The 54th BFI London Film Festival 2010

Alan Pavelin

Talking Pictures alias






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As usual my aim for this October’s moviefest (for once not sponsored by The Times, so we are deprived of the free copy to pick up) was to pick out four or five interesting-looking films from the 200-odd on offer.  Of my first five choices, however, I had a prior engagement when Of Gods And Men was to be screened, while the early risers had already cleaned up all available tickets for Mandelson: The Real PM?, Never Let Me Go, the 270-minute Mysteries of Lisbon, and the exotic Thai drama Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  Fortunately most of these should have an early theatrical release.   This left me with the following selection, a sort of second XI (or second V) although Rite of Spring was always going to be on my list.

Everything Must Go  (Director: Dan Rush)  Film adaptations of novels usually work out at around 3 or 4 pages per minute of film.  So I was intrigued to see how Raymond Carver’s 6-page short story Why Don’t You Dance?, about an alcoholic who finds himself locked out of his house with all his possessions on the front lawn, could be stretched much beyond a 2-minute short.  This was done by greatly expanding the story, or rather by using the situation as a starting-point for what becomes basically a gentle comedy.  Will Ferrell is an admirable anti-hero, with strong support from British actress Rebecca Hall as a neighbour.  This film could well prove very popular, provided it gets a theatrical release, which has not yet happened even in the US.  Nerds may spot an unusual “movie mistake”: the Ferrell character’s name is different in the credits.  The director explained in a Q & A session that the name was changed from that in the original script, but everybody forgot to change the credits!

Love Like Poison  (Katell Quillevere)  Don’t the French do family drama brilliantly?  This first feature is about 14-year-old Anna (Clara Augarde, excellent) staying on holiday in a strongly Catholic village on the Brittany coast with her mother and grandfather.  Her faith is being challenged both by the deaths of two people she is close to, and by the sexual advances of a younger boy.  She is also given to fainting at times of high emotion.  Her clearly depressed mother rages against her estranged husband, while the sympathetically-portrayed local Italian priest tries to cope with these various traumas.  One of those French offerings which wipes the spots off anything Hollywood can offer in similar vein.

The Princess Of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier)  A middlebrow historical epic from veteran director Tavernier, set at the time of the 16th century “Wars of Religion” and based on what was almost the very first French novel (by Madame de Lafayette).  With lots of love interest, some highly violent battle scenes, and sweeping camerawork, it is the kind of film that draws huge audiences in France and respectable ones in the UK (e.g. La Reine Margot).  Melanie Thierry is an eye-catching Marie in the title role, loving one man but forced to marry another.  The way women were treated at the time is paralleled by the fact that Mme. de Lafayette had to remain anonymous as the author, as women were not supposed to be doing things like writing novels.

Rite Of Spring (Manoel de Oliveira)  This revival of a 1963 production by the amazing Portuguese director, who (at almost 102) has a career spanning nearly 80 years, is a kind of quasi-documentary about a Passion Play, based on a centuries-old text, performed in a rural village.  “Quasi” because, while they are authentic villagers performing an authentic medieval play, it is clear that a lot of preparation had gone into the filming (we occasionally see not just a few onlookers, but also the camera crew), and the characters are filmed as they would be in a fiction film.  In fact this is a record not of the annual performance, but of a specially reconstructed performance.  The lack of obvious microphones and the fact that it is all open-air means that the performers have to shout, or loudly sing, their lines, though I detected some post-dubbing at times.  So we have a 20th century film of a 16th century play about 1st century events, filmed like, and yet unlike, a documentary (very self-reflexive, anticipating the films of Abbas Kiarostami).  Just as the film is about to end, Oliveira unexpectedly adds some old newsreel shots making clear his particular take on the Passion.

Silent Souls (Aleksei Fedorchenko)  One of those contemplative Russian films set far from city life and usually described as “Tarkovskian” (see The Return, Koktebel, The Island, etc.).  Based on a short story called “The Buntings”, because of the cage birds which one of the two main characters insists on carrying around with him and which are responsible for a sudden and unexpected finale, this beautifully-shot road-movie concerns a man travelling to bury his wife who asks his bird-loving friend to accompany him.  The film is actually a kind of requiem for an almost-lost way of life, lived by an ethnic Finnish group absorbed into Russia centuries ago.  The strange customs shown in the film are presumably authentic.

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