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Restless

13 Nov

Director: Gus Van Sant (2011)

I have a troubled relationship with Gus Van Sant, a director whose artistry behind the camera on an aesthetic level can be so beautiful and can create some truly classic films (See Good Will Hunting, Elephant, Drugstore Cowboy et al) but can simultaneously just get it so very wrong (See Restless). Watching Restless, it is difficult to believe that this film belongs to the same filmography as Milk, Van Sant’s previous film.  Receiving its premiere at Cannes in May 2011 before doing the tour of the international film festivals including the BFI 55th London Film Festival, Restless has already been globally panned by critics and, while it somewhat pains me, I am about to do the same.

While reviewing at the London Film Festival, it began to concern me that the majority of my reviews were glowing reports of cinematic wonder, gushing with praise for the films and blatantly bragging that I had seen these films before you all and you were just going to have to wait to see them for yourselves. Always one to look for the underdog so often overshadowed by the blockbusters of a film festival programme, and an unashamed alt-genre film fan, Restless seemed a natural choice.

Annabel Cotton, played by the beautifully gamine Mia Wasikowska, is our terminally ill protagonist, filled with so much joie de vie she has to wear a hat all the time to stop it pouring out into the world she loves so much. She draws birds even though she can’t draw, has a picture of Charles Darwin in her bedroom, volunteers with the ‘cancer kids’ and enjoys a good funeral. Enoch Brae, played by the brooding permeation of Dennis Hopper genes, Henry Hopper, on the other hand has dropped out of the race for life after the death of his parents. He also enjoys going to strangers funerals.

Wait a minute…we’ve heard this before. Two social outcasts, one tired of life, the other unwillingly coming to the end and desperately clinging on, meeting at a stranger’s funeral before inevitably falling in love and teaching each other about mortality and that life can indeed be worth living? Meet Harold and Maude without the creepy age gap. And with cancer. And a Kamikaze fighter pilot ghost.

Turns out, much that we squirmed watching young and old copulation in Ashby’s classic, it seems we needed this factor to avoid the real repulsion behind this all too twee storyline as Enoch and Annabel deal with the impending end to their relationship and tackle the troubles life has dealt them both together.

It was actually the Kamikaze ghost pilot, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase) that intrigued me about this film, I felt by throwing ‘honourable suicide victim’ into the mix of want-to-live/don’t-want-to-live, we have all bases in the mortality dilemma covered. But this one character that I thought could potentially take Restless out of the mainstream multiplex into the arthouse was grossly underused. This was predominantly because only Enoch can see him, acting as an intermediary mouthpiece between him and Annabel, as a result of his own brush with death that clearly lifted the life/death veil to allow Hiroshi to come through.

Is it arthouse? Is it for the mainstream teens? We don’t know. And I’m not sure that Gus Van Sant knows to be honest, but sadly I think it struggles to fit comfortably in either. While both Wasikowska and Hopper are certainly strong young talents we should be looking out for and will no doubt move up and beyond this early career blip, even their talents couldn’t convince us that these two characters belong to a relationship we should care about.

The couple’s naive nonchalance towards death at a young age might be sensible considering her life threatening and life ending brain tumour, but the formulaic relationship one-wants-to-live-and-love-the-other-wants-to-die is one that has been too often played, and much better played, for it to have any real emotive effect on the audience. Restless struggles to find the balance between indie kook and indie puke (and the award for worst review pun goes to…) missing the necessary delicacy that could exist between the two characters and instead spoon feeding the audience with text book sadness and a forced ‘alternative’ love story. But I do feel there might be a gap in the indie market for more war ghosts as moral compasses.

BFI 55th London Film Festival Round-Up

30 Oct

As the film festival calendar goes, the London Film Festival often gets something of a bum deal. With bigger brothers Cannes and Venice stealing all the world premieres and media attention, it seems by the time October comes around everyone has reached the end of their proverbial film reel. But 133,000 filmgoers can’t be wrong. Bringing in the largest audience to date, the BFI 55th London Film Festival presented departing artistic director Sandra Hebron – and audiences – with a well deserved parting gift to celebrate the end of her nine-year tenure and bringing another stellar programme of films to the capital.

Being more East End than West End, I cannot remember when I last spent so much time running around Leicester Square, to the extent that I am now considering a career change in to professional steeplechase having perfected some pretty impressive moves pole vaulting man holes and a particular aptitude for slalom-avoiding tourists. My early morning sprints over the river to BFI Southbank and late night walks through a deserted Trafalgar Square also acted as a reminder of what a frankly wonderful city we live in – something this year’s festival surely proved.

Over the Festival’s 16 days, London welcomed a score of film’s elite from around the world including avant-garde stalwart Jonas Mekas for Sleepless Nights Stories, the Dardenne brothers for the touching The Kid With A Bike, Yorgos Lanthimos for the disturbingly comic Alps, and one-to-watch newcomer Sean Durkin with his Sundance standout, Martha Marcy May Marlene. The corner for British pride was held up by Andrea Arnold debuting her stunning adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Andrew Haigh revealing the softer side to a one-night stand in Weekend and the hard-hitting debut from Tinge Krishnan, Junkhearts.

Keeping us educated, this year’s diverse documentary strand ranged from Nick Brandestini’s merry band of eccentrics in Darwin, Tristan Patterson’s homage to skate film greats following the life of Josh ‘Skreech’ Sandoval in Dragonslayer and Göran Hugo Olsson’s The Black Power Mixtape 1967 – 1975, documenting the history changing years in the civil rights movement.

While we might have to let Cannes take the overpriced cake when it comes to award ceremonies, LFF holds strong presenting 4 awards including Best Film, Best British Newcomer, Best Documentary and the Sutherland Award, presented to the most original and imaginative feature debut. This year’s Best Film went to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, while young actress Candese Reid was awarded Best British Newcomer for her performance in Junkhearts.

Argentinian Pablo Giorgelli won the Sutherland Award for his already Camera d’Or winning Las Acacias, with the Grierson Award for Best Documentary presented to Werner Herzog’s Into The Abyss, a powerful examination of Death Row inmates. This year’s BFI Fellowship, the BFI’s highest accolade for outstanding contributions to film culture, was given to Canadian director David Croenenberg whose film, The Dangerous Method premiered at this year’s festival and Ralph Fiennes, whose prestige as one of Britain’s most respected actors has now evidently transferred behind the camera following his directorial debut in Coriolanus.

While the fact my dress was still at the dry-cleaners was obviously the reason I was unable to attend the ceremony itself, we thought we’d add a few awards missing from the trophy cabinets to finish our coverage of the BFI 55th London Film Festival.

Best Film You Won’t Get To See for Months: For anyone who’s been following our coverage, it will come as no surprise which film I will be boasting about for the next few months – Steve McQueen’s Shame. I’ll spare you more verbose swooning and instead urge you to clear your calendar for January when the film is released.

Best Film You’ll Probably Not Get To See: Sadly not all films at these festivals will receive a general release. But cross your fingers, or find yourself a suitable independent cinema, and hope you get to see Nobody Else But You. While no Fargo , this stylish murder-mystery-cum-comedy is one that will most likely get overlooked by the slew of Monroe-inspired films released in 2012.

Best London Film: Not so much a celebration of London at its finest but Carol Morley’s Dreams of A Life is a stark reminder of how an individual easily becomes lost in this 8million strong city and that it costs nothing to knock on a friend’s door once in a while.

Best Friend Film: This award does not refer to a film to watch with your best friend; I mean a film you would be best friends with if it was physically possible. Miranda July’s The Future is achingly indie in the very best way, from story to soundtrack to its wonderfully eccentric star and director.  

Bargain Bin Award: Gus Van Sant’s Restless, the living (or not) reminder of the fine line between indie kook and indie puke. Pastiche or plagiarism, this story of a terminally ill girl meets Kamikaze ghost-seeing broody boy steals the best bits of Harold and Maude but forgets to invest any time in its characters to make sure we care about her eventual demise.

The BFI 55th London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) took place from 12 – 27 October 2011.

(As featured on thelondonword.com)

The Future

26 Oct

For anyone who has seen her debut feature, Me You and Everyone We Know (2005), you will no doubt have fallen victim to the Miranda July effect. Writer, producer, director and actor, every inch of celluloid, beat of music, stream of light is imbued with her unique insight into the world and a touching, offbeat comedy. The Future, her second feature film, is no exception, perhaps even exceeding its predecessor in whimsy and thought-provoking hilarity.

Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) are exactly the kind of couple you want to be, quietly adorable, synchronised and the epitome of indie kook, right down to their wonderfully matching curly hair. Watching them entwined on the sofa, we listen to their surreal conversation about Jason’s ability to stop time, believing it to be nothing more than another of their daydream philosophies that most likely make up their days. But what makes The Future so enchanting is that it is exactly these bizarre thoughts that become the main crux of her film.

Speaking of the bizarre, there is no avoiding the fact that this film is also narrated by a cat – Paw-Paw, a stray we never meet (apart from his little bandaged paw) that Sophie and Jason found and took to the vet. However, despite having just been rescued from the cold streets by these kind souls, poor Paw-Paw must stay at the vet’s for one month to recover.

Contemplating how things will change when the cat returns to them, they decide to treat the next month as if it were their last. Sophie and Jason both quit the jobs they hate, unplug the internet and hope that what they really want from life will come and find them. Jason ends up selling trees door-to-door in a neighbourhood plagued with ‘No Soliciting’ signs, while Sophie decides to concentrate on her next art project, recording 30 dances in 30 days for YouTube. Of course, things are never quite as simple as this when veering off the path most travelled.

Their life together exists in a bubble of delightful quirk so when they both aspire to break out and explore the meaning of living life they are soon surprised when it takes them down two very different paths. For Jason, he meets Joe, an elderly man who sells re-wired electrical equipment and has a penchant for writing truly filthy, but strangely touching, postcards for his wife. Interestingly, and another example of how July’s films happily breach usual protocol, during the post-screening Q&A, Miranda (first name terms, clearly) explained that Joe was in fact a real person she met in the Classifieds, bringing a new level of pathos to his character and the role he later plays in Jason’s life.

As for the erotic limericks – also real, and also very edited for the film! For Sophie, however, she finds herself drawn to a man with a gold chain – an accessory which tells you everything you need to know about his intentions, apparently.

While The Future is indeed laugh out loud and heartbreakingly precious, it is intrinsically sad, exploring how one decision can, literally, cause a shift in space and time, and how easily life can subsequently de-rail. Drawing on July’s astonishing bastion of talent, particularly performance art, The Future’s more surreal moments, particularly life-coach moons, crawling t-shirts and t-shirt dances, soon dissolve into understanding as we are absorbed into July’s world.

The Future is a wonderfully peculiar film, taking us on a dreamlike journey through relationships, loss and defeat reminding us that meaning can be found in the strangest of places, it could be celestial or an old shirt from the past that just won’t leave us alone, either way, life will find a way to stop until we see the truth.

The Future was screened at the 55th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) as part of the Film on the Square strand, on Thursday 20 and Sunday 23 October.

(As featured on thelondonword.com)