There was a moment, yesterday, as I sat in the back of the taxi, watching the fare rise, imagining the first fifteen minutes of the film I was missing, Borgman, sweating like a priest in a playground, when I thought, “I’ve had enough. I haven’t even lasted two days in London. It can’t be worth this much stress. I might as well go home.” I did not go home. And I’m bloody happy I didn’t.
My hostel is pretty central, though everything in London is as long as you take the tube. It’s in Pimlico, which always makes me smile. I’m there, on the tube, with my Passport to Pimlico! Having a much better time than all the other passengers as a result. Then again, I bet some of them are going to Cockfosters. Lucky bastards.
Two venues today for three films, although both situated in the same locale: Leicester Square, the site of a host of small, ancient theatres owned by major cinema chains. Odeon Manchester has 20 screens, I remember. Odeon West End has two. Leicester Square is a pretty nice place to spend the day, as it turns out, especially if you like eating food (check!) and going to the cinema (check!). Catherine Breillat’s competition entry Abuse of Weakness was screening in OWE’s Screen Two, which is nestled underground, all clandestine like. 20 minutes early, I took the opportunity to do what I always do when I visit an Odeon: eat.
Back up to above ground. The lady at the desk tells me that the screening is not sold out. Good news – maybe the seats next to me won’t fill up so far from starting time so I can buy a tray of nachos and salsa and cheese (my Odeon staple) and munch away! And so I progress. The seat to the right of me is then occupied. A tall gentleman, I detect antipathy toward my stinky eating habit, but I can’t be sure, at least not yet. The seat to the left of me is taken too. A couple, nattily (but attractively) attired. He’ll later open a bottle of coke with the customary burst and fizz, so I don’t think he’s bothered by my food. The lights begin to dim, I finish a few more nachos, and eyes front!
And I thought I was lucky to see Frederick Wiseman yesterday. Prior to the screening of Abuse of Weakness, guess who was introduced to us? Not only Catherine Breillat, but her leading lady Isabelle Huppert, who take to the stage to present their film. I’m front row, mere feet away from Catherine Breillat and Isabelle Huppert. I’d never, ever, ever, ever even consider letting on how impressed I am just to be in such company, lest I risk embarrassing myself and admitting to the existence of that immense social distinction between the celebrity and the civilian that I know I’d despise so were I on the other side of it, but right now, I’m feeling pretty fucking awesome.
The film is brilliantly horrid, and proof yet again that no one country appreciates the potential of cinema as an art form as France does. Breillat has produced an extraordinary, challenging work, and Huppert has responded with a typically intense, incredible performance. I was astounded by the depths this pair plumbed. The ensuing Q&A was equally rewarding, which is saying something when one considers that neither interviewee is a native English speaker. Breillat, cool and cheeky, responded to every question with remarkable honesty and precision, and a pragmatism regarding her work and her art that instantly deconstructed any notion of self-seriousness which some may level at her. Her comment about how even the smallest films cost a lot of money, and how it’s even more difficult for a woman to get a film made was particularly powerful after having watched the preceding film. She gave me a direct glance at one point, for no apparent reason, as Isabelle Huppert continued a response, as if to impart some kind of wondrous wisdom. Goodness knows I looked like I wanted some, I’m sure. Huppert was elegant and eloquent, exactly as you’d expect her, but also immensely personable. She was asked what drives her, as she has made over 100 films. She replied that she’s actually very lazy, and that acting comes very easily to her. Nonsense. You watch Abuse of Weakness and you tell me how easily that came to her. Whatever the case may be, she’s one of the world’s greatest actors, I have no doubt, and I just sat less than three metres from her.
I was the least of the tall guy next to me’s worries. You’ve got to be a total boor to make me turn around and glare at you in the cinema. But this one guy did. Row behind me, two seats to my right. Looked like a tramp. Like an actual tramp. Like a gentleman ‘of no fixed abode’. Not with my sense of humour would I be to criticise that of anyone else, but really mate? Sure, he laughed (a lot louder than everybody else) at the dry, dark humour of Breillat’s film that crops up on occasions. But I wasn’t the only one to express sheer shock as he burst out laughing during scenes of rehabilitation of a stroke victim, repeatedly unable to discern the colour of a ball presented before their eyes. On top of that, the stroke victim herself is Huppert’s character, in Breillat’s autobiographical role. This dude and some other fellow sat further away, who seemed to have brought a fucking banquet along with him, plainly caused a shitload of offence, taking joy from watching the depiction of the pain and humiliation of a person in their own company. I just hope she didn’t take that offence.
My next film was Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, held in the same screen as Abuse of Weakness, but the screen had to be vacated first. No nachos for me this time, certainly not for a film that was set to start any minute after I entered the screen, and that was likely to be damn quiet. It was. The whole black-and-white thing is a dead giveaway. No Q&A this time, no elaborate anecdotes to relate, just that the woman in front of me needs to cut her hair, because she’s very short yet I still couldn’t see the full screen. At least brush it, bitch. Ida is a good film. It’s very prettily photographed, and engaging from start to finish. It’s the weakest film I’ve yet seen at LFF, but it’s still a good film. You wanna read more about it? Go somewhere else.
A few hours til my final film of the day, the British premiere of the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, the LFF’s centrepiece gala. Enough time for a trip to the lavvy (I’m not using the hostel loos, hell no), a perusal of Costa Coffee’s wifi to write my review of Abuse of Weakness and attend to some other matters online, and then to wander aimlessly around Leicester Square (which isn’t very big) and await the film. The barriers are erected by the time I’m out of Costa, and the red carpet half rolled out. I wonder who’ll be attending. It’s only the British premiere, after all. Not the American premiere. Not the world premiere. Not even the European premiere. Still, I wonder.
Film starts at 19:15, and ticket holders will be allowed in at 18:30. Not long before then, a car pulls up. Probably just a few crew members and their families, or minor celebs, I suppose. Um, no. Only Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan (in Dior)! Time to squeeze in among the autograph peddlers and paps at the extensive, labyrinthine barriers. Hilarious, shameless people, with glossy pictures no self-respecting celebrity would ever bother to sign more than one or two of, no matter how much they loutishly holler over one another. I’m thiiiis close to both the film’s lead actors (well, in the eyes of the press, Mulligan counts as lead, at least on this carpet), but the fuck I can get a decent shot of either of them.
The ticket holders are encouraged to enter Odeon Leicester Square quickly, please. Not that there’ll be anybody else taking to this red carpet, just that I suppose we’re not all as photogenic as Oscar and Carey. Well, I know I’m not. But yessir, I walked dat red carpet, and you can bet I stomped it like a pro. Nobody paid a jot of attention, sure, but I was #werkinit. Less #werkinit was the phone signal in the screen (non-existent), so Facebook check-in? Forget it, bitch. Even less #werkinit was the fact that late people think that it’s actually quite alright to be late and then saunter around and buy food and talk and not sit the fuck down. The lights dim at 19:30. The lights did not dim fifteen minutes late last night for Borgman. No indeed they did not!
So I knew Oscar and Carey were there. And they weren’t alone. Another pre-film introduction, this time presenting the sell-out crowd with Isaac, Mulligan, John Goodman and both Ethan and Joel Coen on stage. Since this centrepiece gala is supported officially by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, we’re ‘treated’ to a clip of him apologising for not being able to attend, and just being very Boris Johnson-like. If you know who Boris Johnson is, you’ll know what I mean.
Inside Llewyn Davis has been covered at length here at AD, and such will likely remain the case over the next few months, so I won’t go on about it too much (imagine! Me going on about something too much!). Funny, sweet, like a most poignant memory, only naughtier, more punishing. Not my favourite Coen film, nor my least favourite. A delight, really, and the soundtrack’s every bit as good as you’ve heard. Or as you haven’t heard. Not until you’ve actually heard it.
Stood on stage before a large audience, trained Hollywood types, a proper public occasion – this Q&A was never going to possess the level of insight that the Q&A for Abuse of Weakness did. The questions were more generic, the answers were more self-conscious. With no seats to rest upon, the Coens and their cast appeared to feel more of an urge to perform, rather than to discuss, than Breillat and Huppert had done earlier in the day, and the quality of the audience questioning was notably inferior. But it was nevertheless a tremendous experience to see figures such as Ethan and Joel Coen and John Goodman stood before me, even if I was all the way back in row R.
And there was no moment today where I thought “I’ve had enough”. Because I haven’t. None of today’s films rival Norte, the End of History as my pick of the festival, but to attend three such screenings in such great locations, and to attend Q&As with a total of seven of the biggest names in world cinema in one day? I’ll tell you now, I’m bloody happy I didn’t go home.
Tomorrow: Eastern Boys, The Missing Picture and The Selfish Giant.