Funny how much more things seem to matter when you’ve got someone to share them with. Or maybe it’s not so funny, maybe it makes perfect sense, maybe you’ve simply got more things to actually do when someone else is present. Day six at the London Film Festival was my first full day unaccompanied this year, after my boyfriend Thomas departed for home yesterday afternoon. And, despite two excellent films, one large Big Mac meal and a swanky red carpet experience, it was probably my least eventful day so far. It was also among my least stressful too, up to a point, though while that’s likely good for my head and my heart, that’s rather not what I come to London for. Nice to have a break from all those things I had to do, but at least they mattered.
You wouldn’t care about my morning, even my early afternoon, like not even a psychiatrist would care about it, so I’ll get straight to the films, which ought to be of interest to most of AD’s readers. Still, even with Oscar winners and nominees galore, I can think of a few whose interest just won’t be piqued unless I reference a transformer or two (but I won’t). Film #1 was the first of two South-East Asian films on my LFF 2015 schedule, having named a Lav Diaz film my favourite of the festival in both of my last two years here. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour screened at Vue West End to a packed theatre with the director in attendance. In his introduction, he assured us that it was ok to fall asleep during the screening – not that I’d ever willingly do so, but night after night of inadequate sleep is definitely now beginning to catch up on me…
Weerasethakul’s statement made rather more sense when regarded in hindsight. Cemetery of Splendour is about sleep, and also about wakefulness, about life and about death, about dreams and reality, past and future, mysticism and mundanity, even mysticism in mundanity. It’s a typically beguiling film from this most distinctive of auteurs, a man whose interpretation both of cinema and of life (and whose blurring of the lines between the various opposites listed above quite deliberately render the line between cinema and life equally unclear) is entirely unique; much as I appreciated the immense artistry, the idiosyncrasy, the depth of beauty and of spirituality in Cemetery of Splendour, watching it made me somewhat envious of myself in my first experience of a Weerasethakul film, or anyone else discovering this marvellous talent for the first time.
The Observer’s Jonathan Romney conducted the post-screening Q&A with the kind of vaguely smarmy, indubitably well-informed swagger that one expects from an established, respected journalist, and declined to quiz his subject on such prescient details of the film as the hand cream that smells like cum, which is what I almost certainly would have done (if only to ask where I could acquire some, natch). It became increasingly clear that Weerasethakul’s assertion that this would be his final film made in Thailand was an earnest one – the joy he felt in returning to Khon Kaen, his hometown, to shoot a film in full there for the first time in his career was tempered by a notable sense of resignation and regret, for what this country has recently become. He described it as impossible not to censor oneself when participating in the act of filmmaking, and referenced the increasingly tense political situation in Thailand; one can detect quite clearly the disappointment he feels in his film, in the destructive encroachment of urbanity upon the city’s spiritual places, a disappointment that is all the more poignant for its rationality, as he isn’t just blindly bemoaning the natural and necessary progression of society, only certain incarnations of it. Of particular note is a scene in the film where the characters rise for the national anthem during the trailers for a film, only to be met with silence and darkness: a tribute to darkness, in a film full of light! Regular Weerasethakul DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom was filming Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, so Carlos Reygadas recommended his usual DP Diego Garcia, whom his director regarded as being especially sensitive to the colours of his country as a foreigner, and the film is a predictably sumptuous visual (and sonic) experience).
Speaking of sumptuous, what about Todd Haynes’ Carol? I thought 75 minutes before the American Express gala premiere woul suffice, that I’d have enough time to see the stars arrive on the red carpet before taking my seat myself. I guess I did see them… from rly fucking far away! Thankfully, the camera on my phone isn’t the worst, and I was near the front of the queue of ticket holders, though the crowds waiting out purely to see the stars had occupied an entire side of Leicester Square, so there was no chance of me sneaking a closer look from there, as there had been two years ago at the gala premiere of Inside Llewyn Davis. Inside Odeon Leicester Square, after passing close enough by the cast and crew on the walk down the red carpet to snatch a couple of shots, there was a bottle of water next to every seat, and a bottle of beer for me at the stall, because srsly when was the last time I chose to drink water? But you know what you get when you give a cinema full of people drinks? Mass exodus to the toilets during the film, further distracting me from the experience! They all seemed to walk in front of me at one point or another; this had been the first film of the 20 on my schedule that I’d booked tickets to when they were released, and having selected better seats several times only for the page to refresh minutes later telling me that those seats were no longer available, I had to settle for the ninth row near the side. Not the worst, though, and close enough to take a few more pictures when the cast and crew took to the stage.
I’d been expecting a post-screening Q&A; the questions were posed prior to the film instead. The Weinstein Company sure is pushing hard for Carol, having invited producers Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley and Christine Vachon, director Todd Haynes, writer Phyllis Nagy, casting director Laura Rosenthal, production designer Judy Becker, costume designer Sandy Powell and actors Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Kyle Chandler and John Magaro (the latter two of whom did not take to the stage) to the event, with a slew of women in attendance on the stage to be interviewed by festival director Clare Stewart, keeping up this year’s theme of strong women in film quite nicely. The questions were prosaic and the answers equally so, but the occasion possessed a rather delightful atmosphere, with all those talented women being feted after a similar occasion last Wednesday at the opening night premiere of Suffragette.
Carol is, naturally, a fucking masterpiece, and anyone who tells you otherwise obviously shouldn’t even be entitled to their opinion. This is not a film for people who don’t understand films, since all one requires is the most basic understanding of film in order to appreciate it. Like many other films that I’ve seen here this year, it seems to exist simply for the sake of existing – Carol has many messages if you want to take some from it, but its main purpose appears to be just an expression of beauty, of the capacity of cinema to entrance an audience, to transport them to another time, into the minds of other people. It’s thrillingly emotional and immaculately designed, perfectly performed and brilliantly adapted; at least a couple of scenes recalled the very best Ingmar Bergman scripts in how they expressed a vast range of deep feeling both in what was said and how it was said, and in what was unsaid. If you love cinema, even if you only like cinema, you must see Carol.
And then I lost my Oyster card, so no tube for me. It was going to run out on Friday morning anyway, but still. You might say I have a low emotional pain threshold, or you might say I’m mentally ill, and you’d be accurate on both; things like these – disappointments, losses, inconveniences – stress me out immeasurably, and this minor mistake caused me an inordinate amount of emotional pain. It’s just a fucking Oyster card! I purchased a new one and headed back to the hostel for a relatively early night, on a relatively uneventful day. But what a duo of films! Those were events enough to sustain me. Alas, after a pair of heavy-hitters today, let’s see what you think of tomorrow’s offerings. Heard of Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub? Good for you! Heard of Miranda Pennell’s The Host? Then you must be coming too, since here’s a film so obscure it doesn’t even have an IMDb page. And I thought today was uneventful…
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