Thursday, 23 October 2014

London Film Festival round-up:October 17

Stephen Puddicombe brings you the latest from the London Film Festival

 - There’s been countless coming-of-age films made over the years, but very few about black teenage girls growing up in France. As director of Girlhood Celine Sciamma says herself, black women are virtually ‘invisible’ in French cinema, while portrayals of them in the media are often negative.

Admirably, Sciamma tells her film from the perspective of a young black girl (Karidja Toure in her first feature film, whose excellent and natural performance carries the film) as she leaves school and joins an all-girl gang. By dramatizing her life in such an empathetic and non-judgmental manner, Sciamma humanises the kind of person who might be frowned upon or mistrusted if passed in the street.

Her life story is also moving and relatable, and does not suffer from being made exotic as some films about ‘others’ in society are guilty of. The politics of being an outsider are inevitably tangled up in the story and are handled very deftly by Sciamma, and makes for a fascinating counterpoint to Richard Linklater’s similar but white male-orientated Boyhood.

 - French house music in the 1990s was undoubtedly an exciting scene to be involved with, but the excitement never quite translates to the screen in Eden. The soundtrack is great, but we never get a sense for the craft and creativity that goes into making the music, nor the thrill of experiencing it in a club.

The characters are all quite dull and difficult to engage with, especially the protagonist (Felix de Givry), whose rise and fall shapes the structure of the film. The usual staples of heavy drug taking, world tours and romantic entanglements are present, but all unfortunately fall a little flat.

- Lisandro Alonso’s latest typically idiosyncratic film Jauja will intrigue some with its strange atmosphere and mysterious symbolism, and frustrate others with its deliberate pacing and thin plot.

That plot involves Viggo Mortensen playing a Danish engineer in Argentina taking part in the Conquest of the Desert, who sets out to find his daughter when she disappears. His search is more L’avventura than it is The Searchers, as dialogue gradually decreases and he is absorbed more and more into the landscape, before the film enters yet stranger territory in the final third.

Alonso shot on location in the extraordinary looking rural South America and manipulates lighting to give everything a stark, dreamy colouring, while the narrow 4:3 aspect ratio gives a great sense of depth to the vast landscape yet disarmingly offers little peripheral vision. It’s beautiful to behold, but any meaning or message is oblique.  


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