Oscar watchers rejoice! Unless you’re one of those ridiculous dreamers who supposes that films like Elle or Toni Erdmann might have a shot at securing major category Oscar nods in January [beyond Best FLF], the schedule for my excursion to the London Film Festival has, this year, been pretty light on Academy-friendly fare. Indeed, there’s been a veritable drought in that regard since near the very start of my 10-day trip, with only two of the films on my programme thus far qualifying as legitimate major Oscar contenders, and those two – Moonlight and La La Land – being, respectively, my first and second screenings. But that all changes today, as The Weinstein Company brings Lion to the festival.
You’ll inevitably recall my experience at the premiere for the film last evening, as cast and crew showed up for the American Express Gala, though that was an event which I skipped in favour of watching Raw, a film that could hardly be more different from this emotional true story. But, having loved what director Garth Davis did on TV’s Top of the Lake, and with my never-stronger adoration for Nicole Kidman in full bloom, Thomas and I set off this morning, back to Odeon Leicester Square, to see just what all that fuss was about.
And I’m none the wiser. Lion will be a hit with the Academy, but it’s not my favorite of the festival. With Harvey Weinstein behind it, given its inspiring story and strong performances, Kidman and lead Dev Patel ought to be shoo-ins in two of the year’s less-crowded main categories, Supporting Actress and Lead Actor. My exalted expectations aside, I’ll not resent the film any Oscar success it receives, but there are too many other exceptional films that I’ll want to champion during the upcoming awards season.
I would’ve taken a snap of Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, vaguely incognito in a black baseball cap, exiting the cinema at the same time as me, had I a) cared, b) not cared about embarrassing myself (this is Tom Holland, after all, not another Mike Leigh moment where it’s literally worth anything), or c) actually had my phone on my person. It’d take me until arriving at McDonald’s in Camden to realize its absence, and a panicked phonecall to Odeon to realize its whereabouts, thankfully safe, healthy and not too broken up by its abandonment. Poor baby. An afternoon sans technology ensued, and a generous helping of retail therapy was Dr. Mulholland’s recommendation. I purchased myself a vintage reversible kimono for £28. Thomas purchased himself a coat that I intend to wear at least twice as much as he does, and it came to £85, so I think I’m the real winner there. It was a good day for all involved, but mainly me, and we all know that’s all that matters.
The biggest benefit to seeing only two films per day, as opposed to three, is the free time it affords you. And there was plenty of that today, since Lion let out at 1:30pm and After the Storm, the next title on my list, wasn’t due to start until 9:00pm. Phone finally returned to its careless owner and kimono in tow (the second kimono of the day, since I’m already wearing one), we returned to our Airbnb for some… ‘activities…’ before the film. Koreeda sure knows how to get the job done, turning out almost a film a year these days, and if they have a tendency to blur into one at times, and to repeat the same themes over and over, it’s never a concern – here’s a filmmaker possessed of such empathy and artistic ability that each and every one of his films is a worthwhile watch. After the Storm is, to my mind, his best since I Wish. It’s his least forced, with the minor narrative contrivances built into the characters, that they may not merely follow its path but define it for themselves. That’s a central idea in this film, how we must choose to define our own paths in life, in the shadow of the person we’ve been before, the person we expected to be, and the person we would like to be moving forward. Giving it welcome dashes of added verve, lacking a little in recent Koreeda titles Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister, is a healthy strain of humour, supplied principally by yet another delightful performance by Kirin Kiki.
Here’s a Q&A for the ages, now. And at long last, since the previous three films had all been and gone without a single appearance from a single cast nor crew member. Koreeda, accompanied by translator, attended a post-screening session that was as informative and engaging as these things come, and that was characterized by a standard of questioning that ranks above and beyond the vast majority of that of other Q&As in my four years at this festival. He was attired in clothes that were delightfully, authentically Japanese in style and construction: pants neatly cropped just around the ankle, with a pleated crotch; an unhemmed shirt made of patchwork strips of fabric; a knitted cardigan. The Telegraph’s Tim Robey oversaw, himself posing the first two questions. First: which elements of the film came to Koreeda, who both wrote and directed, first? We learnt that, although the film is not strictly autobiographical, it does draw upon a lot of aspects of Koreeda’s life, even taking place in the very apartment block in which he lived from age 9 to age 27. He drew upon certain episodes from his childhood, and wanted to explore the idea of a typhoon cleansing an environment, the storm passing through the night and leaving the morning seeming fresh and new. Next: the casting of Abe Hiroshi and Kirin Kiri as son and mother, as in his 2008 film Still Walking. Koreeda began making notes on reuniting these actors as far back as 2009, and devised After the Storm as a kind of companion piece in that regard. In the time since then, both Abe and Koreeda have become fathers and entered their 50s, thus providing this relationship with a perspective that it could not have possessed eight years ago.
Audience questions were equally insightful. First was about whether the film was designed with an overall structure in mind or if it was developed through the writing process. The reality was, in fact, somewhere in between the two. The first scene written was one in which the main character sifts through the ashes of burnt incense on his mother’s altar, picking out the stubs; as in the Japanese custom of sifting through the ashes of cremated family members, picking out the bones. The rest of the film was written in order to get to, then beyond, that point. Next: what was the purpose of the depiction of food in the film? Koreeda fans will be familiar with the prevalence of scenes of food preparation and consumption in his films; he has worked with food stylist Iijima Nami for several years now, and likes to stress the importance of food, and its preparation, in the daily lives of Japanese people. Asked about its significance in his previous film, Our Little Sister, he commented that it was used there to signify an absent family member; in After the Storm, its appearance may be less enticing, but necessarily so – these are dishes his mother made in an apartment just like the one in which much of this film takes place. Indeed, I’m always struck by the way in which Koreeda uses food in his films both to inform and to reflect the narrative and atmosphere. The final question was in relation to the private investigator characters in the film, and what precipitated their inclusion. Koreeda revealed that he had once studied with a man who became a PI as research for a novel he intended to write, just as the lead character in After the Storm does; this man, many years later, is still a PI, and has no knowledge of the fact that he served as direct inspiration for this role
Tomorrow I indulge in my biggest lie-in yet, with my latest start yet, and girl you know I’m grateful for that. I’ll report back on Eugène Green’s The Son of Joseph (I bet you’re all dying to read about that one!) and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius in 24 hours. Until then, enjoy your lives!
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