Film - BFI London Film Festival (Week One)


BFI London Film Festival 2015 is being attended for us this year by our own screen goddess, Ren Zelen. Here's her report from week one of the press screenings...

The BFI London Film Festival opens on October 7th with a Gala performance of Suffragette starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff. Suffragette is a film made by British women about British women who changed the course of history. Director Sarah Gavon (Brick Lane, Village at the End of the World) returns to the Festival with this intense drama which tells the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement as they fought for the right to vote.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 7th – 18th October 2015‎, showing 240 films from 72 countries in 16 cinemas over a period of 12 days. Meanwhile film fans, along with fellow reviewer Steve Taylor-Bryant, I’ll be checking out and keeping you up-to-date on some of the many movies on offer.

The films this year are divided into several categories: Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Treasures, and Experimenta, and Steve and I will hopefully be able to cover some of the best movies in many of these categories. Let me start by outlining three of the best from the first week of press screenings.

Grandma (Laugh) The Corpse of Anna Fritz (Cult) and The Forbidden Room (Experimenta)


Director/screenwriter: Paul Weitz

Starring: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Eliot.

Elle (Lily Tomlin) is an aged, sharp-tongued poet and academic who has seen and done it all. While Elle is still reeling from the death of her long-term partner and a break-up with a much younger girlfriend, her 18-year-old granddaughter turns up out of the blue and pleads for her help. The pair embark on a road trip through Los Angeles during which Elle must confront the past and make decisions about the future.

Director Paul Weitz (About A Boy) has crafted an unusual road movie providing hard-hitting insights delivered with a delicate touch tinged with humour. Although it has an excellent supporting cast who give charming performances, this is really Tomlin’s film. She creates Elle as an intriguing and nuanced character, balancing the portrayal of an eccentric, hard-nosed septuagenarian with the subtle undertones of a woman whose no-nonsense exterior and emotional armour can’t quite protect a soft core battered by regret and loss. Tomlin is an underrated talent whose long career has embraced high comedy often tinged with tragedy. It’s a confident performance tempered by a lifetime of experience. Tomlin knows this role.

The Corpse of Anna Fritz

Director: Hèctor Hernández Vicens

Writer: Hèctor Hernández Vicens, Isaac P Creus

Starring: Alba Ribas, Cristian Valencia, Bernat Saumel

Be warned, this movie is not for the squeamish or fainthearted. Dealing with some fairly transgressive subjects, it is nevertheless, a tense, shocking and arresting movie, charting how one depraved and immoral act can escalate out of control into a spiral of corruption and violence. It also addresses the darker aspects of the modern obsession with glamour and celebrity. ‘How far would you go?’ is a question often asked concerning the sliding morality of selfishness and opportunism.

The film tells of the sudden and untimely death of the beautiful and successful actress Anna Fritz, sending the media and her multitudes of mourning fans into shock. Her body is taken to a secret location, a morgue in a small hospital. There, a star-struck orderly called Pau, takes a picture on his phone of her naked body and sends it out, thus setting in motion a string of events.

En route to a party, two of Pau’s coked-up and slightly drunken friends sneak into the hospital and demand to see the corpse of the star. Alone in the basement morgue with the naked body of the actress before them, the most unscrupulous of the men suggests that they should take advantage of the situation…

With increasing suspense and Hitchcockian detatchment, Spanish director Hèctor Hernández Vicens takes the audience through an increasingly disturbing descent into moral bankruptcy and unforeseen violence, building through unexpected twists and turns to a harrowing denouement. It’s not comfortable viewing, but this briskly paced and cleverly written thriller, as thoroughly as it appals us, compels us to keep watching.

Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room

Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Writers: Guy Maddin Evan Hohnson Robert Kotyk

Starring: Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlotte Rampling, Caroline Dhavernas, Matthieu Amalric, Maria de Medeiros

Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, The Saddest Music in the World) and co-director Evan Johnson have created a phantasmagorical medley of weird and arresting tableaus which generate a hallucinogenic, dream-like state.

The movie evolved from the interactive Seances project with Maddin as the ‘medium’ channelling the spirits of silent films through improvised ‘live happenings’. These took place on sets in Montreal and Paris. The directors took the raw video and reworked all the palettes and colour-timing on over 4,000 hours of rushes, experimenting with super-imposition and adding entertaining inter-titles.

The film opens with an absurd 1960s-style instructional film on how to take a bath, starring an aging lothario. This soon segueways into several odd fairy-tale-like stories, including a Canadian lumberjack on a mission to rescue a lovely maiden with amnesia who has been kidnapped by a group of wolf-men - a story concerning Udo Kier needing to be lobotomised to curb a lust for ‘derrieres’ – a group of doomed men on a submarine running out of oxygen– the ‘rebuilding’ of a beautiful woman broken in a terrible motorcycling accident – a thieving manservant and a murderously ambitious husband – the ghost of a father who can’t seem to leave his blind wife and young son, and yet others.

The stories weave in and out of each other, creating fantastic images which somehow delve playfully into our subconscious, yet manage to maintain their own individual flavour.

It’s an astonishing piece of work, calling on silent movie techniques and bizarre folk tales. The effect is vivid, dreamy, hypnotic and deeply atmospheric. The Forbidden Room rather defies any attempt at explanation or accurate description. It’s a visual and cinematic experience that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

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