BFI London Film Festival 2014 Wrap-Up: Part II

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: In the last weekend of the London Film Festival I watched 7 films on the online system. Here are brief thoughts on the films I saw on the Sunday. Please see below for my full ranked and rated list of the festival films.

SILVERED WATER, SYRIA SELF-PORTAIT (Wiam Bedirxan & Ossama Mohammed)

The winner of the Best Documentary award at the London Film Festival this year, Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait is a document of the Syrian uprising as told via found footage from YouTube. It’s a conceit borrowed from 102 Minutes That Changed America, a real-time account of 9/11 from amateur footage, but here its unafraid to show the gruesome brutality. The pixelated clips can be utterly stomach churning, shooting right in the middle of the conflict, switching between torture and battlegrounds. If The Act Of Killing had a camera during the slaughters, it would’ve looked and felt like this. The way they approach the editing with its abrasive music creates an unsettling atmosphere regardless of the content. It offers no history lessons, just the raw visceral destruction and anarchy. But even amongst the horrors of war, the film spares a thought for cinema, evidently the director’s primary port of call. It’s difficult to see art like that as anything but trivial in the face of chaos but they make a decent point about the camera being a good weapon with the exposure the Syrian uprising has had in the media.

It makes you think about the impact technology and social media has had, especially as we sit here on facebook while this is happening. It constantly reminds you about facebook, leaving in the sounds of notifications and text messages. It’s deliberately jarring and gut wrenching for it. That’s when the narrative switches to the communication and friendship between the co-directors whilst Ossama Mohammed has escaped and Wiam Bedirxan remains in Syria. She watches the world burn while he revels in guilt. It begins a call and response structure of Hiroshima Mon Amour where Syria is their equivalent to post-WWII Hiroshima. The film significantly improves on that change of focus as he tries to argue that life has meaning. He begins analysing the images he receives as if they’re intentional and artistic, perhaps almost as a defensive mechanism. Unfortunately the film is very messy in its construction with loose chapters and inter-titles that have no clear intentions. Perhaps this is the best Mohammed could do under the circumstances. If it’s abstract art then it doesn’t really work. It’s far too in your face, but with no apologies. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait captures the utter hopelessness of what’s going on in the world today, with a touch of a slim hope that cinema can help. It’s certainly a powerful doc that puts the world on your shoulders.

GRADE: ★★

____________________________________________________

LA SAPIENZA (Eugene Green)

A middle aged architect and his disinterested wife take a break from their work and travel to Italy to reconnect with each other and their passions. They stumble upon an ambitious brother and sister, then respectively pair off and discovers what the young have to teach them. It studies the pain of the distance between past and present as they are the same age as their children would be. Eugene Green’s idiosyncratic style immediately reminds you of the chilliness of Jacques Tati and the formalities of Wes Anderson. The characters don’t exchange looks and move very rigidly, like some kind of concept theatre. They talk directly to the camera, avoiding each other. It aptly shows the disconnect they feel, but at the expense of an incredibly stilted film. Unfortunately, and while it tries for satire and wry humour with the bloated egos of its characters, the film doesn’t really facilitate the joke. It could’ve benefited from a soundtrack rather than silence to lighten the mood.

While the characters and the film are quite pompous in their conquest; their desires, relationships and conflicts do feel organically realised in the script. The film is a robotic essay about humanity, passion, religion and happiness, full of exposition as opposed to drama. That said, it’s still very interesting. It argues the purpose of grand architecture – how it’s a space to be free, a space for light to enter, and that light facilitates knowledge. It’s an argument between the wisdom of youth and wisdom of experience, though obvious results. With a film about an architect, you can expect great production design and it does deliver, complimented with detailed costume design, captured with its appropriately bright cinematography. But with its plodding pace, ego, and lack of emotional resonance outside of tragic revelations, it’s a difficult film to feel satisfied with, though it harbours valid insights.

GRADE: ★★½

____________________________________________________

THE NARROW FRAME OF MIDNIGHT (Tala Hadid)

Two stories collide in Morocco as a meek and lonely man goes in search for his brother lost in the Iraqi war whilst predators kidnap a young orphaned girl. He stumbles upon her in his journey and takes her to refuge with an ex-girlfriend, notably played by Marie-Josee Croze, to buy the girl some time. Although it has its share of unconvincing moments where the performances aren’t well measured, they’re human characters rich in their subtleties. It juxtaposes the naive innocence of the little girl with the anguish of the man in their unique situations. It’s about saints and sinners, fulfilment and loss, and having a sense of home and security. The film is quite cryptic in what it’s trying to achieve, lacking a distinct tension, and it doesn’t close off things the way you would hope, especially given its brisk but sparse 70-minute runtime, but it finds engaging and identifiable moments. The sweeping photography gives the film heaps of atmosphere, capturing the dusts of a ruined life. It’s a solid film, but lost potential in what it could’ve been.

GRADE: ★★½

____________________________________________________

Films I saw at the festival ranked and rated (out of 10, may not correspond with awardscircuit star rating, links to reviews here):

  1. Whiplash – 9/10
  2. 10.000 Km
  3. Mr. Turner
  4. Winter Sleep – 8/10
  5. The New Girlfriend
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. The Imitation Game
  8. Mr. Kaplan
  9. The Way He Looks
  10. Phoenix
  11. Court
  12. Corn Island
  13. Mommy – 7/10
  14. Song of the Sea
  15. Austin to Boston
  16. Fair Play
  17. The Duke of Burgundy
  18. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
  19. A Blast
  20. The Narrow Frame of Midnight
  21. La Sapienza
  22. The Falling – 6/10
  23. Night Bus
  24. L for Leisure
  25. Listen Up Philip

I recommend everything ranked 15 and above. My top 5 films I regret missing are Birdman (surprise film), Wild Tales, Leviathan, WildThe Tribe. I missed but caught up with Serena (4/10) & Fury (6/10) since which would rank #26 and #22 respectively.

Thoughts? Questions? Thanks for listening!