Wednesday, 22 October 2014

London Film Festival round-up: October 16

Stephen Puddicombe brings you the latest from the London Film Festival

 - Whiplash is one of those great films that takes a very specific subject that most audience members will possess only a very limited knowledge of – in this case jazz drumming – and immerses us so completely in it that for the 1 hour 45 minute duration of the film we’re just as thrilled and obsessed by it as the characters on screen.

The title ‘whiplash’ refers both to the name of a recurring piece played by the conservatoire jazz band and to the sensation of watching it – it jolts us back and forth, constantly playing with our expectations and shifting the balance of power between the characters. Much credit must go to Damien Chazelle for his exhilarating direction, particularly the rhythmic cutting and detailed close-ups he uses during live performances.

He presents jazz as a craft to meticulously obsess over in the quest for perfection, and fascinates in doing so. Characters hear things that our untrained ears cannot pick up, yet convinces in its authenticity.

The sharpest ear of all is that of the band’s conductor Terrance Fletcher (J.K. Simons), whose brutally perfectionist teaching methods and the effects it has on the aspiring drummer protagonist (Miles Teller) forms the crux of the film. Simons gives a virtuoso performance, at times hilarious, at times shockingly cruel, but always brilliantly charismatic. The film doesn’t fall either side of the debate it raises concerning the ethics of his methods, but gives convincing arguments for both, most of all in its astonishing finale – it’s up to us to evaluate the brilliant music it creates and the damage it inflicts, and make our own minds up.  

 - As a German film about a holocaust survivor seeking to integrate herself back into society, Phoenix is inevitably charged with plenty of profound social and political concerns,

Director Christian Petzold approaches the traumatic subject through a premise reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo. Nelly (an excellent Nina Ross), returning from a concentration camp, has undergone reconstructive facial surgery, so much so that her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) does not recognise her when she turns up at the Phoenix nightclub he frequents. But noting her resemblance to his wife, he offers her a room and moulds her appearance and mannerisms with the outward aim of pretending his wife is still alive and thus being able to sell her fortune, while she, longing for her old identity, plays along.  

Their unique relationship makes for a fascinating watch, and intelligently explores notions of identity and subconscious wilful forgetting that resonate profoundly in a country so burdened by the holocaust.

- Talking about his first feature length film in a Q ‘n’ A after its first screening at the festival, director Daniel Wolfe described Catch Me Daddy as a British western. And indeed, the landscape – here the Yorkshire Moors and provincial towns rather than the American West – is evocatively captured thanks to some brilliantly expressionistic cinematography.

But unlike a traditional Western, Wolfe’s film – about two young runaway lovers (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed and (Conor McCarron) pursued by one white gang and one South Asian gang - lacks compelling characters and an intriguing plot to hook you in, even when it develops into more of a straightforward thriller than the arthouse kitchen sink drama it had initially seemed to be. As a result we’re left a little disconnected from the film, so much so that the brutal final scene lacks the emotional bite that was clearly intended. Nevertheless, Wolfe demonstrates plenty of talent and great ambition, and with a little refinement could become a household name.

No comments:

Post a Comment