At last, a chance to slow the pace. In truth, the rapid-fire succession of travelling, movie-watching, movie-reviewing, eating and sleeping these past four days has allowed the time so far to fly by, but I’m in no doubt of my desperate need for a bit of a break. Three films a day is a lot to contend with, considering all of the other needs I must meet while at the London Film Festival (not least of which is writing these diary entries for you lot), so the ensuing six days are set to be a lot more relaxed: only two films a day from here on out.
All the same, it was a morning start for Bertrand Tavernier’s Journey Through French Cinema, a documentary running at 190 minutes, so as breaks go, this is of negligible stature. Tavernier can be a most undefinable filmmaker, and this doc goes some way toward revealing why: he is, and has been for most of his life, an avid consumer of classic French cinema, from the esoteric works of his contemporaries, including Godard and Melville, to the classic catalogue provided by legends such as Becker and Renoir, to more diverse fare such as the action movies of Eddie Constantine. His influences are wide, his knowledge deep, his insight astonishing – you’ve rarely heard cinema analyzed and interpreted as Tavernier does here. There was no Q&A after the film, not even an introduction, live or filmed, but who’d need a Q&A after this exhaustive essay? And yet who’d turn one down? One thing that Journey Through French Cinema makes abundantly clear is that, no matter the detail into which Tavernier goes here, there’s an endless wealth of material untouched upon here, and likely an equally endless wealth of wisdom which this great director could impart about it. A text card at the film’s end confirms as much: he’s planning a second such portrait of his influences, who span all professions in the industry (production designer Alexandre Trauner, actor Jean Gabin, composers like Jaubert and Kosma are all profiled), and he knows which ones it’s gonna be about and all!
This lazy Tuesday (although who knows what day it is rn) is made lazier still by its location: I’m at the Vue West End, one of the most popular cinemas for the LFF, and usually one of my most-frequented. This is my first visit here this year, however, and also my penultimate, and one probably couldn’t say I’m making the best use out of it – not only are both of today’s films in the same cinema, they’re also both in the same screen, and I’m in the same seat for both too. The only film I’ve had the misfortune of watching from anywhere other than the front row thus far has been La La Land on Day #1, where I only managed to secure myself a seat when there were a mere two remaining. Front and centre, seats more popular to LFF attendees to only the seats at front and sides. Not me, though. I don’t want anyone nor anything to come between me and the screen. Down in front!
Such proximity was particularly striking with Marco Berger and Martín Farina’s Taekwondo. This is hard R stuff, folks, and not in the usual ways. We’re talking a rare type of hard R here, not the usual graphic drug use nor violence nor sex (though there’s a good bit of that), but a veritable excess of full-frontal nudity, even full-backal, I guess. I challenge anyone to find a cockier film this year, and I mean that literally, or a ballsier one, or indeed a taintier one. Tongues at the ready, boys, you’re in for a feast! In the hazy gay male gaze of its directors’ seductive salacity, we’re treated to generous nudity from all nine of Taekwondo’s leading men, though much as the film is a valuable slice of unabashed erotica, the likes of which most cinema is usually too prudish in which to indulge, it’s also a smart and sensitive examination of the effects of cultural standards of masculinity on men, both hetero- and homosexual. What the characters choose to reveal, and to conceal, and then in what they have no choice, calibrates an astute and affecting picture of the modern man. The cast, a remarkable mix of professional actors yet with incredibly few credits to their names, is uniformly superb, both emotionally and physically – Berger and Farina don’t just encourage our arousal, they actively engender it. Casting a Dato Foland look-a-like in the role of Fatso, a name he thoroughly earns, is certainly one way to court my interest.
Martín Farina, the documentary director and cinematographer who is the co-director and DP on Taekwondo was joined by one of the film’s main cast members, Lucas Papa, for a post-screening Q&A, making this the tenth such session out of 14 films to date. The BFI sure is putting on a good show in 2016! Farina met Berger, the film’s writer and principal director, working on a doc about football players in the hotel prior to the match, and decided to reunited for a similar project, he stated. This one would also focus on a group of young men in a single location – a holiday house in Argentina – in the tentative precursor to a big event, this time the formation of a romantic relationship between two friends, a consummation of desires that we’re not always even sure exist, the consummation itself thus consistently in jeopardy. Initial plans to meld Berger’s narrative style, developed over a series of fellow gay-themed films, with Farina’s documentary talents were modified into what became Taekwondo, with the former director handling the script and actors and the latter turning his attention to other technical issues. Berger penned the script a mere day before filming began, just one of many extraordinary details about the film’s production: 900 actors auditioned for the nine main roles in just one week (only one of the actors actually cast was gay, in the end), and though the directors did not seek out non-professionals, IMDb and Google searches alike bring up incredibly few results for these cast members. Shooting then took place over a mere nine days, shot non-chronologically due to theatre commitments during the period for several of the leading performers, and the dialogue heard in the film is largely verbatim from the script, as the actors – otherwise granted a lot of freedom with their characterizations – had just 24 hours to learn their lines before filming began. Even the ending, whose exact content I shan’t reveal, was improvised spontaneously on the set.
I’m out of Vue West End by 6pm, and back at the hostel with dinner in hand by 7pm. It’s this kind of freedom that I need, to catch up on work, TV and packing, in anticipation of moving out tomorrow upon the arrival of my significant other and our relocation to a more comfortable Airbnb. It’s also this kind of freedom that’s gonna do me no favours – I do fuck all work for the rest of the evening, save most of the packing for tomorrow’s early start, and mostly concentrate on the TV. I’ve earnt it, goddammit!!!!11123R4O;WR
Tomorrow I have the pleasure of being accompanied by Thomas to João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist, then Julia Ducourneau’s Raw. Should be a good day!
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