October 24 2014
Part II round-up of the films we saw at the London Film Festival…
“Appropriate Behavior” – Riffing on the same 20-something girl-about-New York humour as Lena Dunham, Iranian-American writer-director Desiree Akhavan’s debut initially seems to have little new to say about young women struggling to define themselves in the city. These characters are all painfully, playfully aware of their social awkwardness and gawky nakedness. But it soon asserts itself as a promising first outing, putting a witty, if superficial slant on questions of bisexuality and immigrant identity. Its ideas about the former aren’t clear while the Iranian family members are mostly left two-dimensional to emphasise Akhavan’s outsider status. But if Akhavan is weak on race and sexuality issues, she’s sharp, funny and sensitive on relationships, cleverly subverting expectations. She also writes more sympathetic characters than Dunham: Rebecca Henderson as Diane Keaton-ish girlfriend Maxine is especially good. (SC)
ACV rating: ***(out of five)
“Fury” – This big, brash, heavy ball-swinging Second World War drama has much to recommend it – if you like the genre. Director David Ayer does a consumate job of telling the story of tank commander Don ‘WarDaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) and his motley crew in a real Hollywood ensemble piece. There are good performances from Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal and an unusually intense one from Shia LaBeouf, while newcomer Lorgan Lerman looks suitably intimidated by those around him – and as he should – as rookie gunner Norman. There are some uneven bits – most noticeably Ayer subverts what would be a predictable war rape scene into something soft, tender and terribly sentimental, but the tone half-way through reverts to something more spiky and believably unpleasant. There are some well-directed action scenes but the film barely adds to what is a cluttered, and already well-worn genre.(SR)
‘Fury’ is on release now
“Next to Her” – Chelli lives with her mentally disabled sister Gabby, acting as her main carer. They also sleep in the same bed, sharing a pillow and a toothbrush. Living at such close quarters, their relationship drips with tension, anger and resentment and director Asaf Korman quietly gets into the most wrenching nooks of this bitter caregiver-patient relationship. It inevitably reminds of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” but Korman achieves a deeper level of queasy claustrophobia that doesn’t let up until the credits roll, occasionally resembling a kind of domestic psychological horror. Liron Ben-Shlush in particular is stunning as the sister who wants to kick her sibling in the face but can’t share a bed with her boyfriend unless Gabby is within arms reach. It’s a powerful character study and a film about a relationship we don’t often see in the cinema: the love and hatred between siblings.(SC)
ACV rating: ****
“Second Coming” – For some the sight of Irdis Elba in pyjama shorts and string vest looking vulnerable, might be worth the ticket price alone. But it is not that type of film. This is a very thoughtful and intense piece by debutant filmmaker, Debbie Tucker Green (wonder why it wasn’t put forward for the Sutherland?). The mere fact that as a first timer she has Elba in one of the lead parts shows this has some quality to it.
It’s a story about an unremarkable family – Dad (Elba), a tube worker; Mum (Nadine Marshall), a council employee; and trouble-free, but curious 10-year-old son JJ (Kai Francis-Lewis) – finding themselves in what appears to be extraordinary circumstances – at least on the face of it. There isn’t a policeman or gangster or rapper in sight and just for that alone it’s refreshing and different – and Green brings far more to the table.
A quotidian lyricism, strong performances in well-drawn characters and the central plot conceit, all make for an absorbing drama that unfolds with unexpected authority and force.
Some might find it a little hard-going in terms of pace, but there is depth and poise.
Iron out a slight tendency to fall back into a television setting, give greater expression to her cinematic voice, and you have one very interesting filmmaker to watch. (SR)
ACV rating: *** ½
“Winter Sleep” – This won the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year and in this 100th Year of Turkish Cinema, the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan continues to impress cineastes and critics internationally.
It is a long film (3hours 16mins) with few characters, sparse dialogue, set against an imposing, harsh and beautiful landscape but reveals a lot about life through the way the characters are set up and their relationships and interactions with each other.
Retired actor, Aydin( Haluk Bilginer) plays an unlikable landlord who lives with his young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen) and his divorced sister, Necla (Demet Akbao) running a boutique hotel in the mountains of Cappadocia.
The story begins, when a young boy, Ilyas (Emirhan Doruktutan) throws a stone on the window of his jeep as he is driving with his manager to evict a tenant. There is a long and drawn out standoff between the boy’s father and the manager while Aydin watches from a distance. Later, this incident spirals into a violent (not in the way you might think it) climax, but in the meantime Ceylan delves deep into his characters’ psyche through their humdrum day to day matters.
Aydin is not good at being intimate and is only close to his sister, with whom he discusses his regular columns that he writes for the local paper.
His wife does charity work to alleviate her boredom with having nothing to do while the day to day affairs are run by the manager. Meanwhile Ilyas’s uncle is the local imam who tries to make the boy apologise for his behavior without much success.
All this may sound like watching random scenes which are extremely mesmerizing but the pieces all fit beautifully together by the end. (SB)
ACV rating: *****
There is a retrospective of Ceylan’s work at the BFI staring on Monday (October 27) and ‘Winter Sleep’ releases in the UK on November 21 2014
Main picture: ‘Appropriate Behavior’
To read introduction and part I reviews
Contributors: Sunil Chauhan, Suman Bhuchar, Sailesh Ram