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Catherine Bray’s picks for the London Film Festival 2016

Sacha Lane stars in Andrea Arnold's American Honey

Sacha Lane stars in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey

This year, narrowing down my list of picks from the London Film Festival’s stellar line up has proven even more difficult than usual – there’s such a wealth of potential riches in the 2016 line-up. My colleague Michael has also contributed his picks, so for more top choices, click here – as usual, we’ve had to fight it out over some titles. Here are the 19 I managed to bag – in alphabetical order…

All This Panic, dir. Jenny Gage

I’m a sucker for an intimate coming-of-age movie, and All This Panic, which arrives in London with great buzz out of Tribeca, is exactly that in observational documentary form, filmed over three years in Brooklyn and focusing on two sisters, Ginger and Dusty, as they navigate the perils of high school politics and teen angst.

American Honey, dir. Andrea Arnold

When Andrea Arnold’s freewheeling road movie (which embeds us within a motley crew of young drifters as they travel the US scratching a living) premiered at Cannes, I was expecting many things, but not a show-stopping scene in a supermarket set to Rihanna’s We Found Love. For that – and other reasons – I can’t wait to revisit.

Divines, dir. Houda Benyamina

Divines snuck up on me. To begin with, it felt like a fairly unremarkable girls-in-the-hood yarn, but as the characters bedded in, I found myself swept up in the energy and emotion of the piece. I’m keen to see if a second viewing can replicate that rush.

Elle, dir. Paul Verhoeven

Of all the films on my list, this is the one. This is the one that I have an urgent need to re-watch which amounts to an almost physical itch. Tough, dangerous, funny, graceful, horrifying, mischievous, mortifying, it flies along on one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from Isabelle Huppert – or indeed anyone else. (Bonus content: there’s also a Paul Verhoeven ScreenTalk scheduled – expect provocations.)

La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle

The raves greeting the world premiere of La La Land at the Venice Film Festival suggest that Damien Chazelle has not only equalled his breakout hit Whiplash, but may actually have surpassed it. Throw an appealing cast into the mix in the form of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and this could be one of the LFF’s most satisfying offerings.

Lady Macbeth, dir. William Oldroyd

Word has it that Lady Macbeth is the film that will elevate the likeable Florence Pugh to the status of bona fide star, in what is reportedly a thrillingly effective period drama driven by passion and infidelity.

LFF Connects: Television – Black Mirror
Black Mirror is one of the most exciting small screen shows of the past five years, so I’m raring to see creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, plus Joe Wright (who directs the first episode of the new series), discuss the dystopian series live.

Manchester by the Sea, dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, Manchester By The Sea is only Kenneth Lonergan’s third film as a director. Following on from the lush epic that was Margaret, if it’s even half as good as that film, it will be well worth your time.

Mindhorn, dir. Sean Foley

Julian Barratt is MI5 Special Operative Bruce Mindhorn, who has a super-advanced optical lie detector in place of his left eye, enabling him to literally “see the truth.” Sold.

Nocturnal Animals, dir. Tom Ford

Whether you loved or loathed director Tom Ford’s glossy high-end commercial aesthetic in A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals will be worth a watch. An adaptation of Tony & Susan, a strange and compelling art house page-turner of a novel, the book’s meta-textual thriller structure should provide Ford’s visual flourishes with a more robust underlying skeleton.

Planetarium, dir. Rebecca Zlotowski

Rebecca Zlotowski’s Grand Central was a memorable Un Certain Regard entry for me in 2013, with scorching hot chemistry between leads Tahar Rahim and Léa Seydoux. Her follow-up, Planetarium, was anticipated as a likely Cannes entry this year and didn’t make an appearance, so I’m now extra curious to see what a combination of Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp and supernatural shenanigans in pre-war France can offer up.

Prevenge, dir. Alice Lowe

Dating back to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Alice Lowe has always been a talent to watch, but the electrifying response from those who’ve already seen her directorial debut about a pregnant serial killer in which she also stars suggests she’s about to take it to a whole new level…

Raw, dir. Julia Durcournau

This is one I’ve already seen, but am chomping at the bit to see again. Grisly cannibal horror meets campus hijinks in a Suspiria-esque hermetically-sealed universe, where logic bends and warps as a freshman student finds herself acquiring a taste for human flesh. A must-see.

Safari, dir. Ulrich Seidl

After training an unflinching lens on the frequently bizarre goings on in Austrian basements in off-beat doc In The Basement, Ulrich Seidl brings his darkly humorous formality and impeccable composition to the world of big game trophy hunting, in what is likely to be one of the most upsetting watches of the festival.

The 13th, dir. Ava DuVernay

Tracing the history of racial prejudice in the US justice system, Ava DuVernay’s The 13th couldn’t be tackling a more timely subject. The title refers to the 13th amendment, which supposedly outlaws slavery, but contains the notable get out clause: “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

The Autopsy of Jane Doe, dir. André Øvredal

A corpse is perfectly preserved on the outside – but inside, is dissected and burned in a possibly ritualistic mutilation. It’s a grisly, gripping set-up that evokes small screen procedurals like Hannibal, a show I’ve still yet to find an effective replacement for in my TV viewing. Perhaps this will do the trick.

The Ghoul, dir. Gareth Tunley

A splendidly twisty low-budget head-scratcher from actor-turned-writer-director Gareth Tunley, The Ghoul is an auspicious debut that announces a new voice in British filmmaking. Get in on the ground floor and catch his debut now.

Toni Erdmann, dir. Maren Ade

This three hour German comedy came completely out of the left field for me when I saw it in May. There’s very little about it on paper that hints at quite how glorious, moving and funny it is – it’s a real one-off, with everything from broad comic set-pieces to heart-wrenching father-daughter bonding. Essential.

Una, dir. Benedict Andrews

After her performance in Carol last year, I will watch literally anything with Rooney Mara in, but it doesn’t hurt that the Film4-backed Una also stars the ever-brilliant Ben Mendelsohn and is based on the acclaimed play Blackbird.

 

Animal magic: a shorts round-up from the 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival

24 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Festivals, Opinion

Catherine Bray rounds up some of the most interesting shorts from the 70th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Before Love

Before Love

If the shorts I saw at Edinburgh this year had any sort of unifying theme, it might have been the projection of humanity into non-human spaces.

An experimental German short, Anome, from Lena Nissen, opens with a shot of a cat, staring impassively, the way cats do. It is used in a similar way to the cat in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, a feature film which opens with a gorgeous, well-fed pet cat staring emotionlessly as its owner (Isabelle Huppert) is raped on the floor of the apartment she and the cat both inhabit. In Anome, voiceover accompanying the image of the unblinking cat, asks:  “What do you think? Are you the evil? Or am I?”

Humans can’t keep themselves from constantly projecting human concepts onto cats, other animals and even inanimate objects – it’s one of those few traits that characterizes us as human. In Anushka Naanayakkar’s moodily affecting animated EIFF short, A Love Story, we find ourselves adrift in a world of textured wool, but the emotional tapestry into which we’re drawn is as resonant as the same narrative would be when played out by human actors. It’s a simple tale: two somewhat abstract woollen faces interact, become close and are threatened by an outside force, perhaps a parasite or simply evil itself. It’s a narrative we infer (or project) from non-human clues: the rich color palette, the eerie music, the reactions of the two faces.

Batrachian’s Ballad, from Leonor Teles, flips this dynamic on its head: instead of alien imagery made human through its presentation, the imagery is largely human and non-narrative – saturated archive footage of faces, gatherings, dancing and so on.

In counterpoint, a narrator relays an animal fable of a frog, shunned by its contemporaries before blowing poison all over them in an act of self-destruction. Among other things, it’s a reminder of the way that sometimes humans can only bear to understand their own behaviour through parables extracted from the animal kingdom.

It reminded me of the cockerel and finch sequences in six hour Miguel Gomes’ masterpiece Arabian Nights (though if you’re in a hurry, Teles’ short might serve you better at under twenty minutes).

Speaking of masterpieces, for me the crown jewel in the shorts programme was Russian animation entry Before Love, which illuminated and interrogated the human behaviours of infidelity, love, jealousy and murder in a murky, animalistic fashion in which an urban landscape (fleshed out vividly with on-point sound design) pulses like a jungle full of suppressed impulses.

A mordant feeling that civilization hangs by a thread pervaded the piece, fulfilling its promise in stormy, beautifully-lit violence as the piece neared its climax. Props to director Igor Kovalyov.

The EIFF runs 15th – 26th June 2016

 

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Five questions for Jim Gillespie

22 Jun, 2016 Posted in: Directors, Edinburgh, Festivals, Interview

We grabbed five minutes with Jim Gillespie after his Edinburgh International Film Festival directing masterclass to put five burning questions to the man behind I Know What You Did Last Summer, whose Channel 4/BFI short Joyride helped launch his career.

Joyride

Joyride

1. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the film industry since you made your Channel 4/BFI short, Joyride?

The rise of the “tent pole” movie to the exclusion of all those (often great) mid budget thrillers and dramas that used to make for a variety of choice for the audience.

2. What would you change about the film industry if you could?

The lack of risk taking and the current bias towards only financing projects based on existing IP. Original stories need to encouraged, irrespective of genre.

3. Which of your own films would you place in a time capsule for future generations and why?

Unquestionably I Know What You Did Last Summer. It hit one of those zeitgeist moments where the intended audience “got it” irrespective of any critical reaction. The title became part of the cultural ether of the time (still is), and being spoofed by The Simpsons (I Know What You Iddly-Diddly Did) was the ultimate compliment. That said, I hope my next film, Deep State (no, can’t tell you what it’s about yet) will replace it in the capsule.

4. Which other director’s body of work would you preserve for posterity and why?

The almost impossible question to answer! So many great filmmakers to preserve: Hitchcock, Wyler, Lean, Sturges, Hawks, and that’s just one small slice of one generation. But I think I’ll plump for Kurosawa. A master (in every sense) of humor, action and (most importantly) humanity. Ikiru is just a timeless classic – one of many in his body of work.

5. What’s the biggest creative risk you’ve ever taken?

Moving to Los Angeles with little more than my 10min short Joyride tucked into my bag, searching for an opportunity to tell stories on film. Changed my life.

Jim’s latest film Take Down is in cinemas 22nd August

 

Cannes 2016: Top Five Picks

23 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray rounds up her top five picks from what she saw at the 69th Cannes Film Festival across all strands.

Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade

Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade

Excluding Andrea Arnold’s Jury prize-winning American Honey (which we couldn’t possibly review on the Film4 blog since Film4 Productions funded and developed it – but for the critics’ incredible reactions, click here), here are my top picks from this edition of the venerable French festival. Although these are simply the films I’ve enjoyed the most, selected without giving any thought to trying to represent a broad range of filmmakers, it’s incredibly encouraging that three are directed by women and that they are drawn from the official Competition, Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week strands.

 

1. Toni Erdmann
Dir. Maren Ade

This comedy about a father-daughter relationship has stolen the hearts of pretty much every critic at Cannes, with very few exceptions. And it absolutely deserves to: strangely poignant and spikily well-observed, it’s the sort of film that only comes around once in a blue moon.

 

2. Raw
Dir. Julia Durcournau

The most exciting breakout in Critics’ Week, Durcournau’s first feature sees a vegetarian turn cannibal at veterinary school, which premise doesn’t begin to do justice the filmmaking fair and zest on display. The early work of Cronenberg has a new heir.

 

3. Paterson
Dir. Jim Jarmusch

Resting an entire movie on the hangdog charm of Adam Driver’s soulful eyes might sound like a reckless move before you see Paterson, but actually it works. A gentle film about a poet/bus driver, narrative incident is low, but warmth and watchability is off the charts.

 

4. Divines
Dir. Houda Benyamina

A restless, kinetic debut from Benyamina, the emotionally-involving Divines sees a couple of girls from the banlieues attempt to get rich or die trying, embracing thug life in a film that is closer to Celine Sciamma’s widely-acclaimed Girlhood than anything else. Some prizes at Cannes this year were divisive, but the Camera d’Or for this one was well deserved.

 

5. Elle
Dir. Paul Verhoeven

Grappling with difficult, dark and disturbing ideas while remaining an edge-of-your-seat and often very pleasurable watch, Elle is a confounding movie. Brilliantly realised, with probably the finest lead performance of the festival, Isabelle Huppert plays a gaming company founder who is sexually assaulted  – the character’s response is unconventional and a challenge to viewers; I’ve not seen anything like it.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

 

 

Cannes 2016: The Student showcases the ugly side of Bible verses

22 May, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Kirill Serebrennikov’s Un Certain Regard entry The Student boasts a brilliant central performance from Pyotr Skvortsov.

Pyotr Skvortsov in The Student

Pyotr Skvortsov in The Student

Cannes 2016 has been defined by a number of extraordinary performances. Sandra Hüller, in German comedy Tony Erdmann, from director Maren Ade, gave what was for my money one of the finest, outdone by only Isabelle Huppert in the late-screening Competition entry Elle, from Paul Verhoeven. Likewise, Kristen Stewart continues to prove her Twilight-era critics wrong, creating a fascinatingly frosty but layered portrait of a grieving spiritual medium in Olivier Assayas’s sinuous, multi-faceted Personal Shopper.

It wasn’t such an interesting year for male roles – with the exception of Adam Driver’s magical, low-key work in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, the only male lead performance that has truly carved itself into my brain as a standout is (relative) unknown Pyotr Skvortsov as Venya in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Russian Un Certain Regard entry The Student. (I’ve not yet seen Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake.)

The Student orbits around the central pull of Skvortsov’s performance like a solar system around its sun. Scenes often play out as long unbroken takes, with a restless, roving camera weaving and ducking around Skvortsov as he delivers relentless sermons and unambigous, often vicious quotations from the Bible to his classmates. In any other high-school film, this hyper-religious kid would be either be a tremulous Carrie-esque target for bullies or else part of the social elite – a wholesome A-grade student who is also head cheerleader, bandleader and Sunday school champion, a la Amanda Bynes in Easy A.

Venya, with his intense, smug conviction of his own righteousness, dark clothes and lithe movements evokes neither of these stereotypes. Instead, he recalls Alex Frost in Gus van Sant’s Elephant – a powerful yet embittered boy capable of violence. He’s terrifying, repellent and plausible all at once – here’s hoping we see him in more roles of this calibre.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

by Catherine Bray

Catherine is a film journalist and Editorial Director of Film4 Online. She is also the producer of feature documentaries Beyond Clueless and Fear Itself and short film Blackout.

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