Since last month I’ve been busy seeing lots of films and attending industry events for Venice Film Festival and London Film Festival. Here’s a write up on some of the films that I saw and I what I thought about them. Most of these films will be on general release soon enough for you to see at a cinema.
Venice Film Festival
The Childhood of a Leader
This chilling tale tells the story of an American boy living in France in 1918. His father works for the American government on the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. What he witnesses helps to mould his beliefs – and we see the birth of a terrifying ego. Loosely based on the possible childhoods of many great dictators in the twentieth century, The Childhood of a Leader is an unsettling portrait of emerging evil. I found this film quite powerful with engrossing performances from the child actor and Bérénice Bejo who really excels. There’s a twist or big reveal in the last moments of the film which I wasn’t really convinced by … but otherwise it’s a powerful watch.
I thought this would be great – Italian gangsters, cool – what’s not too like?! Unfortunately there wasn’t enough action for me so it dragged on a fair bit. Great use of archive material though which lent the genuine flavour to this flick. Docu-film on some of the most famous episodes of Italian crime between the postwar period and the years of economic boom. A portrayal of the traces of the most famous exponents of Italian crime, which turns into the tumultuous telling of social transformations in “armed” Italy, among robberies and nightclubs, between confused rebellion and symbols of new wealth.
The Danish Girl
Remarkable love story inspired by the lives of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegene. Lili and Gerda’s marriage and work evolve as they navigate Lili’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. This film looks beautiful, the light plays on the Danish landscapes and buildings as it does on the period costumes but it was all a little too superficial in terms of the level of the story which I felt has been Blockbustered / Hollywoodized a bit too much – awards bait!
I found this film confused and confusing! And to be honest fairly boring at points as it went on too long after we had got the point already. By presenting a spectacular display of arts, reconstructions, archives, Sokurov’s Francofonia focuses on the relationship between art and power, on what art can teach us on our own selves even during one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen. The film is shot in the Louvre. I felt like this is one of those films that art film fanatics like to nod their heads at but don’t actually ‘get it’ or enjoy it.
A Bigger Splash
I loved this film! Not as spectacular for me as I Am Love the director’s last film but once again Tilda Swinton can do no wrong here and Ralph Fiennes breaks out in a laugh out loud you love and hate him part. The film smoulders on screen. Rock legend Marianne Lane is recuperating on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul when iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope and interrupts their holiday, bringing with him an A-bomb blast of delirious nostalgia from which there can be no rescue.
Rabin, The Last Day
This film is a long haul but it stays interesting and there’s a real tension there throughout. I felt sad watching it! But perhaps it’s a different experience for someone who sees it and doesn’t have personal Israeli connections. A film that casts a light on one of the most traumatic events in Israeli history: the assassination of the Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a young right-wing radical, determined to undermine the difficult process to build peace with the Palestinians. The film is centred on the report by the official court of inquiry headed by judge Meir Shamgar.
Pecore In Erbe
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one and once I saw it I can’t say I came out feeling much clearer about this film! Luckily I speak Italian but still there were quite a few cultural references that non Italian audiences wouldn’t get. The main idea is funny but not sooo amusing that it can be strung out for so long. This film is very satirical so if that’s not your thing then you’ll hate it. An ironic mockumentary, unusual genre for Italian cinema, on the theme of antisemitism, seen under a surreal light. A comedy entirely set in Trastevere the Roman neighbourhood, on its streets and on the people that animate it.
London Film Festival
A rare one where I loved the book and I really loved the film too. Saoirse Ronan was born to play this part. The moving tale sweeps us from small town homeland Ireland to the Big Apple – Brooklyn where a young girl discovering so much at once has to decide where and who to leave her heart with. Modernity versus traditional values are pitted against each other with incredible attention to period detail from dress to décor and more. This story stayed with me – personal, relatable and touching.
‘a deeply romantic, emotionally honest love story about two women who courageously defy the suffocating conformities of mid-century America.’ – Clare Stewart, London Film Festival
I found this to be a very emotional film about two women trapped by the various confines of the society they lived in and who only wanted to have the freedom to love each other. The 50s’ style costumes and hairdos are also stunning! It’s the perfect not Christmas movie – since some of the story takes place over the seasonal holiday but it certainly differs from the usual blockbusters for the time of year.
This documentary film will be fascinating for those interested in how art is made. Its totally absorbing as there’s no dialogue. Just watch, listen hard and you’ll feel like you’re in this aged foundry and privy to its secrets. The film follows the process of creating one of artist Velasco Vitali’s famous dog sculptures, from wax to glazed bronze, at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia (Battaglia Artistic Foundry), in Milan. The visually engrossing film observes the work of a group of skilled artisans in this 100-year old foundry and reveals the ancient traditions of bronze sculpture making, unchanged since the Sixth century B.C. I’ll be hosting a Q&A with the film’s director at JW3 Cinema next month. Details and tickets here.
He Named Me Malala
Probably one of the most famous teenagers in the world, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for championing girls’ education in Pakistan. This documentary depicts her life in the UK. I found this film to be more interesting than I imagined as a lot of the focus is on the lovely father daughter relationship. The use of animation in the film is also a pleasing technique as are the surprisingly funny moments captured. I found this film surprisingly more inspirational than Suffragette.
Imagine a world where single people aren’t allowed to exist. That’s the dystopian setting of this film which is full of quirky humour. Set in The Hotel where singles have a limited amount of time to find a mate before being turned into an animal of their choice, the residents have to undergo tasks, training and more to find their mate. They’ll also discover a community in the forests of those who have decided to chance it alone. If you like the series Black Mirror then you’ll love this film but it could be a little too weird for some. Starring and narrated by the magnificent Rachel Weisz – I’m a fan of her and this film.
Our Little Sister
The simply sweetest film about three sisters in a stunningly beautiful location in Japan who take their younger sister into their mother’s old family home when their father dies. Its about family relationships, growing up, old and new ways of living life and the choices between those as well as being about little pleasures in life from delicious delicacies which feature frequently in this film to nature’s beauty and bounty.
The People Vs. Fritz Bauer
The period detail is spot on in this film as was the casting for Fritz Bauer, a man who defied his own country members in working with Mossad to track down Adolf Eichmann portrayed by Burghart Klaussner. I liked the both urgent and cool jazzy sound track and the way that the pace was kept quick so that this drama stayed exciting. I think BBC’s recent The Eichmann Show just beats this one though, although with a slightly different focus.
An original and strong debut feature depicting how an ageing patriarch of an Ethiopian-Israeli family tries to exert his traditional values on his family who find new ways of living in contemporary Israel.
Son Of Saul
Not like any shoah film I’ve seen before. This film follows a Sonderkommando in a concentration camp up very close. So close that the camera is right on him and the horrific things he witnesses happen just to the edge of the frame or he only hears them which is somehow even worse. It took a day or so before I stopped jumping when I heard industrial mechanical sounds on the street and couldn’t help thinking back to the film. Hard to believe that this is a debut feature for this new Hungarian director as its just an outstanding film. It will deserve all the awards I hope it wins.
I was actually a little disappointed in this film which wasn’t as brilliant as I expected it would be. Maybe it was just over hyped and I was led to believe Meryl Streep would feature more than she did. Anyway, its clear that it’s a very great thing that this film has been made about the ‘foot soldiers of the early feminist movement’ but something was missing, for me it didn’t really make me feel everything I expected it would. As I wrote above, I found He Named Me Malala to be more inspirational.
A daughter with learning disabilities wants to be independent from her hard working single mother in this desert region of Israel. However the real world isn’t the same as the one that this young girl dreams up so there are difficulties to be faced in love and life. I felt that this film got a bit lost in all the issues it was trying to cover from mother daughter relationships to working single mothers, contemporary Israeli society in this geographical region and attitudes towards disability. Phew! The acting is great though however overall I think that Next To Her is stronger overall – as a different film about a girl growing up with disability and discovering herself.
I was also lucky to get a ticket to Louis Theoux & Simon Chinn in conversation with radio and TV presenter Francine Stock about television and documentary films. The talk has been written up here
Some other screenings I caught over the film festival weeks were:
The Intern – schmaltzy drama about a 70 year old (played by Robert de Niro not doing what he’s known for) who goes to work for Anne Hathaway’s character at her online clothing company as an intern. This provided some needed light relief from some of the serious stuff I’d been watching and hey, yes I enjoyed it even though its not too serious, that’s exactly what it’s meant to be. Actually it was refreshing to see a storyline with an older man and young woman that was purely a friendship.
I also went to a screening of Macbeth the new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play which looks stunning and Fassbender is great as Macbeth but I seem to be one of the few not fully conviced by Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. I also don’t love that the director left out the ‘Double, double toil and trouble’ scene even though he explained he didn’t want to go down that road during the Q&A I saw with him and Michael Fassbender (a very cool surprise) – I just thought it was a shame!
In other recent film activity, last night I hosted a Q&A with the director of A Syrian Love Story which you can see on Storyville, BBC iPlayer and we were even able to Skype with some of the family in the film which was a moving experience.
And tonight I’m going to a screening of the film My Son The Jhadi with a producer/ director Q&A and the RSA London.
Up next, film festival season continues with the UK Jewish Film Festival which will be keeping me busy next month!
I’m very pleased to tell you about some news – that I applied for and was successful in getting a (fully funded!) place on a unique training course called Art Cinema = Action + Management which is run by CICAE, the International Confederation of Art Cinemas. This will take place soon, from 31st August to 8th September. The course is the only international training programme for professionals working in the art house exhibition industry. The seminar is organised with the support of the Creative Europe’s MEDIA Programme and consists of around 20 trainers and 50 participants coming from all over the world, for an 8-day programme of lectures, workshops, case studies and screenings. CICAE is celebrating 60 years this year and you can find out about its interesting history here
The aims of the course are:
- To communicate with the new generation of art house managers the specific knowledge (methods, tools, ideas and contacts) they need for programming, event organisation and management of an art house cinema.
- Offer exhibitors a space where they can reflect on their practices, share their experiences and discover new opportunities in their industry
- Provide insight into the tools of the trade and the challenges faced by the sector
- Benefit from the skills of close to a hundred top-notch cinema professionals and trainers
- Create a network of contacts and exchange experiences with one’s peers
- Develop short and long-term projects
I’m really excited to have this opportunity to take part in 8 days of intense training, surrounded by the atmosphere of so much going on, as the course timing coincides with the 72nd Mostra del Cinema (Venice International Film Festival). So I am very much looking forward to lots of learning and collaboration as well as networking and screenings at the film festival. Its going to be really interesting for me to meet other people from all over the world, running arthouse independent cinemas, just like me! It’ll also be a great chance for me to be back in Italy (where I lived for a year) and practice my Italian which I am fluent in but it tends to go a bit rusty when I don’t speak often. The course takes place on the island of San Servolo, close to the Lido in Venice. San Servolo used to be a monastery and now is used for conferences and so on.
The other day I actually held a meeting at work in Italian which was great practice and a boost for my confidence to know that I can still do it! I’m very much looking forward to working with the wonderful Cinema Italia UK as a result of this. Cinema Italia UK screen films in London which would otherwise not have any release in the UK.
Its going to be great to be back in Venice. I was last there for the Venice art Biennale in 2011! Hopefully I’ll write an update on how it all went when I’m back. Ciao for now!