, sometimes you just can't go back again.
Written and directed by West Aucklander Mark Beesley, this is another New Zealand comedy that'll play a festival or two and then never be seen in the UK again: which is a pity because, a few rough edges in the visuals and sound aside, this is a pretty enjoyable romp. Sure, the characters go through a predictably Antipodean arc of despair and heartbreak before the upbeat ending, but the journey is always worth taking, accompanied as it is by some agreeably rude dialogue. It's also amusing to watch the Savages tear through the newly-gentrified trailer park like a dose of salts, dragging neighbours into their raucous parties and throwing Calor Gas cylinders onto bonfires for entertainment. If nothing else, Savage Honeymoon is a rare reminder that middle-aged married couples can still have fun.
8.45pm: Manolito Four Eyes
Manolito Four Eyes comes from Miguel Albaladejo, the director of The First Night Of My Life. The only reason you could probably have for knowing his earlier film is because you read the review of it in last year's LFF diary, as (in the UK at least) it's shown no signs of getting a release since. If this film receives the same treatment it'll be criminal, as Albaladejo has progressed in leaps and bounds since his debut.
Young Manolito (David Sanchez del Rey) is nicknamed 'Four Eyes' by his friends: mind you, his friends have nicknames like 'Big Ears' and 'Dirty Drawers', so he doesn't mind too much. He lives with his neurotic mother (Adriana Ozores), his doting grandfather (Antonio Gamero) and a younger brother he refers to only as The Moron. Manolito does have a father (Roberto Alvarez), but he's away from home for large periods of time driving his truck to make ends meet. With no money for a family holiday, Manolito has to stay in his village while all his friends go away, and the film follows his attempts to keep himself occupied during the long summer.
Based on a comic strip by Elvira Lindo, Manolito Four Eyes hilariously captures that supremely paranoid phase of childhood where every minor setback is treated as an apocalyptic event. (Don't tell me it was just me who felt that.) Manolito's almost continuous voiceover takes us through his increasingly comical despair as he suffers a duff school report, the pranks of his imbecile brother, and the frequent disputes between his parents. But when he's given the chance to accompany his father on a trucking trip, he gradually gets to learn that life isn't so bad really. David Sanchez del Rey is a joy in the lead, a child star who lacks that punchable quality that so many of them have: he's on screen and/or narrating more or less for the whole film, and Albaladejo and Lindo's script gives him plenty to work with. Witty and charming, with a final shot (see photo) that sends audiences away very happy indeed: if you want to know why, demand to see this film released in your country.
Notes From Spank's Pals
The Virgin Suicides
Ken - Yet another movie I really enjoyed. What's happened to all the lousy movies that make you wonder why you ever bought the ticket in the first place? This year's LFF is getting quite disappointing in that respect. [I'll see if they can arrange another screening of Humanity for you - Spank] This has all the feel of a US Indie, and I suppose can be officially described as such - what Hollywood studio would have financed a film about suicides? It has a cast however which most Indie directors would kill for, including Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, James Woods and Danny De Vito. Neither Turner or De Vito are recognisable under their make-up however. How did an unknown director in her first feature managed to put together such a cast? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the director is Sofia Coppola, daughter of the film's producer Francis Ford Coppola. I can't tell you much about the film without giving away the plot, but it is told from the viewpoint of a group of boys in a small town who know the five Lisbon sisters, one of whom has just attempted suicide. As for the 'Virgin' part of the title it might apply to four of the sisters (Kirsten Dunst is put to good use) - either that or this is a Richard Branson sponsored production.
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