May I begin with an apology? Do I even need to? I told one Ryan Adams, whom you might know, that I’d do my best to attend a little luncheon or something similar with a variety of international filmmakers whose films are screening this year at the London Film Festival. It was to be held in the May Fair Hotel, so naturally they wouldn’t have let my scabby ass half way through the door, but despite not seeing any of the films of the directors who’d be in attendance at the times I was available, I rly did want to go. But then, that’s not rly me. I wonder if my articles read as shy… I’m much too shy in reality to turn up at such an event and hobnob with some actual real-life directors. I’m the guy who’s had at least one question to ask every director at every Q&A I’ve ever been to, and who’s never raised his hand once. Soz, Ryan. Just wasn’t up to it in the end.
You’ll forgive me, perhaps, for spending my free time in the cinema. Two out of the three days that I have three films scheduled on my trip this year, I choose to add a fourth to. On Tuesday, I saw Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. Today, I saw Alejandro Amenabar’s Regression. I kinda had to see what all the fuss was about, or wasn’t about. There was a suitable time at Empire Leicester Square, the only cinema on the square that doesn’t host any LFF screenings and thus the only one I’d never been inside. The screen showing Regression was utterly miniscule – there weren’t even 30 seats – so I crunched my crisps with extra delicacy, careful not to disturb any of my fellow patrons, who were mostly slightly sad-looking middle-aged white men. They’re doing my job for me lbr, this shit writes itself. I’ll not give my verdict on the film, because it’s the same verdict that everyone had as soon as they saw the trailer, and also cos I cba, and you’ll find out why later.
It has been, without question, my busiest day, but there are so many necessary films released this month that I had to find time for Regression somewhere before I return to Belfast. But it was straight from Leicester Square to the Southbank for Patricio Guzman’s The Pearl Button, with just enough time in between to write a quick, sloppy review for a sloppy film. Thankfully, The Pearl Button, which Guzman introduced, wasn’t so sloppy, though nor was it as tight as Guzman’s last, Nostalgia for the Light. The Pearl Button is predictably pretty, and also sensitive and insightful – a documentary on Chile’s relationship with water, its topics ranging from the indigenous people of the land and their closeness to the water, to the country’s troubled political history and the abuses committed by the white settlers and their descendants, and to a biography of water itself, in a way. It’s all very earnest and very engaging, but poorly conceived – the connecting strands between these topics do exist, but Guzman fails to find a compelling way to develop those strands into robust-enough reasons to make a film out of them.
The post-screening Q&A (another BFI Southbank occasion, so no photographs were permitted), conducted with the assistance of an interpreter, was similarly earnest and similarly light on depth. Most interesting was the director’s opinion on the indigenous people whom he interviewed for the film: he admitted that they were likely unaware of the film as it exists currently, and may be unlikely ever to see it or comment upon it if they were to, though that their opinion of it does harbour some importance to him; the film is also for the Chilean people, as a method of forcing them to confront the difficulties in their past. He expressed a tacit approval of the sentiment of much of the country’s youth and their determination to destroy Pinochet’s constitution; one audience member was savvy in pointing out that the British government had supported the dictator, and that Margaret Thatcher had been his friend, and wondered if any of his fellow viewers had voted for her Conservative Party in the 1980s. Neither the Q&A host nor I seemed to think that there were particularly many; from my vantage point, I began to wonder if there might have been one or two. Scumbags.
Again, a mere few moments to pen a quick write-up on the film I’d just watched before hurrying off to the next one: Aleksey German’s Under Electric Clouds. This isn’t the Aleksey German you’re probably aware of, if you’re aware of any Aleksey German at all – German Sr., whose final film, Hard to Be a God, completed its 12-year production after its director’s death, screened at LFF last year and was one of my highlights. German Jr. helped to complete it whilst simultaneously working on Under Electric Clouds. Striking, the similarities between father and son as filmmakers – both share common interests in theme, technique and style, a gentle, flighty disinterest set against portentous metaphorical heft. It’s a most unusual manner of filmmaking, and one that’s an acquired taste. The person next to me evidently hasn’t acquired it – she fell asleep, started snoring, woke up and eventually left before the end. She missed a fairly excellent film, extremely dense but adequately comprehensible (and enjoyable) to appreciate on first viewing, while holding out a lot of promise for endless repeat viewings. If I have the time, ofc. Today, I do not.
There was a Q&A after the film, but it had started late and there’d been a lengthy introduction and I had too far to travel to my final screening of the day, so I skipped it. That’s two Q&As I’ve left early and one I’ve nixed from my plans altogether – not what I’d been aiming for when I’d taken a more sensible approach to devising my schedule this year, unfortunately. I’ll learn. Thankfully, that lengthy introduction from senior art director Elena Okopnaya (she appears second in the end credits, which gives you an idea of the value of her contribution to the film) and, briefly, actor Louis Franck (major bae) gave me a bit of contextual information about the film. The audience learned that the film was a Polish-Russian-Ukrainian co-production, filmed prior to the breakout of conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We were warned that the film was suffused with references to Russian mythology that we mightn’t recognise, though it was suffused with so much overall that this particular viewer was quite satiated. We were told to reject a conventional approach to watching the film, to instead embrace its non-linear structure and non-traditional style as if listening to a piece of music or observing a painting. We were informed that the film’s heroes were as such because they strayed from the pack, though not out of intention but out of necessity, that they were incapable of behaving any other way.
I ran much of the way out to Shoreditch, save the admittedly sizeable stretch spent on the tube, natch. Why didn’t I think of this when I booked these stupid films? The ones I need to start on time never do, the ones I want to be free of a Q&A that I’d only have to miss inevitably always have one etc. It takes a bloody age to actually reach the screens in Rich Mix Cinema anyway, which adds extra stress to the journey, never mind the queue of imbeciles I had to dawdle behind just to get a fucking Dr. Pepper, but I neeeeeeeded some snacks for the film. You know when people say they’re so busy they forgot to eat? Genuinely never heard such a bewildering statement in all my life. Just does not compute.
The third film from the festival today, and the fourth overall, was Shin Su Won’s Madonna. It’s the fourth and final female-directed title on my list this year, and the second of those four to be non-documentary. It’s also the second Korean film I’m seeing, after My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a markedly different film indeed; both these two comprise my only outings to Rich Mix this year, and while I’ve nothing in particular against this lovely little cultural centre, may these be the last such outings FOREVER! Madonna is like Ms. Ciccone’s Erotica – you totally love what it’s getting at, but the execution isn’t perfect. But who needs perfect? As the film builds humiliation upon disaster upon shame upon sadness upon degradation, it develops into a tirade against cultural and societal misogyny and the effects it has upon women’s opinions of their own worth. It’s scandalous and controversial, and the harder it gets to watch, the harder it hits. Shin’s film is firmly female-centric, and there are magnificent performances from leads Seo Young Hee and Kwon So Hyun. It’s very, very Korean, and I’m just so fucking white, so I found parts of it (specifically a first 15 minutes that feel inconsequential and a final 15 that feel redundant) a little frustrating, but I’m right there with Shin when she harnesses her outrage and crafts a suitably horrible film out of it.
I’ve finally gotten a review for Under Electric Clouds written, and now this diary entry too. The Madonna review will have to wait until late tomorrow. After my busiest day yet, I have a 7am start to catch a 9am screening of Kevin Jerome Everson’s 8-hour documentary Park Lanes tomorrow. Not even kidding. I guess it has to start at 9am, but this is just so not what I need. So everything else has to wait, including the next film – from the longest film at LFF 2015 to the longest film title, Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers. The title of his last film was the best thing about it. Let’s hope things are all change chez Ben Rivers.
Follow me on Twitter @screenonscreen then get some fucking sleep fs