Posted on: 25 Oct 2018 by Philip Wyn Jones
At this year’s London Film Festival I saw twelve films and enjoyed most of them. Here they are:
A FAMILY TOUR (Ying Liang, Taiwan, 108 minutes). This uninviting title was deliberately unrevealing. There was a bus tour around the tourist attractions of Taiwan but this was no ordinary family. The ailing grandmother lived on her own in China, her daughter and family were exiles in Hong Kong and the tour was an excuse to have a carefully arranged get-together. The grandfather had been highly critical of the Chinese government and his grand-daughter used the medium of film to uphold the family tradition. This, then, is a film about difficult relationships in a repressive political society.
CRYSTAL SWAN (Darya Zhuk, Belarus, 93 minutes). A young woman is desperate to leave Belarus for a new life in the USA. Her visa application efforts are far from straightforward partly because of her own carelessness but also State bureaucracy. Somehow or other she becomes entangled in the wedding preparations and celebrations of people she doesn’t know and begins to think that she’ll never escape. The film is, therefore an uneasy mix of comedy and desperation
PROFILE (Timur Beknambetov, USA, 105 minutes). This exciting film tells its story in an unconventional way. Its subject is the methods used by ISIS and other movements to entrap young Western women. The narrative proceeds by means of emails, text messages, Facebook and so on and builds up to a suspenseful, even terrifying, climax.
LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY (Monta Bell, USA, 78 minutes). This 1925 black and white silent film from the archives gives us a glimpse of New York life long ago. Marion Davies portrays twin sisters brought up separately in very different circumstances; one well-heeled, the other very poor. The poor MD falls in love with a very rich young man and complications ensue. The film bursts into life on the evening when electric street lamps are switched on in the city. At this point we have a brief taster of full colour, produced by tinting, colouring by hand and early Technicolor.
JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM (Celia Rico Clavellino, Spain, 90 minutes). A mother-daughter relationship forms the basis of this lovely film. A loving mother and a rather self-centred daughter live together. The young woman, unhappy in her job and yearning for independence, seeks to escape from her home, her town and her country. Will she succeed? It seems to me that the young writer-director of this film has more in common with the mother than she has with the daughter.
FLORIANOPOLIS DREAM (Ana Katz, Argentina, 106 minutes). This rather conventional film takes an unhappy Argentinian family to Brazil for a seaside holiday. There they lodge with an equally unhappy Brazilian family. Before long, partners are briefly exchanged and then the holiday ends. The film has plenty of beautiful scenery and attractive music but it feels much longer than it actually is.
EL ANGEL (Luis Ortega, Argentina, 115 minutes). This amazing film tells the story of an apparently angelic arch-criminal, a thief who became a serial killer, in an entertaining way. It’s a film that shows no restraint whatsoever and is all the better for that. I should imagine that, in the past, film censors would have denied it a certificate and a release, but here it is, in all its gory glory. I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that one of the film’s producers is a certain Pedro Almodovar. Perhaps I should feel guilty when I add that it’s absolutely delightful.
SCHOOL’S OUT (Sebastien Marnier, France, 103 minutes). Here’s another amazing film, but this time there’s no fun to be had. Secondary school pupils are hard at work. Their teacher walks to the rear of the room, opens a window and jumps out. His suicide necessitates the employment of a replacement. The pupils, youngsters of outstanding ability, give him a hard time; at first the cold shoulder, then challenging on a personal level and finally they become threatening. And yet, at the film’s grim ending, he is clearly on their side. This is a truly haunting film.
FRAGMENT OF AN EMPIRE (Fridrikh Ermler, Russia, 109 minutes). We return to the archives for a 1929 silent film with live musical accompaniment. It’s considered by many to be a classic. A soldier is almost killed in battle in 1914. Although he recovers physically he appears to have lost his memory. The new social order is totally baffling and he remains loyal to the Czar. Technically the film is impressive but as a piece of Soviet propaganda it becomes increasingly tedious.
THUNDER ROAD (pictured, Jim Cummings, USA, 91 minutes). As you can see, Jim Cummings directed this film but he also wrote it and is the lead actor. This could be a danger sign, a warning that we are about to be subjected to a vanity project. Fortunately that is not the case in this instance. Thunder Road is a superb film. It doesn’t fall easily into a recognisable genre. It can be both hilarious and tragic, sometimes simultaneously. Jim Arnaud is a well-meaning policeman and father but his words and actions are hardly ever appropriate. His speeches at his mother’s funeral and when addressing the judge in court are a case in point. This film deserves all the awards it can get.
DUBLIN OLD SCHOOL (Dave Tynan, Ireland, 95 minutes). It’s hard to believe that this great film started out as a stage play. The camera takes us along the back streets of Dublin and into countless houses, bars and clubs. All these places have one thing in common – an endless supply of drugs. There’s plentiful jollity but also the downside, the addiction. Both sides of the story are beautifully illustrated by the relationship between two brothers. All the actors are convincingly natural and the film rings true, whatever the context.
THE PREY (Jimmy Henderson, Cambodia, 94 minutes). All good things must come to an end and this awful film was the last on my list. Prisoners are released and told to run for their lives into the adjacent jungle. Most are shot before they get that far and the hunt for the survivors gets into top gear. The film is relentlessly sadistic, tediously so. Even worse than the violence, we have to contend with some truly dreadful acting, particularly from the men who have organised the hunt. How on earth did such a terrible film find its way into an international film festival?
Philip Wyn Jones