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London Film Festival Wrap-up: The Last of the Unjust


Cor, I stink. And my nails are shockingly long. They enter the room before I do. My last shower was Friday, and I figure 48 hours is about the limit I ought to go without washing. Fuck it, 72 hours will have to do this time. It’s not like I’m spending my time in a sterilised bunker, I’m spending my time surrounded by people and dirt and all manner of stuff that lodges itself in beneath my nails, which are now so long it’d take James Cameron and his diving crew to get down there and clean them out fs. Home tomorrow. Gonna have a shower, cut my nails and take a dump. And watch TV. I’ve missed more shows being away for a week than you watch in a year.

I’m at a bit of a loss regarding the location of my first screening today, Claude Lanzmann’s latest Holocaust documentary The Last of the Unjust. Only because I’ve not yet been there, I mean I’ve worked out the tube route and the directions from there, and sure enough it ain’t far and it ain’t difficult. It’s in Cine Lumiere, at l’Institut Francais. Ooh la la. That’ll do! But the film is over three hours long and they don’t allow food and drink in the screen! Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. Before we’re even half way through, I feel sleep making its return. Its unwelcome yet irresistible return. Well, rules are rules, so if I’m gonna take a couple of the caffeine pills I wisely packed in my laptop case today, I’m gonna have to take them dry. But I’m not missing no Lanzmann. Unlike on Monday, during At Berkeley, they work a treat. How come it’s always the longest films which send me off? Not even at the end, at the bloody start! I was knackered for the first 30 minutes of Norte, the End of History, then wide awake for the remaining 220!

Film fans, documentary fans and historians ought to relish The Last of the Unjust. Others will surely find it an extremely rewarding, but very long sit. But this is Claude Lanzmann, and this is the Holocaust, and there’s no conceivable way that could go wrong. It does not go wrong indeed. The screening was disappointingly empty, though I bet it would have been jam-fucking-packed if Joss Whedon had directed this. A small round of applause, as expected, followed. Thankfully, contrary to the majority of audiences for dramatic films this week, this lot refrained from laughing merrily at inappropriate moments. British audiences laugh quaintly, as if to say “Oh, aren’t they silly!” when I’m sitting there thinking this is actually all quite depressing. They’re nervous, that’s what. They don’t want to become emotionally involved in the story. 12 Years a Slave was another film they didn’t find funny. Well, good.

I’ve mapped out a walking route from l’Institut Francais to Curzon Mayfair, you know, my favourite, so that I can spend the afternoon walking there, taking in a few sights (like Harvey Nicholls, rly), losing a smidgeon of weight (anticipatorily, you’ll find) and not paying for a tube journey I can easily manage by foot. I was under the impression that everything in central London was dead far away when I got here last Sunday, that’s why they have the Tube! Alas, that impression was false. In fact, so false that I ended up walking too far in my search for Curzon Road, which I missed entirely, half-searching for a KFC. Yeh, I traversed Knightsbridge and Park Lane looking for a KFC. But I rly rly wanted a KFC. So when I ended up all the way at Oxford Street and Google Maps informed me that Curzon Road was actually wayyy back that way, I wasn’t too upset, as the first KFC since I’d left l’Institut Francais came into view.

I got a Mighty Bucket for One with Gravy, and Tango to drink, and since they didn’t have any Caramel Fudge Kreme Balls, they gave me a Strawberry Shortcake Krushem instead. 2045 calories in one sitting. Yes bitch.

I writhed my way along the street, knee-kicking my enormous bulging food belly with every baby step forward, hoping I wouldn’t need to book a ticket for the seat next to mine for The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears just to accommodate my other arse cheek. You know, I’d been considering coming to LFF for months when I heard The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears would show here. [full review at screenonscreen] And despite having learned, a few months back, that the film had acquired UK distribution, I was unsure regarding when that’d be, and if it’d even reach Belfast, being a proper cult item, so I decided to book a trip here on the sole condition that I could see this film, which is the second full feature from Belgian directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani. I was first introduced to their work when they made a short film for the horror anthology The ABCs of Death, and their installment was so good I swiftly sought out their debut film, Amer, which I rather loved. And I’ve been super-excited to see their new one since I heard about it at about that same time. So basically, it’s the reason I’m here, and the reason you suckers have had to sit through eight of these fucking diaries!!

I spotted horror aficionado and film writer and critic Kim Newman in the Curzon foyer, with his unmistakeable moustache; I’m not surprised to see him attend a screening of this film, but I’m always surprised to see faces I recognise anywhere I go. It’s no Mike Leigh, sure, but it’ll do. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is terrific, splendidly designed and executed with a confidence absent from a whole career’s work for some directors. By no means will everyone enjoy it, but I insist that you seek it out, only to make your own mind up on it and to observe what is achievable through the art form that is film. You may very well become a Cattet / Forzani devotee, like me!

Fucking hell, London’s been stressful. Those pissing showers, those pissing hostel dorms, those pissing delays, and the people, gosh the people! Obviously I’m headed straight for the cinema when I get home – gotta go see Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said – but I’ll be delighted to attend a regular cinema once more. Mostly empty, populated by quiet, reserved folk with no intention of evaluating the film they’re about to watch and subsequently address the entire vicinity with their divine verdict. I’d rather sit through a screening full of stupid teenagers and fidgety children… no wait, I definitely wouldn’t. Put me in a screening full of stupid teenagers and fidgety children and then ask me which I’d rather be in.

But it’s also been wondrous. Chiefly, that’s due to the films. Discounting Captain Phillips (which I did enjoy), I saw 18 films in London, and I liked every single one of them. That’s perhaps to be expected, since I handpicked them from the full slate of films showing at LFF as 18 of the films I was most likely to appreciate, but even then I’ve been damn successful with my choices. If you peruse my awful blog much, you’ll know that I’m not normally nearly this kind to the films I see.

What struck me about several of the films I saw was the manner in which directors were adapting their personal style of filmmaking to reach a broader audience, yet without compromising said style. Steve McQueen brought his intensive, immersive touch to his most mainstream feature yet in 12 Years a Slave, Amat Escalante broadened his scope, finding a more generally-satisfying outlet for his bleak, beautiful style in Heli, Lav Diaz finally got one of his films down under five hours with Norte, the End of History (that’s a major achievement for Diaz!) and Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani took on an unexpectedly conventional narrative with The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, although not without radically reconstructing it, and then shooting it to pieces in fabulous fashion.

The past kept cropping up, the implication being that it is still with us, no matter how we strive to be shod of it. After all, by the time an impulse reaches the brain and is reconfigured as digestible information, it is already in the past – we perceive the past, not the present, we live in the past. This was particularly overt, ofc, in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, in which withheld and suppressed occurrences from the past, or interpretations of occurrences, have direct influences on occurrences in the present. Norte, the End of History explored humanity’s innate connection to its own history, in how our instinctive nature and our intelligent nature each inform our decisions, and shape our futures. Henri in Stranger by the Lake is haunted by an imperceptible past, beyond these hermetic woods. We delve into the past in The Missing Picture and The Last of the Unjust, conducting a necessary examination of what mankind did all those years ago, and the inevitable impact that has on mankind today. The men in The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears are drawn back into their respective pasts, solving mysteries that have placed them in such disquieting circumstances today, mysteries which they were never aware of until now.

And control was a theme of many of the films I saw too. Abuse of Weakness was about the wielding of control, the theft of control, the abuse of control in a complex, bruising relationship between two people whose identities are defined by the control they possess. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears’ leads each vied for control over their own, disintegrating minds, and over the women who baffle them, and threaten to destroy them. Borgman saw a wanderer enter the home of society’ controlling class, and exact his own form of hideous, hilarious control over them. The central figures of Eastern Boys couldn’t admit to their supposedly shameful, but truthfully quite natural lust for control, over their own personal situations respectively, but thereby over each other. The eco-terrorists in Night Moves sought to control so much, and succeeded, until they discovered that their control could only extend so far, with fatal consequences. Solomon Northup is deprived of control over his existence, cruelly, harrowingly, in 12 Years a Slave, and the young people in Heli find themselves too under the thumb of more powerful forces, against their will. In Ida, the main character takes a short but significant opportunity to break free from the powers that be in her life to indulge in activities she knows she’ll never know again. And does Adele not desire control over her life in Blue Is the Warmest Colour, and over her rapidly-developing mind?

And something else which certainly did not escape my attention was the volume of nudity in the 18 films I saw. It’s just not something you see in mainstream cinema that often, and for no good reason. I’d definitely expect it more in the arthouse, but it struck me just how much more prevalent it is in independent and, especially, international cinema than in studio output here at LFF. Norte, the End of History, Abuse of Weakness, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Stranger by the Lake, 12 Years a Slave, Heli and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears all featured full-frontal nudity; interestingly, and significantly (I think), Steve McQueen has yet to make a film that does not feature full-frontal nudity. Not even John Waters can lay claim to that!

What a pleasure it has been to write for Awards Daily. If nothing else, it’s given me something to do in my free time in London! But truly, it’s been an unfathomable honour. I’ve been around these parts long enough to remember it when it was Oscar Watch, when Ryan was still Rollerboy, when Martin Scorsese still hadn’t won an Oscar, when Woody Allen films were still all shit, when David O. Russell films were still all good, untainted by his lusty, crusty obsession over Jennifer Lawrence’s bottom. And it has been a part of my daily life since then, one whose importance in that life has been unquantifiable. Thanks to Sasha and Ryan for permitting me to spew my shit on here these past eight long, lovely days, and for publishing it on my behalf.

Now stop procrastinating and get the fuck back to work!