Opinion

Cannes 2016: 10 Picks

14 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

Film4.com site editor and festival newbie Michael Leader selects ten films from the Official Selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival that he can’t wait to see…

Go easy on me, I’m new around these parts. Yes, this year will be my first attending the cinema calendar’s glitziest and buzziest festival, and I’m just about keeping my composure. A good start is to dive into the Official Selection, and pick a few must-see films that will act as a guiding light once the festival gets underway in May – at which point the line-up will have filled out with the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week programmes. Read on for my initial ten picks…

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The Red Turtle / Le Tortue Rouge (dir Michael Dudok De Wit)
In Un Certain Regard

Japanese animation titans Studio Ghibli may have halted feature film production, but don’t start mourning just yet, as Isao Takahata serves as ‘creative producer’ on this feature debut from Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Wit (director of the Oscar-winning short Father And Daughter), which tells the story of a man marooned on a tropical island who one day encounters a strange turtle. This is a must-see for Ghibli completists – and I’m definitely one of those – as well as anyone interested in where the field of feature animation will go now Takahata, Miyazaki and co have retired.

The Transfiguration (dir Michael O’Shea)
In Un Certain Regard

There isn’t a great deal of information knocking around about Michael O’Shea’s feature debut, but I’m all for mixing in some vampire horror with worthier Official Selection offerings. Cameos from genre notables Larry Fessenden (the hardest working man in horror) and Uncle Lloyd-y himself, Troma Studios’ founder Lloyd Kaufman, suggest this might be a crowd-pleaser.

Gimme Danger (dir Jim Jarmusch)
Out Of Competition, Midnight Screening

Jim Jarmusch, meet Jim Osterberg. After a career of saturating his fictional features with references to his favourite musicians – including roles for Iggy Pop in both Coffee & Cigarettes and Dead Man – Jarmusch here turns to the documentary format for a career overview of Pop’s pioneering Detroit proto-punks, The Stooges.

Paterson (dir Jim Jarmusch)
In Competition

Side B of Jarmusch’s Cannes long-player stars Adam Driver as a bus driver called Paterson who lives in… Paterson, New Jersey. Whether this is nominative determinism or simply clever-clever punning, we’ll have to see, but Jarmusch’s unique perspective resulted last time around in uber-cool vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive, a Palme d’Or contender in 2013 and one of my favourite films of that year.

Captain Fantastic (dir Matt Ross)
In Un Certain Regard

You might recognise Matt Ross from his career as an actor – perhaps most notably as Luis, the chap whose business card sends Patrick Bateman over the edge in American Psycho – but Captain Fantastic, his second feature as writer-director, was praised by critics on its world premiere at Sundance. Although, don’t expect your usual Sundance-dramedy fare: this tale of a dysfunctionally-progressive family is reportedly given an arthouse heft by Stephane Fontaine, Jacques Audiard’s resident cinematographer, and is capped by a charismatic performance from Viggo Mortensen, playing, in Variety’s words, “the role he may well have been born to play”.

After The Storm (dir Hirokazu Kore-eda)
In Un Certain Regard

Kore-eda last two films, Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son, both premiered in Competition at Cannes (the latter winning the Jury prize in 2013), but After The Storm brings to mind his 2008 family drama (and, in my opinion, career peak) Still Walking, with Kore-eda regulars Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe once again playing mother and son in what should be, no doubt, a gently paced, quietly devastating domestic melodrama.

Bacalaureat / Family Photos (dir Cristian Mungiu)
In Competition

One of two heavyweight Romanian directors returning to the Competition line-up this year, Cristian Mungiu follows Beyond The Hills, which won both Best Actress and Best Screenplay back in 2012 with reportedly his most personal film yet, a meditation on the complexities and compromises of parenthood.

The Nice Guys (dir Shane Black)
Out Of Competition

Just watch the trailer. Writer-director Shane Black has successfully re-vamped the buddy-comedy genre twice before, with indie gem Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, and Iron Man 3, easily the best Marvel movie to date, so here’s hoping his winning streak continues with this 70s-set murder-mystery.

The Train To Busan / Bu-San-Haeng (dir Yeon Sang-Ho)
Out Of Competition, Midnight Screening

Korean animation The King Of Pigs – a ferocious, allegorical drama set in the country’s ultra-competitive high-school system – marked out Yeon Sang-Ho as a director, and cultural commentator, to watch. The Train To Busan is his first live-action feature, and a companion piece to the yet-to-be-released animated film Seoul Station, both of which follow the spread of a virus across Korea.

Loving (dir Jeff Nichols)
In Competition

Performing a feat of Spielbergian multi-tasking, Jeff Nichols follows the sky-gazing sci-fi Midnight Special – which only premiered at Berlin back in February – with this more grounded, civil rights-themed drama, which is based on the story of an interracial couple (Ruth Negga & Joel Edgerton) sentenced to a year in prison in 1950s Virginia. It may sound like Oscar bait, but I’m intrigued to see Nichols’ spin on the award-movie formula.

Cannes 2016: 10 picks

14 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion

Catherine Bray runs her eye over this year’s line-up and selects ten films she can’t wait to watch at the 69th Cannes Film Festival

The official line-up is now locked and loaded, so time to have a rummage and work out what we’re keenest on seeing at Cannes this year. Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week have yet to announce, and as ever, it’s undoubtedly the case that I’ll walk away after the festival with favourites that came nowhere near my radar at this stage. Equally, it’s possible and indeed probable that some of what I’m currently salivating over will belly-flop spectacularly. Therein, of course, lies the excitement…

Sasha Lane as in American Honey

Sasha Lane in American Honey

American Honey dir. Andrea Arnold

In Competition

American Honey is a Film4-backed film, and perhaps since you’re reading this on the Film4 website you may be able to work out that we have a stake in this one, but I’d be excited even if that wasn’t the case: Arnold is quite simply one of the UK’s most gifted filmmakers. Word has it she has marshalled extraordinary performances from her young ensemble (including Sasha Lane, pictured above) in this director’s first US-based drama.

 

It’s Only the End of the World dir. Xavier Dolan

In Competition

Love or loathe Xavier Dolan (and there are certainly plenty who fall into the latter camp), his filmmaking is always undeniably arresting, whether it’s for a 1:1 aspect ratio, unconventional take on sexual tension or costume design fit to make established designers retire in despair. The Marion Cotillard-starring It’s Only the End of the World marks Dolan’s second film to premiere in Competition at Cannes, and, following a shared Jury Prize for Mommy in 2014, could be a good bet for a prize in 2016.

 

Apprentice dir. Boo Junfeng

In Un Certain Regard

A prison drama from the Singaporean director Boo Junfeng may not sound all that exciting on a first read, but the rumour is that this will be one of those films where we critics reel out clutching our pearls. Fingers crossed.

 

Sierra-Nevada dir. Cristi Puiu

In Competition

With a formidable tally of around 50 international festival prizes for his second feature film, The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (including the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes), expectations are sky-high for Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu’s family drama Sierra-Nevada.

 

The Handmaiden dir. Park Chan-wook

In Competition

As a passionate defender of Park Chan-wook’s Wentworth Miller-scripted Stoker (whose semi-camp, semi-serious, all-delicious sensibility certainly didn’t click with everyone), I can’t wait to see what the man who brought us Oldboy has in store for the Croisette this year. Lashings of the old ultra-violence seem the likeliest call.

 

Elle dir. Paul Verhoeven

In Competition

Paul Verhoeven (Spetters, Showgirls, RoboCop) is a filmmaker capable of everything but good taste, and pairing him with one of our greatest living actors, Isabelle Huppert, is surely a recipe for dramatic fireworks. When the Verhoeven-directed erotic thriller Basic Instinct played Cannes in 1992, it generated controversy aplenty; it could be time for history to repeat itself.

 

Personal Shopper dir. Olivier Assayas

In Competition

Kristen Stewart is shaping up to trace one of the most interesting career trajectories of any of her contemporaries, leveraging her promising early childhood roles and subsequent Twilight exposure into career choices that speak to a genuine engagement with world cinema, assisted by directors able to look beyond the vamp-loving shadow of Bella Swan. Credit for a major part of that assist goes to Oliver Assayas, who cast her in Clouds of Sils Maria, resulting in the first ever win for an American woman of a Cesar award.

 

Money Monster dir. Jodie Foster

Out of Competition

Jack O’Connell tore up the screen with Starred Up and ’71 in 2014, so it should be fun to see him as a sort of Rupert Pupkin figure opposite George Clooney, who plays the host of a television financial-advice program taken hostage by O’Connell’s character.

 

The Neon Demon dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

In Competition

I wasn’t personally a fan of Only God Forgives, which took a divisive bow in Competition at Cannes in 2013, but Nicolas Winding Refn remains a filmmaker of considerable style (leaving aside for a moment those Grey Goose vodka ads), and as a self-confessed genre fan, I’m keen to see what the billing “Los Angeles-set cannibal film about models starring Elle Fanning” adds up to in the hands of the man who brought us Drive.

 

Staying Vertical dir. Alain Guiraudie

In Competition

Alain Guiraudie set pulses racing in the Un Certain Regard strand in 2013 with homoerotic killer-thriller Stranger by the Lake and, on that basis alone, I’m here for whatever he wants to show us next.

 

Berlin 2016: Strike a Pose

20 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray finds Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s doc about Madonna’s Blond Ambition-era dancers moving and enjoyable

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Look around everywhere you turn is heartache
It’s everywhere that you go
You try everything you can to escape
The pain of life that you know

These oh-so-familiar lyrics, from one of Madonna’s all-time bangers, ‘Vogue’, serve as a compressed description of the lives depicted in documentary Strike A Pose, though like the song, there’s a lot more fun to be had here than the literal angst these words suggest.

Goodness know how many documentaries, from the respectable to the cheap TV cash-in, have been made about Madonna. Strike A Pose, from Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan, instead smartly takes as its focus the less-documented subject of her backing dancers from the Blond Ambition era.

At their most prominent in the ‘Truth Or Dare’ video (featuring an unscripted gay kiss, radical at the time), over which some of the dancers subsequently sued Madonna, they have largely faded from the limelight since. Even at their height, for many fans, they were viewed collectively, rather than as individuals. This film aims to correct that.

Since the dancers are virtually all gay, virtually all classically trained, and boast an intimate familiarity with the New York drag-ball scene, the chap who initially stands out is Oliver Crumes III, who never trained as a dancer, instead growing up dancing to hip-hop, and, as he admits, scorning gay culture. A flamboyant dresser, one of the other dancers recalls wondering at the time of this odd-man out: “How can you be homophobic? You look like a parrot.” His adjustment to being the only straight in the village makes for a heartwarming journey.

Indeed, heartwarming journeys are the order of the day, as each dancer gets their moment in the spotlight, 25 years on from their heyday, to connect with the camera and share their memories and an update of where their lives have gone since.

Tragedy is abundant – not everyone survived, and some are coping with illness, or have had to fight addictions – and yet the tone is also sweetly comic. That’s largely due to the charm of these open-hearted former peacocks, now chastened by life post-fame, but still able to flash the charisma that secured them the gig in the first place.

Formally unadventurous, the film is largely comprised of talking heads and archive footage, until arguably the most moving scene, where the lads are reunited, a couple of decades after they all drifted apart. The absent figures of dancer Gabriel Trupin, who died of AIDS at just 26, and of Madonna herself, are felt, but in the case of Madonna it feels right that she is not present – we sense the absence of this mother figure in their lives more keenly than if it all ended with contrived hugs and smiles.

 

 

 

 

Berlin 2016: Kate Plays Christine

17 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Documentaries, Festivals, Opinion, Review

Catherine Bray is gripped by a blend of documentary and fiction exploring an anchorwoman’s on-air suicide in 1974…

Kate Plays Christine

Kate Plays Christine

Boy, is this a film that could have gone very wrong indeed. A risky subject matter (suicide), combined with a formally risky approach (half-fictional, half-documentary, all high wire act), combine in writer-director Robert Greene’s exploration of the 1974 on-air suicide of anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck, via the device of an actor, Kate Lyn Sheil, preparing to play her in a cinematic re-enactment.

With almost irritating finesse, Greene pulls it off, wavering occasionally in a manner reminiscent of a tightrope walker whose wobbles are part of the performance. But perhaps that unfairly suggests the film is a stunt – it’s much more than that.

In other docs, the pertinent opening act information about Chubbuck would have been largely expositional – here, we’re watching Sheil react to the information in real time as a natural consequence of her research process. What we’re experiencing feels human, rather than like a forensic analysis, but confers the same benefits as a forensic analysis in terms of imparting information, with added layers of emotional richness. And that’s the film in microcosm.

With less intelligent handling, this approach could easily have crashed and burned. We never know quite how much of what we’re seeing is scripted, or rehearsed reality, or improvisation, or straight documentary, and that disorienting mixture feels intentional. This is non-fiction film-making with the stabilisers taken off.

Sheil’s performance is a big part of this success. It’s a role that could have been overly “actress-y” or affected, as she searches for commonalities and points of difference with what tabloids would call the “tragic figure” of Christine Chubbuck. The film plays sly games with our desire to both see and not see what happened, pushing and pulling in different directions and needling at our obscure sense of guilt: why are we drawn to such lurid subjects?

Greene doesn’t offer easy answers, but does interrogate the role of the camera in such transactions, which is why Chubbuck’s case is such an apt one – this was a performative suicide, informed by the presence of the camera, the rhetoric of her last words hand-crafted in the language of the newsroom: “In keeping with Channel 40′s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.”

The detail Kate Plays Christine pulls out of this statement that I’ve found myself returning to most since watching the film is the word “attempted”. The precision of her choice of words is chilling; she didn’t know whether she would succeed and was therefore accurate to the last, a macabre piece of journalistic pedantry.

Robert Greene is the first ever winner of the writing prize at Sundance for authoring a film classified as a documentary, and the award is significant in recognizing the capacity of docs to go beyond ripped-from-the-headlines polemics or putatively objective reportage. It is to be hoped that the honour also helps distributors (Dogwoof are handling in the UK) in drawing the audiences this film deserves to cinemas.

See other coverage from the Berlin Film Festival

 

 

 

 

Michael Leader’s 20 LFF 2015 recommendations

Site Editor Michael Leader rounds out our team’s picks for this year’s London Film Festival…

This time last year, I picked a mixture of already-seen and the dying-to-see from the LFF’s 2014 line-up. This time around, I’ve seen far fewer festival favourites – but therein lies the excitement of perusing the LFF’s all-you-can-eat buffet of 2015’s buzziest films. I’ll be gorging on many more come October, but for now here are 20 that I wouldn’t dare miss.

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35mm: The Quays Meet Christopher Nolan

Stephen & Timothy Quay are hugely influential and widely respected in animation circles but, unlike their stop-motion contemporaries (think Jan Švankmajer, Nick Park and Henry Selick), they still sit outside of mainstream appreciation of the artform. These restored prints of their shorts In Absentia, The Comb and Street Of Crocodiles, screening alongside a short, eight-minute documentary about the brothers’ methods directed by Christopher Nolan, will be a sure-fire delight whether or not you’re familiar with the Quays’ distinctive work. [Buy tickets]

Elephant Days

The Maccabees’ behind-the-record film Elephant Days isn’t so much up my street as literally shot down my street, reportedly serving as a documentary portrait of the much maligned Elephant & Castle area of South London, which I’ve called home since 2009. The Elephant’s appeared on screen in the past as a forbidding backdrop for inner-city terror (at best, Attack The Block; at worst, Harry Brown); a more personal take on the neighbourhood is long overdue. [Buy tickets]

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Elstree 1976

I love Star Wars, but not as much as I love documentaries about people who haven’t so much had a brush with fame, as stood in proximity to it (such as music docs Anvil and Mistaken For Strangers). Jon Spira’s film combines the two to introduce us to ten performers who played bit parts in George Lucas’s blockbusting sci-fi adventure, which should offer a much-needed respite from the relentless hype-train for Episode VII. [Buy tickets]

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Francois Truffaut’s landmark series of candid interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, published as Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock in 1967 (afterwards translated into English as Hitchcock/Truffaut), is one of my go-to film books, and it sounds like Kent Jones’ documentary – which features filmmakers including Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese – serves as both a fitting companion to the book, and an effective illustration of Hitchcock’s enduring influence. [Buy tickets]

I Am Belfast

No doubt one for fans of Chris Petit, Andrew Kotting and Patrick Keiller, the latest from Story Of Film director/critic Mark Cousins is a ‘metaphorical essay’ about his hometown, which recasts Belfast as a 10,000 year old lady with a rich and complex history, complete with archive footage, a soundtrack by composer David Holmes (Hunger, ‘71), and cinematography from Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love, Hero). [Buy tickets]

In Jackson Heights

After last year’s National Gallery, seasoned documentarian Frederick Wiseman returns with a look at one of New York’s most diverse neighbourhoods, observing the everyday life of a population that speaks 167 languages. Wiseman’s patient filmmaking style isn’t for everyone – his films are rarely under three hours long, and In Jackson Heights is no exception – but the texture and detail found in his work are second to none. [Buy tickets]

The Invitation

I’m expecting to spend most of my time at the LFF gleefully devouring the dark genre delights in the Cult selection (check out the full line-up here), but I’m most excited to see The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body) – a slowburn chamber piece that wrests tension, paranoia and anxiety out of the most simple of social engagements: the dinner party. [Buy tickets]

Janis, Little Girl Blue

Every year, the LFF’s Sonic strand delivers a strong selection of music documentaries, and 2015’s line-up is no different, judging by the inclusion of Danny Says, a portrait of Ramones manager and ‘pop culture Zelig’ Danny Fields; Sacha Jenkins’ hip-hop fashion doc Fresh Dressed and, most notably, this comprehensive look at the life and music of Janis Joplin, directed by Oscar nominee Amy Berg (West Of Memphis). [Buy tickets]

Listen To Me Marlon

Continuing the trend set by the likes of Amy and Cobain: Montage Of Heck, this bio-doc from director Stevan Riley (Fire In Babylon, Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story Of 007) sets its sights on another inscrutable icon, the legendary Marlon Brando, offering an intimate portrait through the actor’s personal archive of audio recordings, encompassing everything from press interviews and business meetings to hypnosis and therapy sessions. [Buy tickets]

The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’ deft, deliciously twisted, yet ultimately moving satire on the culture of coupledom bagged the Jury Prize at Cannes in May, and finally makes it way to the UK as the LFF’s Dare Gala. This deadpan, dystopian drama, featuring a stellar cast including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, is like no other film in the selection: an oddball treat for romantics with a perverse sense of humour. [Buy tickets]

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Office

Johnnie To, the king of stylish Hong Kong cinema, gathers an all-star cast (headed by Chow Yun Fat) for this lavish adaptation of co-writer and cast member Sylvia Chang’s play Design For Living. Whether they are gangster movies (Drug War), romantic thrillers (Blind Detective) or, in this case, white-collar workplace musicals, To’s films always dazzle with eye-popping costumes and production design that beg to be seen on the big screen. [Buy tickets]

Our Little Sister

I’m a fully paid-up member of the Hirokazu Kore-eda fan club (interviewing the man himself at the LFF two years ago was a festival highlight), so I’m already on board with this adaptation of a manga series about three sisters taking in a younger half-sister after their father dies. Expect the gentlest of gentle dramas, light on incident yet full of heart. [Buy tickets]

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Park Lanes

Part of the fun of festivals is seeing films you almost certainly won’t find elsewhere. This year’s “Least likely to show up in your local Cineworld” prize goes to Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes, an eight hour long recreation (take that, Wiseman) of one day in the life of a factory that manufactures bowling alley equipment, which promises to offer an epic, intimate insight into the drudgery and social interactions at the heart of the American workplace. [Buy tickets]

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Public House

Another South London story, Sarah Turner’s documentary reportedly bends genre conventions to tell the tale of the Ivy House in Nunhead, which was earmarked for redevelopment until the locals rallied around this pillar of the community, eventually turning it into ‘London’s first co-operatively-owned pub’. [Buy tickets]

Queen Of Earth

Frankly, I haven’t yet come to terms with the end of Mad Men. The only consolation is seeing Elisabeth Moss flourish on the big screen (see 2014’s sci-fi-tinged relationship drama The One I Love). This psychological drama, her second collaboration with writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), opened recently in the States and was greeted with uniformly positive reviews, praising in particular Moss’s performance as a woman on the verge of an emotional breakdown after a series of life-changing events. [Buy tickets]

The Room--(None)

Room

I’m intrigued to see how Emma Donoghue’s award-winning novel, told from the juvenile perspective of a boy brought up in captivity, will translate from page to screen, but what a dream team to handle the transition: director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did), Donoghue herself writing the screenplay, and Brie Larson in the lead role of a young woman striving to create a semblance of family life in the midst of a Fritzl-like confinement. [Buy tickets]

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Todd Haynes: Screen Talk

It’s hard to believe that Todd Haynes has only directed six feature films in his near 30-year career, most recently ending an eight-year break from the big screen with the instant-classic Carol. It will be a rare pleasure to hear him look back his small, perfectly-formed body of work, as well as his award-winning shorts and television work, in the LFF’s ever-fascinating Screen Talk strand. [Buy tickets]

When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli alert! The legendary Japanese animation house’s first appearance in the LFF line-up since The Cat Returns in 2003 comes with a bittersweet aftertaste, since this gentle gem from Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is, for now, Ghibli’s final release – so treasure it while you still can. [Buy tickets]

The Witch

Robert Eggers’ Sundance prize-winning Puritan-era horror became a must-see for me after David Ehrlich, in his fevered Time Out rave, called it “A jaw-droppingly bold gift from God… A major horror event on par with recent festival sensations like Kill List and The Babadook”. A creepy-as-hell trailer, released last month, cemented the deal. [Buy tickets]

Yakuza Apocalypse

I could easily pick out any of the LFF Cult strand’s Japanese Contingent (boasting new films from directors Hideo Nakata and Sion Sono) but I’ll plump for the latest from professionally-prolific powerhouse Takashi Miike: a vampire/mobster mash-up that’s sure to fit comfortably alongside his craziest work. [Buy tickets]