Some of you may have already read my recent blog in which I recommended a number of films in the BFI London Film Festival, films which I’d already seen at other festivals earlier in the year. For much of the LFF I was involved in introducing movies and hosting Q&As, but I did, fortunately, find time to get to a fair few screenings; of the dozen or so new films I managed to catch, there were four which I particularly liked. I’m shouldn’t want to choose between them, so I am listing them below in alphabetical order.
Angels Wear White (Jia naan hua) – Vivian Qu, China
Qu’s second feature as director is not so much a thriller as a dark, consistently engrossing and sometimes tense drama in which a young woman, working illegally as a hotel receptionist in an off-season coastal resort, witnesses strange goings-on which turn out to involve the sexual abuse of two girls in their early teens by a considerably older man. To reveal more of the narrative would undermine Qu’s careful handling of the various ethical and psychological issues thrown up by a story that never proceeds quite in the way one might expect. Suffice to say that the film balances its astute exploration of gender politics with subtle characterisation and a keen sense of time and place.
Apostasy – Daniel Kokotajlo, UK
On a formal level, this first feature from writer-director Kokotajlo is a fairly conventional slice of British social realism about family life in a northern town. Except that it isn’t, quite. For one thing, around halfway through it does something no conventional film would do. (Don’t ask!) For another, its account of the complex and, to many of us, unfamiliar and exceedingly strange interactions between a middle-aged woman, her two daughters, and their various friends and suitors is distinguished by Kokotajlo’s first-hand knowledge of what it means to be a Jehovah’s witness – especially if one finds oneself unmarried, pregnant and therefore deemed by the (inevitably all-male) church elders as fit to be completely ostracised. Terrific performances and quiet, careful pacing make this an impressive feature debut.
Reinventing Marvin (Marvin) – Anne Fontaine, France
Fontaine’s sensitive and lucid account of a young boy – bullied at school and by his stepbrother for what are seen as his effeminate ways – who transforms himself through his interest in theatre switches back and forth in time to intriguing effect as Marvin struggles to build himself a new life – and new identity – in his teens and his twenties. The film (also pictured at top) is essentially a tale of fateful encounters – one involving Isabelle Huppert, who plays herself – which rings unusually true, thanks in no small part to the excellent acting; towards the end, particularly in its treatment of the relationship between the protagonist and his father, it also becomes extremely moving.
A Skin So Soft (Ta Peau si lisse) – Denis Côté, Canada
Though Quebecois filmmaker Côté has made some fine fiction features – my own favourite is Curling – perhaps even more interesting are his documentaries. This is a particularly pleasing example, a largely wordless portrait of a number of male bodybuilders which never once feels remotely patronising. Simply and patiently observing the men as they go about their daily lives – eating meals, taking pets for a walk, hanging out with partners and professional colleagues, and training, training, training – Côté never misinterprets the unusual as freakish or grotesque, but displays a properly sympathetic, non-judgmental curiosity even as he captures compositions and moments that might seem amusingly incongruous. Surprisingly lovely.