Wednesday, September 30, 2015

INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

For anyone with even a passing interest in cinema the story of Ingrid Bergman is well known. The iconic actress from CASABLANCA came from a theatre background in Sweden to fame in Hollywood but at the height of it all was ostracised for leaving her husband and child for Roberto Rossellini.  Re-inventing herself as a European arthouse actress she was a forceful advocate for freedom from societal judgment and the quality of her work meant that the opportunities found her, even in exile. 

What's different about this documentary is that director Stig Bjorkman has managed to get such amazing access to Bergman's letters, home videos and photographs. Most of all, he has access to all  her children.  And so while this is "just" another linear re-telling of an extra-ordinary life, what you're actually getting is Ingrid speaking to her best friends in real letters, or the interpretation of her children and their interpretation of her life.  Moreover, the focus here really is on her life rather than the films.

RUBEN GUTHRIE - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

Aussie writer-director-actor Brendan Cowell (SAVE YOUR LEGS!) returns to the BFI London Festival with his black comedy-drama RUBEN GUTHRIE about an ad exec battling with alcoholism in the face of workplace peer pressure and an unsupportive family.  As the movie opens, he gets tanked and falls into a swimming pool, breaking his arm, and losing his fiance unless he can get sober for a year. This prompts panic in those around him. His best friend thinks he'll be no fun. His boss thinks he'll lose his ad-skills and dangles a younger social media hipster as competitive pressure.  His dad thinks he should just man up.  And in a typically pithy exchange, when Ruben tells his mum that he's taking it one day at a time, she responds "that doesn't seem very ambitious".   Despite all the surrounding nastiness, Ruben remains a spiky and not totally likeable character, and I love that Patrick Brammall plays him as half charming and half repellent. He evidently shacked up with his fiancee when she was underage and sleeps with his vulnerable AA sponsor almost as a distraction.  That said, apparently those who know say the original stage play, also written by Cowell, was far darker and nastier, with Guthrie far less sympathetic.  

MY NAZI LEGACY - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

David Evans' documentary is the most affecting I have seen in the festival previews to date.  It is devastating in its simplicity of concept and relentlessness of investigation. The narrator and key protagonist is Phillipe Sands, a famous human rights lawyer based in the UK who, in turns out, had family killed in the Holocaust and a grandfather who survived but was understandably reluctant to speak about his experiences. The power of the documentary is that is chronicles Sand's encounter with two sons of high ranking Nazi officials. The first, Niklas Frank, whose father Hans ran the General Government in Poland, has fully embraced his father's past to the point where he is almost obsessed with how much he despises him.  The second, Horst von Waechter, whose father was the Governor of Krakow and Galicia, steadfastly refuses to accept any evidence that his father had command responsibility for the mass murder of Jews, and welcomes anyone who will speak of him as a decent man, even if that man is wearing a swastika. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! - BFI London Film Festival 2015

LIVE FROM NEW YORK! is the directorial debut of Bao Nguyen, chronicling the history of the iconic comedy skit-show Saturday Night Live. He does so in 80 minutes so it would be easy to put this film's superficiality down to its brief run-time but I suspect it has more to do with the director having bought Lorne Michael's kool-aid, wanting to diminish the non-Lorne years and not having the guts to seriously interrogate the charges of institutionalised sexism and racism. And I don't by that "where was the black Friend" argument.  SNL was meant to be different - cutting edge radical. This is what skewers the director's use of hyperbolic opening music - Gil Scott Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - this may have been true in the 70s and 80s but for the past fifteen years it feels as though the cutting edge of radical satire has lived on South Park or The Daily Show. Let's be honest, isn't SNL mostly harmless by now? Isn't everything that Julia Louis-Dreyfus says about the 80s true now, where SNL was desperately trying to keep pace with pop culture rather than setting the pace?

THE PEARL BUTTON AKA EL BOTON DE NACAR - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

As I began to watch Patricio Guzman's stunning documentary, THE PEARL BUTTON, I thought "ah! this is one of those films where I can sit back and let the beautifully photographed majesty of nature wash over me".  And yes, there is some stunning cinematography of nature in this film.  But very quickly we realise that this this film is actually about oppression - the oppression of an indigenous people who lived in Patagonia and were driven to extinction contrasted with the political murders by the Pinochet regime, whose bodies were dumped into the sea.   We are meant to draw an analogy between the people who lived in harmony with the Pacific Ocean, a people who travelled by boat (if not exactly seafaring) who believed that to be submerged in death was to achieve an after-life in the stars, and the victims of Pinochet's violence.

JIA ZHANG-KE, A GUY FROM FENYANG - BFI London Film Festival 2015 - Preview

The premise of this documentary is simple. Director Walter Salles (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) spends time with his friend and documentarian Jia Zhang-Ke.  They walk through the streets of his home town, Fenyang, in northern China, and talk about how life has changed, the old days at film school and his interests and passions. This is juxtaposed with interviews with Jia's family, friends and colleagues and interspersed with clips from his films. The small moments are hilarious. When a fan and student asks to take a photo with Jia and he can't help direct him not to shoot against the light! And all the way through there's great humour mixed in with the melancholy - Jia pointing out that his childhood home used to be a prison, and lamenting the death of the seedy independent karaoke bar.