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BFI London Film Festival 2014 mini-reviews and round-up

BFI London Film Festival 2014 mini-reviews and round-up

October 15 2014
London

It’s over half-way, finishing on Sunday and we take stock…

THERE’S always something of a thrill seeing the biggest movie stars on your home patch and while the focus of our coverage is on those films and filmmakers with a South Asian angle, there is another world on our doorstep too.

Of the South Asian films so far, “Court” is worth catching, if and when it comes around again (you can find out more in our interviews with director-screenwriter Chaitanya Tamhane and producer/actor Vivek Gomber) and while “Labour of Love” was personally a tough watch, it is up for a first feature award and has an original cinematic language that some will find compelling and arresting. Director-screenwriter Adityavikram Sengupta is a certainly a fresh, and intriguing new voice and put his case well to us, when we met him earlier this week.

The Pakistani “Dukhtar” certainly has its moments too and has been a hit in its homeland. Afia Nathanial is part of a crop emerging women directors from Pakistan and you can find out more about her soon here as she talked to Suman Bhuchar for www.asianculturevulture.com

ACV
The Imitation Game: director Morten Tyldum, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley

More generally, Monday (October 13) saw the screening of “Wild”, the Reese Witherspoon-Nick Hornby-author/memoirist Cheryl Strayed film adaption of her best-selling book. Strayed undertook an epic hike, traversing the 1,000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail on her own and slaying some emotional demons along the way.

It’s great to see a woman take centre stage in a production and tell it like it is. Witherspoon, at the press conference, said it must have been the first time a female character in a film finished happy – despite having no money, no man, no family, no place to live and no job. Good on you girl! Witherspoon is in top form in “Wild”.

Last week, it was the turn of a stellar British cast in what was the opening Gala Film, “The Imitation Game”. Not sure about the title, but lead Benedict Cumberbatch was at strains to dispel the notion that this was Sherlock in another guise. Keira Knightley confessed they were all terrible at crosswords – even though their characters were among the finest crossword and maths geniuses in wartime Britain.

Cumberbatch gives a strong performance – widely being tipped for an Oscar nomination – and said he was inspired by war code breaker, Alan Turing, to do the best for the man, as an actor playing a complex, socially awkward genius.

Main picture above: (l-r) Cheryl Strayed, Reese Witherspoon; Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Morten Tyldum; (top) Labour of Love; Court

Here are the reviews of what we have seen (so far):

FOX_3558.psdWild” – Reese Witherspoon is tough as old boots – except she loses hers some way into her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon plays author Cheryl Strayed, whose book “Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found” is based on her epic trek up one end of America to the other. Nick Hornby’s screenplay does a good job – Strayed asks the big questions but in a way that is both accessible and manageable. Her experiences before the trek – harrowing and recklessly hedonistic (instant couplings and heroin) – allow her to reflect on this journey against that. She’s a feminist, but she’s also hurting and vulnerable and not likely to spit at you if you compliment her looks – at one point, she somewhat haltingly concedes she has a great ass. Yeah. Well. Guess it’s still a compliment. Joking aside, this is in many ways a tougher, better and more real world view than “Eat, Pray, Love” (book or film) but its sentiments are not far off – that sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be. Clichés can abound – this film is better than that and if you lost 20-25 mins, it would be totally a triumph. As it is, it’s still something of a triumph. Go Girls, Go!
ACV rating: *** ½ (out of five)

RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgRosewater” – US comedian and satirist Jon Stewart’s first outing as a director is classic liberal fare. Stunner (that’s for all you who like a pretty male face) Gael Garcia Bernal plays British Iranian journo Maziar Bahari.
On assignment during the coverage of the 2009 elections in Iran, Bahari gets to know the opposition that backed Mir Hossein Mousavi against the incumbent Ahmadinejad and charts their spiral from innocent optimism to anger and bitterness at what they come to see as a ‘rigged’ election. Predictably, the authorities come for Bahari and shove him in the infamous Ervin prison. Yeah, we have all seen that and done it (welled up with liberal anger and all). It’s not new. Bahari has form, as they say – his father and sister were also ‘rebels’.
His Dad was a Communist and suffered at the hands of the Shah; his sister’s ‘crimes are less explicitly stated in the film, but the fact that it was she who turned the young Maziar to western music and film says enough, one presumes. It’s slick, and entertaining and funny in places, but it’s not pushing any boundaries or furthering our understanding of Iranian paranoia. Just like “Camp X-Ray” (see below) will non-liberals really watch it?
ACV rating: ** ¾

3.KirstenStewartPaymanMaadiCAMP_XRAY_still_cage2Camp X-Ray” – Director Peter Sattler’s first feature is a thoughtful, intelligent and insightful examination of the abomination that is Guantanamo – “We are looking after a bunch of sheep farmers” is how the US commander of the detention centre puts it at one point.
These may have been dangerous men in a time after 9/11, but the remaining 100 or so there today probably don’t constitute too much of a risk. Kirsten Stewart (Amy/Blondie) as a female guard gives a nuanced display in what is clearly a challenging part and while she can clearly act, she is actually better in “Clouds of Sils Maria” alongside Juliette Binoche (see part II Cannes reviews). Having said that, the inmate she develops a friendship with – Ali (played superbly by Iranian Peyman Maadi) lies at the heart of this tale essentially about people learning and adapting to difference. It’s what makes us human and reminds us that our world was meant to be explored and uncovered but with respect and humility on all sides. Will the non-liberals everywhere appreciate that?
ACV rating: ***½

 

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDRENMen, Women & Children” – Social Media is bad, teenagers are bad, adults are even worse when they get on computers. Jason Reitman’s comedy of sorts, is watchable but its targets are rather obvious and few people doubt the harm social media can inflict when turned to nefarious purposes. But for a rather affecting opening and closing sequence with shades of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Emma Thompson lending English authority in a voiceover), this would be a take it or leave it affair. It’s addressing some issues, has something to say, but if Reitman had focused on one family and not several, it could have really hit home.
ACV rating: **

 

 

 

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game” – Please, this is not Sherlock in tweed (as lead Benedict Cumberbatch said at the London Film Festival press conference on Thursday).
It’s well done, if a little dry at times – Cumberbatch is good value as Alan Turing, the much misunderstood genius, who helped Britain and the Allies win the war by breaking the Nazi codes. ‘Turing’s machines’ as they were known at the time in the post-war period later became computers. Keira Knightley as his bright but undervalued sidekick is distracting – she looks far too beautiful and has a plummy voice to boot, but she does have some good lines and the real Alan and Joan probably did share some chemistry. Turing committed suicide after he admitted ‘indecency with men’ and was put on hormone therapy (as an alternative to jail).
Turning him into a ‘criminal’ ruined a good and clever man and that way, this film goes some way to restoring him as a rightful hero and someone we should all admire for his part in destroying the Nazi menace.
ACV rating: ***½

The BFI London Film Festival 2014 (#lff) continues until October 19

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture