Day one at the BFI London Film Festival, and I’d normally have a lot more to report to you. Naturally, you already know that I’m now situated in London permanently, rather than on my usual 12-day hostel-based whirlwind tour of Central London cinema locations, and you may infer from this information that my capacity to ingest films has thus increased. Alas, your inferences would be ill-advised, as I write to you now under my new identity as (im)mature student, enrolled at City, University of London. Fans of peerless writing and faultless opinions mark this as a sad day for their Paddy obsession – I have only one film upon which to write today, and you’ve probably never heard of it anyway.
From its commission in August 2000 to its opening in January 2005, the Copenhagen Opera House developed a reputation it has since sustained: one of Europe’s most controversial modern constructions. The building was envisioned and its lengthy creation overseen by A. P. Møller, co-founder of Danish shipping giant Mærsk. He donated his vision to the Danish state, but agreed to do so only on the condition that it be erected in the harbour on the sightline between the Danish royal castle, Amalienborg, and the city’s famous Fredrik’s Church. With hefty tax deductions ensuring that it was the Danish people who wound up the chief contributors to its construction and upkeep, and designed with a contemporary aesthetic that proved unpopular with many of the city’s residents, its problematic nature was established early and has endured steadily over the past twelve years, in spite of the world-class quality of the building as an artistic space.
Insofar as a plotless film relating a recent true story already on public record can be spoilt, consider the previous paragraph a spoiler in official terms. But in the trust of Danish art collective Superflex, The Mærsk Opera is a peculiarly exhilarating exploration of how to present a tale of artistic creation through an act of precisely the same. The ever-eloquent Kate Taylor introduced this audiovisual experience for which the cinema was doubtless made, the film is part a documentary adhering to few, if any, of the genre’s most defining characteristics, and a stage performance that could surely never be staged. Indeed, our filmmakers even employ innovative techniques to subvert that very requirement here, filming the recording of the opera they wrote, and intercutting between this footage and quasi-abstract imagery operating either as blunt, if striking, visual metaphor or as picture seemingly for the sake of picture. The Mærsk Opera is as abstruse as it is obvious, and its value is accrued through both this disarming contradiction and the brilliance of its execution. Appropriate that its majesty should be born out of a lack of, and I’d say an intentional rebuttal of, pomposity, in an opera film set far from a stage, a classical composition indebted to popular styles, a portrait of a building barely even seen. And a world premiere (as if I’d be seen at anything less), in the refurbished Vue Leicester Square – see the shoddy phone pic snapped in its swanky foyer, rendered inexcusably uncouth by one’s atrocious photography skills! Indubitably a finer choice than #LFF2017 Opening Night film Breathe from Andy Serkis, which truly couldn’t look any duller if it were titled The Theory of Everything 2, and I’m still not sure that it isn’t. Quite the time for Superflex in this city too, as their Tate Modern installation, the Hyundai Commission One Two Three Swing! is currently being exhibited in the gallery’s famous Turbine Hall.
Not a sad day at the cinema, then, and for a lineup set to include a further 24 titles, a very strong start! But otherwise, nothing much yet to reveal: no 4am alarm call, no tediously over-extended journey, no grubby hostel (just a grubby flat), no caffeine overdosing, no dashing from one cinema to the next, no Q&A session (many of those guaranteed in the coming days, however), no missing the boyfriend who has dutifully made the move across the Irish Sea with me. Just a gentle day at university, and an evening at the pictures. Easing myself in, inch by generously-lubed-up inch. Take this year’s LFF dispatches as a grower, not a shower. Maybe you’re not hooked just yet, but I’ve 24 more films to see, and you’ve 11 more diary entries to read, and I’m gonna ride this baby into the ground and out the other side!
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