Monday, 13 October 2014

London Film Festival round-up: October 10

Stephen Puddicombe brings you the latest from the London Film Festival

 - Considering how much time the average person spends on the internet these days, the lack of movies that show characters regularly fiddling on their phones or browsing on their desktops feels somewhat anachronistic.

Perhaps that’s down to how dull a spectacle it is to watch people staring at a screen, but, through displaying the content of the characters’ devices on the cinema screen for us to see, Men, Women and Children manages to build engaging drama out of instant messenger exchanges and internet searches.

This drama usually involves the strained relationships between the ensemble cast of men, women and children in the film, as director Jason Reitman aims to explore how modern technology is shaping contemporary society. His observations are sound albeit predictable and, despite a distracting voiceover from Emma Thompson and a framing device that strives for a profundity that the film fails to earn, this is a warm, well-acted and gently entertaining affair.

 - In typically art-house fashion, Abel Ferrara rejects the usual traits of the biopic genre in his feature on the great Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini. He intersperses mundane scenes of the protagonist living out his last day with episodic tangents into his creative imagination.

These scenes, which attempt to bring to life Pasolini’s unrealised projects, don’t really feel worthy of the late director’s talents and struggle to fit coherently into the film as a whole. There’s no doubting Ferrara’s integrity – Pasolini’s belief that ‘to scandalise is a right’ is one proudly practiced in his own films – but even the moments intended here to scandalise fall comparatively flat.

The film is at its most watchable when we witness the character of Pasolini unfold, thanks largely to a typically compelling performance from Willem Dafoe that exhibits intelligence, passion and inner-anguish. But the choice to document just one day of his life and the dissatisfying way the scenes from his imagination are rendered means we are never offered much access to his character.

 - Amidst the growing threat of Islamic State in the Middle-East comes Timbuktu, a heartfelt and exasperated plea for humanity over oppressive fundamental religion.

Abderrahmane’s Sissako’s films dramatizes the 2012 occupation of Mali by jihadists, concentrating on a collection of residents in Timbuktu as their enjoyment of basic leisure activities like football, music and socialising are clamped down upon by the new gun-wielding authorities. Rather than embarking on a sombre attack on such oppression, Sissako instead opts to point out the absurdity of the new laws – one fishmonger is perplexed by the new requirement for her to wear gloves despite the necessity for her to handle fish, while two jihadists puzzle over whether singing is a sin when it is done so in praise of God.

The tone is understated throughout which, for better or worse, resists an overly-emotional connection by using music only very sparingly and having its characters respond stoically to their compromised new circumstances. And juxtaposed with the tragedy of the events is Sissako’s beautiful direction, including one particularly stunning single take during the film’s dramatic apex. 


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