Checking out of the hostel prior to 10:00 left me in a peculiar predicament: not having a lot to do. Nine days of solid work, thereabouts, have equally left me exhausted and left me baffled when confronted with a rare space of more than five minutes of free time. With my first film on my final day in London not getting underway until 15:30, I spent that time as wisely as I could – watching reality TV. When I’m not staring at a cinema screen, I’m staring at a television screen. Or, most often of all, a computer screen. I’m not sure I’d even be here were it not for online catch-up TV services.
Can we not go into The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom? Jacob Cheung’s wuxia film was, by some considerable margin, the weakest of the 23 films I saw at the festival (and I’ve seen film #23 at the time of writing, and it’s very good). Actually, it’s had rather more competition for the sad title of Worst Film of LFF 2014 than the selection I saw last year, though I’ve had perhaps even more fun. White Haired Witch stars Fan Bing Bing, whom I adore on a red carpet, less so on the big screen, and features Hark Tsui as ‘artistic consultant’. One can detect his penchant for maximalism in Cheung’s film, though with extraordinarily little of his sense of invention. This is a silly film. The Q&A (naturally, there was a Q&A, because when is there not?) after the film, which I could only attend part of (naturally, because when do I ever have the time to attend a whole Q&A?), didn’t shed much light on what artistry there was supposed to be in the film, so I don’t think there was supposed to be much. Cheung did reveal, during the first part of the Q&A, that Hark had been asked to serve as producer on the film, but had been tied up directing Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, which is a far superior film, so more power to him.
On a side note, some grumpy old cunt seated next to me in the cinema groaned when he spied the packet of crisps I’d brought in with me. He wasn’t impressed either when I messaged my boyfriend as the trailers began, muttering ever louder and louder about the daft young kid beside him – alas, how could I ever know anything about cinema and what was I doing at a film festival? I just told him to mind his own fucking business. Funny how little it takes to shut people up.
If only I didn’t have to hurry from The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom to The Duke of Burgundy, because the hurrying was far from over. Hooray for Peter Strickland! What a revolting sweat I’d broken into, clad in my most generously-proportioned outfit of the week, lugging around a shoulder bag and a suitcase, sprinting around the tube. Peter Strickland saved the day. The Duke of Burgundy is dense, funny, erotic, playful, artistic, bizarre, confounding, enlightening, completely magnificent. It’s a puzzle that yearns to be solved yet begs not to be, a sado-masochistic curio to rival the central relationship in itself, a monumental work of art that sings the praises of non-narrative cinema (in glorious atonality), all the while with its own narrative, apparently simple yet remarkably multi-stranded. It’s as bewildering and as beguiling as all that sounds too. And it’s a great way to cap off my London 2014 experience.
It might not have been, though. After a slightly late start, I had a mere one hour and 45 minutes to make it onto my plane. After missing my homeward flight last year, it was looking precariously possible that the same might occur this year. I was perched, a few stairs already out of the screen, at the rear of Curzon Mayfair’s lovely Screen 1, waiting for the credits to roll. As soon as they did, I dashed all the way to gate 55D at London Gatwick airport. This involved a dearth of available taxis, several wrong turns at the airport, a queue jump and an inexplicable search of my hand luggage, and at last I could relax: against the odds, I’d made it in time, albeit only by one minute – not even exaggerating, one minute. Or it would have been a long, hard sleep on a long, hard airport floor.
For more coverage of all kinds of film, all year round, you can take a look at my blog – screenonscreen.blogspot.co.uk – or follow me on Twitter @screenonscreen. It doesn’t get any better there, alas, but it could hardly get worse.
Suck it, bitches.