I think it’s fair to refer to Trinity as Leeds’ hottest new food hangout. But that is selling it short because, to be honest, there’s little competition. The atmosphere of the place is great; at once shambolic and street-foodish and neon-funky. It’s somewhere you want to be. Somewhere fun to meet with friends. And with some many scrummy options available, why wouldn’t you make this a permanent part of your Leeds adventures?
As well as the permanent fixtures, the space allows for temporary retailers to ply their tasty wares around the edges. On Monday this week it was all change; out with the old and in with the new. And there are some exceptionally exciting choices to be made, I can tell you!
Fish& is a place I’m already sold on. A regular on the streets of Leeds and at many events, the time-honoured fish and chips favourite is given a mild kick in the pants to bring it up to speed. The food is simple, familiar and difficult to top. That’s two fish and chip places in one space. It’ll be interesting to see how that head-to-head plays out.
Original Fry Up Material was a tempting option. Fry ups and burgers. What more is there to (a very unhealthy) life? The nosh is made in front of you on a BBQ-style grill and the chaps were in high spirits, despite how busy they clearly were. I’ll be heading back here, for sure. I’m particularly enticed by the Sweetsmoke burger which includes whiskey cured bacon. Ok. You got me. Let’s dance.
Next up, you’ve got the lovely folks at Crepe Lucette. Aside from the good old Nutella fest and the sugar and lemon classic, these fryne folks (that was supposed to be a pun on “fine” and “fry”. Didn’t work) are serving up specials with ingredients such as hot smoked salmon and beef bourguignon. Holy moly.
Donostia Social Club, in their cool blue van, dish up some amazing-looking tapas. There’s the option to sit at the “bar”, too, and pretend you’re chowing down in the Basque country. Meats, cheeses, chilled gazpacho and hot pintxos. What more could one hungry belly want?
After much pacing and much drooling, we decided to go for Dogtown Hotdog Co. Let me explain why: A Giant Bock (“mahoosive pork bockwurst”), add-on beef and bone marrow chilli and a side of Tater Tots*. That’s why. And my word was it delicious.
I’ve actually become suspicious of places who specialise in one item of fast food (burgers, hotdogs etc). In my experience, this simply allows them to churn out plate after plate of what should be high-quality, perfected food but is disappointing, neglected, over-cooked and under cared for. Not so with Dogtown. Our order was our order. The staff were polite, attentive and - best of all - excited about our choices. The food was unbelievably tasty, too.
I love the atmosphere at Trinity Kitchen. And the variety of food not only speaks but sings to me. If I had a complaint it would be the pricing. It’s not as if the meals are extortionate. They’re really, really not. And if you’re making a night of it, they’re actually very reasonable. But, if I’m nipping to Trinity (or through, even) to pick something up, I’m unlikely to stop at the Kitchen to eat because I may only have £3 rattling around my pocket.
I’m very hopeful, though, of deals and specials. This place is tremendously exciting for foodies and shoppers alike. Get yourself down to Trinity Kitchen as a Christmas treat. Yum. YUM!
*Do you remember Oven Crunchies? Ok. Tater Tots are Oven Crunchies. Massive revelation and a filling-in of some American culture knowledge gaps.
I missed Love Eternal at its first LIFF27 screening so I was glad of the repeat, making it my final film of this year’s festival. As every year of the Leeds International Film Festival is, it has been an immense adventure in cinema. My brain feels as if it has been washed in celluloid (or dipped in digital, at the very least). The two or so weeks have flown by but, equally, there has been many months’ worth of cinema on offer. It has been a real treat for the city.
Based on a novel by Kei Ôishi (writer of the Ju-on/Grudge novels), Love Eternal has troubling and fascinating premise at its heart. After witnessing the death of his father as a young boy, recluse Ian becomes entirely dependent on his mother and sits in his room, alone, observing the world through his telescope. When his mother dies she leaves him a manual for life, allowing Ian to function, loosely, in society.
Ian develops an obsession with death and, specifically, with suicide. After reconsidering his own suicide-by-car-exhaust when a group of people arrive to carry out exactly the same act, Ian steals one of the bodies of the women who perish, along with her suicide note.
Thus begins a strange journey for Ian where the bodies of recently dead women become life (or death) partners to him. He converses with them, negotiates and, in some of the most uncanny cinematic scenes I’ve seen in a while, grooms and washes them.
Throughout the picture, Ian asks us to accept that he is “not human” and we begin to believe him. There seems to be little aggressive or malicious about Ian and an empty sadness is his defining characteristic. This makes his actions even more curious and, in the most macabre way, intriguing. There’s an element of the Norman Bates about the character which is inescapable in this arena. But director Muldowney manages to retain a frosty originality at the heart of his film.
There’s something of Edgar Allen Poe in Ian’s admiration for and fascination with the lifeless body. There’s an atmosphere of necrophilia in parts of the picture which, again, unsettles enormously. When Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh) enters the story we see a glimmer of hope for Ian; a chance for him to regain his humanity. But as this conventional-unconventional love story emerges, we’re lulled into forgetting Ian’s actions, somewhat, and we’re tempted to forgive him. Or, at the very least, to consider him as a victim as well as a perpetrator.
The differences between assisting suicide, suffering suicide (i.e. doing nothing to prevent it) and murder are blurred in Love Eternal. The question of where the line is drawn is posed as Ian agrees to a suicide pact merely, so it seems, to observe death and to steal away another deceased companion. When the act goes wrong, however, and the young woman wakes up from the sleeping pills before the fumes kill her, Ian’s decision reveals a much more sinister and determined edge of his psyche. This is a film with many sides.
The subdued tone of the movie is linked with Ian’s state of mind and the performances from both Pollyanna McIntosh and Robert de Hoog, particularly when they are sharing the screen, are quite wonderful. Despite its troubling and difficult subject matter, this is a well composed and watchable piece of cinema.
So, that’s the end of my Leeds International Film Festival coverage. Look out for the special events coming up in December - a whole host of cinematic goodies, some more Christmassy than others!
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Screenwriter: Brendan Muldowney, Kei Ôishi (novel)
Producer: Conor Barry, Manami Fukawa
Leading Cast: Pollyanna McIntosh, Amanda Ryan, Robert de Hoog Cinematographer: Tom Comerford
Film Editor: Mairead McIvor
Original Music: Bart Westerlaken
I once saw a man cut a spaceship in half with a guitar. Granted, it was at a Night of the Dead event at the Hyde Park Picture House, at around 2am, in a film called Wild Zero. Since that point, though, I began to understand (or not) the boundlessness of Japanese cinema. You think you know where you are (Oh, it’s a zombie movie) and then the lead protagonist is suddenly running around in his underpants, shooting fireballs from his eyes.
HK: Forbidden Hero is … well, it’s … ok, the film … Right. I’ll just explain it, shall I? Kyosuke Shikijo (Ryohei Suzuki) is an awkward and weedy (though inexplicably handsome and buff) schoolboy. The son of a maverick cop and an S&M mistress (who met when he was supposed to be busting her most recent client but ends up being bound and whipped and enjoying it), Kyosuke battles with keeping his sense of perversion and justice aligned - don’t we all? And then it gets weird. After meeting (the alarmingly young-looking) Aiko (Fumika Shimizu) and falling in love with her, Kyosuke attempts to rescue her from an idiotic and violent gang.
In order to disguise himself, Kyosuke mistakenly puts a pair of panties on his face which, much to his surprise gives him superpowers (well, it would be a surprise). As the film progresses, Kyosuke realises that the pants have to have been worn in order to give him his powers (laundered is apparently fine, just not brand new) and that his strength stems from being a “pervert” but, in actuality, he’s not a pervert and, later, a fake version of his superhero self who in fact is a pervert demonstrates what being a real pervert is all about (being humiliated, having people think you have small genitalia, rubbing your nipples at lightning speed etc). It’s this kind of thing for 90 minutes.
HK, which stands for Hentai Kamen (which translated, as far as I can gather, means ‘pervert mask’) literally uses his mankini-clad crotch to thwart his enemies and save Aiko time and time again. The film, which openings with a witty imitation of the Marvel Spider-Man credits (the seams of panties standing in for spider web) has a broadly-comic first act. It is funny and silly and manic. But, as the plot develops (there’s gold buried under the school and the long-haired, chicken-chomping villain has to defeat the school martial arts team to get at it) I found myself completely at sea and, surprisingly, a little bored.
The film is like a cross between a spoofish superhero film (a la Super and Kick Ass) and an episode of Power Rangers. There are specific cultural ingredients to the film which may leave audiences who are more familiar with non-Japanese cinema entirely baffled. But, there’s plenty to chuckle at in the first half of HK: Forbidden Superhero, if little else to engage with. If you have a penchant for Manga, this is a film worth seeking out. If not but you fancy a totally different cinematic experience; why not?
And the prize for strangest and most unpredictable film I’ve seen at LIFF27 goes to …
Director: Yûichi Fukuda
Screenwriter: Keishû Andô manga, Yûichi Fukuda, Shun Oguri
Producer: Koji Hyakutake, Takahisa Miyaji, Tomohiro Kobayashi
Leading Cast: Shunsuke Daitô, Narushi Ikeda, Nana Katase
Cinematographer: Tetsuya Kudo
When Michael Haneke released an English language shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 psychological thriller Funny Games it felt like a deliberate book end to the so-called torture porn horror movie craze. Since then, a few films in this shallow-reaching genre have trickled through (Saw XX, anyone?) but, mostly, movies whose sole preoccupation is the aggressive disassembly of the human body have run, screaming, for the hills.
Big Bad Wolves is a curious piece in this context. Its central focus is, indeed, the kidnap and torture of an assumed child murderer. But from the opening, we’re aware that we’re dealing with slick direction, attention to detail and an admiration for folklore and fairy tales. We’re awash in greens and reds and blues; children hiding in wardrobes and the childhood sanctuary/parental nightmare of the abandoned house in the woods. All of which, far from the head-smackingly dull and gore obsessed borefests churned about by the likes of Eli Roth and his disciples, very much drew me in and made me feel if not excited then hopeful about what was to follow.
The plot is flimsy and simple: a teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), who is assumed to be a serial murderer of little girls, is kidnapped by the father of one of the victims, Gidi (Tzahi Grad). Failing to get at Dror first, last-chance-saloon cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) becomes involved in the scheme; desperate, too, to get a confession out of Dror in order to save his own career.
The bulk of the film sees Dror tied up in a makeshift torture chamber underneath Gidi’s new and isolated cottage. Bring on the flesh tearing, right? Well, sort of. The picture manages a series of ever-increasingly predictable (though never any less effective) double-bluffs and Kansas City Shuffles. A sequence of interruptions prevent Gidi from really going to town on Dror. Again, an indication that directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado want to do much more than simply repel and repulse us. These domestic interruptions are comic and feel both like Dror’s saviour and our own.
There’s pitch black humour in this movie which, again, reassures us that we’re in relatively safe hands; that these filmmakers (unlike those involved in the Hostel franchise) haven’t apparently seated cruelty and sadism at the heart of their work. We’re sort of in on the joke rather than out in the cold. But, even as I was anticipating the hammer to the fingers in an early scene, I had a revelation: I’m just not enjoying this.
I love horror films. I really, really do. But in these all-too familiar episodes of ramped-up tension before the inevitable, plasticinic viscera to follow, I don’t feel excited or nervous or chilled. I just feel uncomfortable and impatient and that this really isn’t worth my time nor emotional energy and I’m just fed up. A little like Morrissey must feel doing any interview, ever.
Big Bad Wolves achieves much. There are some cleverly constructed setpieces and, in particular, the relationship between Gidi and his father is brilliantly drawn and bleakly surprising. The end of the film, too, is satisfying and creepy. The photography is wonderful and I’ll be seeking out more work by director of photograhy Giora Bejach. The hulking bulk of a soundtrack brings and awful lot of menace to proceedings, generating and enforced feeling of unease from the moment the tapes go up.
I found it annoying, though, that despite all of the work and love that’s gone into this film, the draw is torture. Yes, Big Bad Wolves manages, on the whole, to avoid outright gratuitousness. Yes, the filmmakers seem to understand the difference between real brutality and cinematic torture and riff on this knowledge. Yes, the double bluffs and near-misses are essentially there to teach you naughty torture porn gluttons a lesson. But, once you’ve had that chiding from Haneke, you really don’t need it from anyone else.
Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Screenwriter: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Producer: Tami Leon, Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi
Leading Cast: Guy Adler, Lior Ashkenazi, Dvir Benedek
Cinematographer: Giora Bejach
Film Editor: Asaf Korman
Original Music: Haim Frank Ilfman
Short films are shy creatures who hide out in obscure places on late night television or in the far reaches of Disc 2 DVD menus. You have to seek them out and, mostly, there’s little hype to illuminate you as to what you’re about to enjoy (or endure). I love them.
LIFF offers up many opportunities to see shorts and, this year, I went along to two of the six Louis Le Prince competition showcases of cinema from around the world. Attending these showcases is the equivalent of letting someone else buy you a bag of pick’n’mix. You may end up with hundreds of those horrible imitation Smarties. But you also may just find one of those huge gummy tarantulas lurking in the bottom.
In the first round of the competition Terarrium opened the selection. The story of two cousins rattling around their own isolation, prisoners in their infirm grandmother’s house as the world turns outside its four walls. Bullyish Max treats is a potential explosion of male teenage hormones waiting to happen; obsessed with lusty humour and sexually teasing his cousin. Tina is a timid young girl, inexplicably, allows herself to be victimised by her cruel cousin. This kitchen sink drama from Croatia was intriguing and well-shot. The strange, suggestive ending, too, highlighted its daring intelligence.
Both Vikingar and Just Before Losing Everything dealt with contemporary families. The former via cosplay-tinted, Lord of the Rings-esque allegory which didn’t quite land for me; the latter as a tense and gripping but ultimately uneventful mini-thriller.
Ellen is Leaving, enjoying its UK debut at this screening, began rather aimlessly but with a certain, cutesy charm. Ellen is, as the title would suggest, leaving New Zealand and her cosy life with boyfriend Hamish to go globe-trottting. What begins as a warm but innocuous comedic drama blossoms into a poignant and touching picture about the adventure of other people. Far from feeling excited for Ellen and her new life, we feel anchored to her fun-seeming friends and the safety and love of all she’s leaving behind. I was surprised by how much I got out of this film which, on first appearances, is a little skeletal.
My pick of the showcase, though, was My Guide. The vast majority of this Hungarian film has us perched upon the dashboard of Vilmos and Kira’s car as we join them on several trips to the hospital. Kira navigates and chirps orders at Vilmos, Hyacinth Bucket-style (“watch out for the pedestrian” , “the light is green” , “don’t drive over the speed limit”) as he becomes increasingly more grumbly with her.
As Kira’s illness worsens and their journeys become more fraught with tension, Vilmos decides to record his wife to demonstrate just how irritating her constant chattering is. In a stunning moment of cinema, Kira sits in the wheelchair, a headscarf only partially hiding just how sick she now is, she hands Vilmos a present for his recently-past birthday: a sat nav for the car. The film is heartbreaking, brilliantly acted and shows just how much can be done with only 12 minutes of film.
Tomorrow I’ll post my reviews of the other instalment of the competition that I was able to get along to. But if these offerings were anything to go by, the jury will have a tremendously tricky time choosing a winner.
Francois Ozon’s Dans La Maison (2012) featured in the line-up of LIFF26. For me it was a near miss. A decent enough thrilled which failed to go far enough under the surface of its own ideas of control, voyeurism and fantasy. But, I was excited to see Jeune et Jolie on the additional films list at this year’s festival. Whatever else he may be, Ozon is an interesting and careful filmmaker and this picture, I felt, had real promise.
Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is a seventeen year-old girl who, after her first sexual experience on a summer holiday, returns home and begins working as an online escort, “turning tricks” (to use Isabelle’s expression) for money. After one of her regular clients, Georges (Johan Leysen), has a heart attack as they are having sex, Isabelle’s new life as alter-ego Lea swiftly approaches the brink of being exposed to her family and friends.
The film considers Isabelle’s pathway between being a girl and becoming a woman, the move from being a child to being an adult via the strange, briefness of adolescence. Isabelle is presented as constructing her own adulthood; superficially transforming herself into Lea by borrowing her mother’s blouse and wearing garish, red lipstick. Though there’s a clear divide between the two, it’s unclear whether the “child” or “adult” side of Isabelle is the construction.
Jeune et Jolie poses more questions than it answers. Or, rather, Ozon’s film can be read as a series of speculations and ideas rather than a seminar on the morality of prostitution. Isabelle’s intentions are deliberately oblique; she does not identify for us her motivations.
Why, we’re asked to consider, is Isabelle’s journey into sexual experience any worse than the “standard” of meeting a boy at a party etc? It’s a bold question. Ozon conveniently omits many potential difficulties and dangers of Isabelle’s choices from the picture.We’re asked to accept that Isabelle is in control of her actions; that she isn’t being forced into prostitution; nor that she is in financial need.
Also, the film does not show any particularly dark nor dangerous aspects of online escorting. These omissions may warrant the accusation that the movie is at best naive and at worst willfully ignorant. Regardless, though, of what Ozon is getting right and wrong, there are some interesting debates to engage with.
The opening shot of the picture functions in part as a hypothesis for the whole feature: We see Isabelle on a beach, sunbathing topless, through binoculars. This sequestered voyeur is revealed to be her younger brother. On one hand, this is a leery, creepy and unsettling image of sexual objectification and exploitation of the observed Isabelle. On the other, it’s an exercise in curiosity; almost playful and admiring (though, undoubtedly, unsettling).
Isabelle is perceived as dangerous in key moments of the film and a seductive threat to any man (including her own step-father, played by the ever-brilliant Frédéric Pierrot), something of which the director is playfully critical. Later, there’s a sense that Isabelle’s sexual experience renders her, somehow, sick and that her behaviour is contagious. There’s a whiff of Victoriana about these ideas and, going back even further, Ozon seems to carve out a role which shares some ground with Moll Flanders in Defoe’s 1722 novel.
Jeune et Jolie is a well-paced, well-delivered piece of film-making. Some of its ideas are frustratingly non-committal but, also, therein lies much of its power. There are certainly a few mis-steps in terms of Ozon’s message and there feels to be a lack of realism where Isabelle’s experiences are concerned (certainly, a sugar-coating). But, this is certainly one of the most interesting things I’ve seen at this year’s festival.
Director: François Ozon
Screenwriter: François Ozon
Producer: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Leading Cast: Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot
Cinematographer: Pascal Marti
Film Editor: Laure Gardette
Original Music: Philippe Romb
How many opportunities are you likely to get, in your life, to see Faust (1926) with a live pipe organ accompaniment in a packed auditorium? Well, if you didn’t get along to the Town Hall yesterday the answer is probably: zero.
One of the things that is so precious about the Leeds International Film Festival is the special events and one-offs it brings to the city. Silent cinema is not necessarily the first choice on most people’s lists for a Friday night movie. But, it does have a universal and lasting charm; it’s a real shame to ignore it as a genre. LIFF provides opportunities to see often-forgotten gems and masterpieces such as Murnau’s Faust and, in this case, for free.
The atmosphere inside the Town Hall’s main auditorium was electric when I stepped inside. At the front, under the huge cinema screen, sat Simon Lindley, illuminated in yellow light, poised at the organ. As the picture began, the mood in the room swelled with appreciation for both Murnau’s creepy classic and for Lindley’s perfectly apt musical accompaniment.
The film itself is thrilling. Full of impressive and terrifying apocalyptic imagery (not least the towering vision of Mephisto as he stands in judgement over the German village in which Faust lives) and archetypally gothic set pieces, the film is a stunning achievement. Considering the limits of film practise in 1926, Faust really is something and I couldn’t help imagining how this phantasmagorical adventure would have moved and disturbed its first audiences.
The story is, of course, familiar: based on Goethe’s fable of diabolical bargaining, the tragic Faust makes a pact with the demon Mephisto in order to achieve forbidden knowledge and godlike abilities. In this telling of the tale, Faust first accepts a ‘one day trial’ of his new powers in order to save his village from the plague. After being cast out and accepting the gift of youth, Faust finds himself seduced by his new, boundless powers. The film spirals and spins, casting its black magic over its viewers. Emil Jannings is cheeky and terrifying by turns as the wicked tempter, Mephisto.
Unsatisfied with the hedonistic offerings of his new, damned life Faust finds love with the innocent Gretchen and sets about mystically wooing the young girl. Gretchen’s fate is, as we might expect, a tragic one. Her treatment as a “harlot” is brutal and Murnau’s scathingly critical stance on what becomes of the “fallen woman” is loud and clear. The scenes of her subsequent outcast status, trying to protect her newborn baby from the frozen elements, are bitterly chilling.
The constructed sets, the desolate landscapes, the silhouetted, horned demons have, since this film’s 1926, passed into über-cliche. But in films such as Faust we see the first, sour fruits of horror cinema; the genre’s uncanny origins and, believe me, these elements still pack one hell of a punch.
Despite Murnau’s Nosferatu being amongst my favourite films, I was surprised just how affecting I found this later, more accomplished piece of cinema. It was a delight to be able to see Faust on the big screen and in such magical circumstances. It made me feel incredibly grateful for the Leeds International Film Festival, too.
If you haven’t yet seen anything at the festival, there are only a few days left but still and awful lot of films on offer. Visit: http://www.leedsfilm.com/ and book your tickets.
I don’t think I’m nailing my colours to the mast too much by saying that Gothic cinema (and literature and photography and pretty much Gothic anything) is a genre of which I’m incredibly fond. So, as you might imagine, Soulmate called to me from the pages of the LIFF27 catalogue like the soul of a lost lover over the mists of forlorn moor.
I encountered Axelle Carolyn’s short film The Halloween Kid last year at LIFF’s very own Day of the Dead. I remembered two things about it: 1) It was narrated deliciously by Derek Jacobi and 2) It was let down by some ill-judged, clunky writing. But, despite these mixed emotions, I knew it would take an awful lot to ruin a home-grown ghost story; something which I was predisposed to love.
The story is familiar enough in this territory: After attempting suicide, Audrey (Anna Walton) escapes to the Welsh countryside in self-imposed exile. Soon realising that she is not alone in the creaky, old cottage in which she has set up a temporary home, she turns to the locals for more information about the house’s previous owner and the tragic circumstances of his death.
The film looks gorgeous. The landscapes are murky and moody and grey; the desaturated photography is stunning. Within a few moments, I was all bedded-in in the cosy snugness of the Hyde Park Picture House, hopeful for a good, old-fashioned ghostly tale. Sadly, however, Soulmate loses its way rather quickly.
As with The Halloween Kid, the script is four or five drafts away from realising anything close to its potential. The dialogue is stilted and jerks inexplicably into awkwardly handled moments of exposition which, as intelligent human beings, we simply do not need. The cast manage well with the words that they’re given but there’s none of the usual (and much-needed) lyricism of good gothic writing. It’s a crying shame, too. A crying, howling, breast-beating shame.
There’s a severe lack of discipline at the heart of this script which, as the film presses on into more absurdly-drawn territory, just becomes grating and irritating. Director Carolyn clearly understands this genre and obviously has a fondness for it. And there are some good scares early on and the establishing tone is appropriately creepy. But, the writing is at moments heavy-handed and at others, frankly, nothing short of unforgivably sloppy.
The film begins to feel at once cliched and lost inside its own, bizarre premise. It makes little mistakes which, the mound of which just becomes too high to let go. Using the word ‘ghost’ over and over again in a ghost story, for example, is a little like repeatedly shouting “SEX!” during sex; you might just about get away with it once or twice but, while nobody will be left in any doubt as to what’s happening, it sort of breaks the spell a little.
By the time Douglas (Tom Wisdom), the spirit of the previous tenant, manifests himself as a dusty, dapper chappy in an armchair and he an Audrey begin flirting from different cosmic planes, it becomes clear that this over-long horror flick is attempting to do far too many things at once. There’s an interesting idea, present: Is it possible to tell the story of a blossoming relationship between a dead man and a woman recently on the brink of death? But the delivery of the picture simply doesn’t have the requisite level of self-awareness to pull off this quirky and curious idea. Everything is far too earnest for this central, vital relationship not to be, regretfully, ludicrous.
Director: Axelle Carolyn
Screenwriter: Axelle Carolyn
Producer: Claire Otway
Leading Cast: Anna Walton, Tom Wisdom, Nick Brimble
Cinematographer: Sara Deane
Film Editor: Simon J. Brooks, Eddie Oswald
Original Music: Christian Henson
Il Futuro (The Future) is a curious film from Chilean director Alicia Scherson. It was one of the movies that leapt out at me from the LIFF programme this year and I included it in my festival preview. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after reading the tantalising blurb. Now that I’ve seen the film, it’s also fair to say that I’ve no idea what it was that I saw. In a good way. Sort of.
The premise: two teenagers, Bianca and Tomas, lose their parents in a fatal car crash. After Libio and Boloñes (two ‘friends’ of Tomas from the gym in which he works) uninvitedly move into their home, the four concoct a scheme to rob a mysterious former film star and Mr Universe (stay with me). Bianca is used as ‘bait’ and is sent into the old man’s house as a prostitute-cum-cat burglar. On realising that Maciste is blind and vulnerable, Bianca rejects the scheme plan but, despite herself, is drawn closer to the ageing film star and a strange love develops between the unlikely couple.
It’s a strange plot and, in fact, a strange film. The opening credits suggest that we’re heading into a tongue-in-cheek, noirish thriller. And, while the film is far from conventional, it’s much more serious than the credits (and, indeed, Rutger Hauer’s casting as Maciste) would have us believe. Manuela Martelli’s performance as Biana is stunning. Her presence is beautifully engrossing and there’s a permanent sense of ubiquitous sadness looming over her which is impossible to not be charmed by.
But, Il Futuro isn’t without its difficulties. Based on a story by novelist Roberto Bolaño, the film seems to jump narrative tracks half-way through. What starts as domestic drama about two orphans transforms into a gothic-tinted, sleazy Beauty and the Beast story. Both sides of the story are interesting but I felt that there were two separate films trying to get out; each pulling in an opposing direction.
There are one or two dreamlike sequences in the movie and a metaphysical element to the plot early on (which seems to be forgotten rather quickly) involving Bianca’s ability to see daylight even at night. Sceherson plays with her audience, throwing post-modern curveballs every now and again, deconstructing the movie she’s created as it plays out.
Whatever il Futuro is, it’s certainly mesmerising. My eyes didn’t leave the screen for a split second. Complete with a creepy, whispering soundscape, Alicia Scherson has created a particularly memorable piece of cinema which, honestly, I haven’t stopped trying to fathom and untangle since seeing it. I’ll have to just assume that’s a good thing.
Other screenings of this film: Fri 15th Nov, 2013, 21:00 @ Hyde Park Picture House
Director: Alicia Scherson
Screenwriter: Roberto Bolaño (novel), Alicia Scherson
Producer: Christoph Friedel, Mario Mazzarotto, Emanuele Nespeca
Leading Cast: Luigi Ciardo, Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer
Cinematographer: Ricardo DeAngelis
Original Music: Caroline Chaspoul, Eduardo Henríquez
Child’s Pose brings us, almost unbearably, into the world of manipulative mother and social high-flyer Cornelia. When her son, Barbu, is responsible for the death of a young boy due to careless driving, Cornelia begins to meddle in the affair. Shrewdly turning things in her son’s favour, she attempts to save Barbu from prison regardless of the cost.
The title of Calin Peter Netzer’s stirring drama refers to a yoga pose in which you kneel on the ground and bring your head down to the floor in front of you. I learned this after seeing the picture and, in fact, it allowed me to make more sense of this engrossing drama. The pose itself appears to be one of utter submission and humility and seems to refer to both Cornelia’s perception of her relationship with her son and, paradoxically, to the way she wishes her son would behave.
Luminita Gheorghiu delivers an outstanding performance of the be-furred matriarch. This is an intensely difficult and steely character. Throughout the picture she remains practically emotionless, with few expressions at all puncturing her seemingly indifferent countenance.
There are some touches of genius in Netzer’s direction (for example, a scene in which simply packing a bag for her son becomes an exercise in control) and the drama becomes uncomfortably oppressive towards the final act. There’s real skill exhibited in revealing just enough of Cornelia’s thoughts and intentions to allow a sense of intrigue to remain.
The shaky, prying camerawork means that we are in the room at all times; we are nosily embroiled in the scandal. The whole film has a desaturated feel and seems to be tinted by nicotine from Cornelia’s ceaseless smoking. We want to leave the room to get some fresh air. But we don’t want to miss a moment. In this way, in a Haneke-esque move, Netzer implicates his audience in what is playing out in front of them. We’re part of the family. We’re involved.
It’s impossible not to be shocked by Cornelia’s stony conduct. In particular, her apparent lack of maternal instinct in reaction to the death of a child. When emotion does stir in her there’s a sense that she is crying for her own potential loss and not for the suffering of another family.
Child’s Pose is a difficult, heavy film. You find yourself wading through certain episodes but, equally, being drawn, curiously, to Cornelia’s acerbic behaviour. At the centre of this picture is the pitiful story of a controlling mother who is unhealthily addicted to her son. This is a bold and chilling piece of work.
Other screenings of this film: Tue 12th Nov, 2013, 21:00 @ Hyde Park Picture House
Director: Calin Peter Netzer
Screenwriter: Razvan Radulescu, Calin Peter Netzer
Producer: Ada Solomon, Calin Peter Netzer
Leading Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Natasa Raab
Cinematographer: Andrei Butica
Film Editor: Dana Bunescu