My stay here in London has so far been comprised of long stretches of business, punctuated by curious moments of inactivity. This morning was one of the latter. Three films today, all squeezed in to a mere few hours, with the first, Robin Campillo’s Eastern Boys, kicking off at 15:15. So, after a generous lie-in, a shower (the hostel showers here are proof against the existence of god, imo) and a chance to peruse the hostel’s suddenly half-decent wifi to publish my Inside Llewyn Davis review, I casually set off for Leicester Square once more, laptop in tow, umbrella not. But hey, the tube’s normally pretty dry.
With two and a half hours to kill, I strolled back to Costa Coffee for a Pepsi Max and an opportunity to sit by my laptop, where I am naturally most comfortable (it’s my only friend, *sob*). Pepsi Max is gross but it’s two calories. I’m a cola addict, and nothing beats Coca-Cola, but Pepsi will do. Diet Coke will not. Coke Zero is fine. Pepsi Max is marginally less heinous than Diet Coke, so I tolerate it when I know I’m likely to eat shit for the rest of today. With both of my first two screenings taking place in Vue Leicester Square (another major British chain), I knew more junk food would be on the menu today. Maybe not nachos. Maybe crisps. When crisps cross the Atlantic they become potato chips, even though they’re still the same things. Kind of like when Mexicans cross the border they become illegal aliens, even though they’re still the same people.
Vue Leicester Square is quite nice inside. Lots of warm orange lighting. Orange is my favourite colour. And chartreuse. And lime green. I like colours which make people retch. They suit my character. There’s wifi here, according to the website, and according to the lady at the till. I ought to go upstairs to the bar to get good signal. A bar! A plush cinema with a bar! The only cinema in Belfast with a bar is the arthouse, QFT, which is actually alright, but it doesn’t have warm orange lighting, and it doesn’t have wifi! Neither does this place though, as it turns out. I approach the barman. He doesn’t know the security key. There’s a more senior employee with a walkie-talkie. He doesn’t know. He radios for help. No response. The general manager then picks up. He doesn’t know. I ask if any of them at least know what the point is in having wifi when no-one can access it. They don’t know that either. They’ll get back to me, apparently. Yeh, they still haven’t. Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ comes on my iPod. Indeed.
You know reason why films starring men tend to be more bankable than films starring women? Women will gladly see both, men not so much. Gay men will gladly see anything, straight men wouldn’t be caught dead in a screening of Eastern Boys. The screening of Eastern Boys is full of men. Gay men, I assume, or is that offensive? Shit, who the fuck am I kidding, in my dungarees and tight white tank top and creepers, shaved head, trimmed facial hair, nose piercing etc. Try telling Donna and Barbra I don’t fit right in here.
Eastern Boys takes you by surprise almost from the off. It’s a startling film, plunging you into its superficially straightforward, truthfully extremely unique storyline early on, and taking any number of unexpected turns, always with an ease and subtlety that masks their brazenness, makes that aspect of them more palatable. But it’s a daring film, which explains its entry into the ‘Dare’ pathway at LFF, and excellently constructed by Robin Campillo, whose TV series Les Revenants (The Returned) is an absolute must-see for fans of gripping TV thrillers (really, I implore you to seek it out).
Barely enough time to pause for breath between Eastern Boys and Rithy Panh’s documentary The Missing Picture, for which I am placed in the seat directly behind my Eastern Boys seat in the exact same screen. The Missing Picture won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes – it’s a doc utilising archival footage and clay figurines to translate the Cambodian Panh’s experiences in his homeland under the Khmer Rouge regime. If you’re the type who thinks documentaries tend to be dry and boring, you utterly must watch The Missing Picture. Poetic, deeply emotional, and incredibly moving, it’s also a very honest feature, as Panh expresses not only the grief and pain he still recalls and still feels from those horrible years, but a bitterness and a hopelessness that contribute to making this quite a crushing film to witness, and an even more essential film. It’ll be one of the highlights of my stay here in London by the time I leave for Belfast on Monday, I’m sure. It’s also the second documentary from South-East Asia that I’ve seen this year in which recent and horrific history is not only revisited but re-enacted, and it’s the second masterpiece of the sort, after Joshua Oppenheimer’s magnificent The Act of Killing.
Film no. 3 today was The Selfish Giant. I would be seeing it in Curzon Mayfair… fucking Curzon Mayfair, the bane of my Monday night. So you bet I scurried out of Leicester Square as fast as my short-arse legs could carry me and navigated my way to Mayfair, having consulted maps several times in the past 24 hours to ensure that I’d be on time. Have you ever found that maps always make things look further away than they actually are? Or maybe the pessimist in me takes one look at a map and thinks “Well, it’ll take at least six days to get there” and then it only takes me like four minutes. I’ll admit a sense of satisfaction, of validation that my obsessive earliness was justified when I arrived a mere 25 minutes early. Hell, that’s nothing compared to how early I’ve been for most of the screenings here in London. Most of them…
A couple of guys stood in the foyer, one finishing a cup of lager. They were talking, or at least he was, the other listening. Their conversation suggested new acquaintances, and the topics of said conversation were film, film, film. Two bloggers, possibly. One taking every available millisecond of opportunity to profess his grand appreciation of the cinema, and his invaluable opinions on the films he’d seen and the state of cinema, as loudly as possible. Upon entering the screen, there they were again, near the front, facing the rest of us plebs, the jabberer still jabbering, the other guy still looking awkward and bewildered. Attired in the type of clothes which imply that they spent their teenage years wearing what mum told them to, and, now in their twenties, have reached their fashion adolescence, but remain impaired by their gargantuan nerdishness. I imagined their post-film discussion. They might give it a B-. Maybe 2.5 stars. They’d better check the IMDb score before forming an unpopular opinion, of course. I’m not sure pride is an emotion I quite grasp, but I do feel a pointed satisfaction at being the same age and ilk as folks like this pair, just half as obnoxious, twice as stylish and 100% less interested in comic books.
Some critics expressed a little disappointment that Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant is not as groundbreaking as her debut feature The Arbor. Pfft. Like that even matters. It’s sublimely emotional, and far more powerful than you’d expect such a predictable story to be. Full credit to Barnard and to her amazing cast, including the young leads Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas, who don’t so much tug at your heartstrings as latch onto them and refuse to let go. I don’t know why I respond so well to stories of the British working class in the north. Cor, my childhood was a fucking doozy compared to these guys’. Still, there’s something about The Selfish Giant that touched me quite personally. Me, touched? I’m going soft. Anyway, I’d put a few quid on most of the rest of that artsy middle-class audience feeling pretty similarly.
That’s me half way through this festival, now. Four days and four nights out of eight over, and nine films out of eighteen. There hasn’t been a single one yet that I’ve disliked. Shit. Just give it time. I’ll get back to Belfast on Monday and automatically hate every film I see for about a month, no doubt.
Tomorrow: vampires in Rigor Mortis, activists in Night Moves and *!*!*SEXY FRENCH LESBIANS*!*!* in Blue Is the Warmest Colour.