Wednesday, October 11, 2023

FOE** - BFI London Film Festival 2023 - Day 8

Another day, another festival film that is well-acted and directed but where the story isn’t really worth the candle.  Because make no mistake, whatever the advertised description, FOE isn’t really a sci-fi film about a dystopian climate-ravaged near-future:  it’s actually a relationship drama about a bad marriage.  Which is not to say that you can’t make a compelling film about a bad marriage - just look at Noah Baumbach’s 2019 festival favourite MARRIAGE STORY, or pretty much the entire oeuvre of Ingmar Bergman. But FOE, and PRISCILLA, and MAESTRO, and FINGERNAILS, are all basically bad marriage dramas and none of them are compelling.

So let’s start with the sci-fi conceit. Writer-director Garth Davis (LION) has no track record in writing sci-fi, and maybe no interest in writing sci-fi, and it shows. He is, however, adapting a book by Iain Reid which may get into this in more depth. What we get on screen is the story of a woman, Hen, who has fallen out of love with her husband Junior, then falls in love with his AI Cylon replacement instead.  This is a tale an old as time, or at least as old as Martin Guerre (better known to western audiences as that Richard Gere film SOMMERSBY).  If you want to get into the nuances of how this might play out with AI alternates, then I would once again urge you to watch Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica remake.  By contrast, FOE isn’t really interested in mining those nuances.

Okay, so grant the movie the grace of parking the sci-fi conceit to one side.  How does it play as straightforward relationship drama?  We are on stronger ground here thanks to strong lead performances from two very talented actors: Saoirse Ronan (LITTLE WOMEN) as Hen and Paul Mescal (ALL OF US STRANGERS) as Junior.  But when two people drift apart simply through over-familiarity and isolation - when there is no actual dramatic event that brings them into free-fall (not even in this sci-if conceit) then what are we left with? Two hours of mild bickering and mild make-up sex.  It just ain’t enough to fill a near two-hour running time.

This is all a tremendous shame as the crew is as impressive as the cast. I loved cinematographer Matyas Erdely’s sepia-toned interiors and drought-scape exteriors.   I really loved the score by Oliver Coates, Park Jiha and Agnes Obel. In fact, it’s the score more than anything in the writing that reminds us we are in a sinister, dystopian sci-fi film.  I also really loved some of Garth Davis’ visual flourishes, when they sporadically occur. There’s a great scene near the end which, without spoiling it, involves a vacuum and plastic, that was absolutely visually arresting. It just wasn’t enough to save me from boredom.

FOE has a running time of 110 minutes and is rated R. It opens in the USA on October 6th and in the UK on October 20th.

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