I love film. I am not a critic or an expert; I don’t recall all the names or know all the facts. I am a spectator. I love the stories, the experience, the new worlds, the different realities. The London Film Festival is a sort of holiday for me and I look forward to those two weeks. The stories recharge my brain and creativity.
This year, I am publishing my notes because why not. I would strongly recommend seeing the music documentaries because they are excellent works and because the subject is women and that combination is, sadly, highly unusual in filmmaking.
✨Take Every Wave – Laird Hamilton well after Riding Giants (which is still one of my favourite films ever). A great film if you love surfing and seeing someone’s drive to greatness. The physical aspects are astonishing as well.
✨Faithfull – French. a superb intimate portrait about an extraordinary artist. Multilayered and sensitive. Not a hagiography but a complex picture. So many levels in terms of music, culture, feminism, rock and roll industry. Opens with Dante and ends with Shakespeare. Bookends. Beautiful footage. And that everpresent cigarette and smoke. Dreamy.
✨Call Me By Your Name beautiful love story. Beautiful performances. And beautiful characters. Just a glorious film. It evoked my own memories of strong emotions of first love and loss. Brilliant soundtrack, including Sufjan Stevens
✨The Shape of Water – a fairytale with all the fear and beauty that any good fairy tale should contain. Just lush.
✨Sicilian Ghost Story – Italian. Devastating and beautiful. The story relates a terrible event perpetrated by the very real evil spirits of Sicily and Italy. Mythological approach of dreams and water crossings. All befitting the island’s Greek history. Strong performances by the young cast and beautifully shot.
✨A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot – Northern Ireland. Very interesting documentary about Republican Northern Ireland today as viewed through a family’s experience. Very very good. And timely, particularly with Brexit and its impact on the Good Friday Agreement. Lots of dissing Clinton and Blair. Best Q&A I’ve ever experienced. Mike Leigh in the audience. Got to ask two questions.
✨The Ballad of Shirley Collins – irrespective of whether you’re a fan of English traditional/folk music, you should see this film about an excellent artist, the ephemeral folk songs and weird British traditions.
✨The Breadwinner – beautiful animation about a little girl in Kabul. Go see it despite that Angelina Jolie is an exec producer. It’s lovely.
✨Here to Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits – this was a phenomenal documentary of the seminal band. Everyone in it was relevant to the story and not just a fawning, talking head. The footage is extraordinary. All the female band members are off the charts. We all need more of their attitude. Quite by accident, I got the chance to talk with Jennifer Shagawat about the band, music documentaries, strong women, crowdfunding and more. A super interesting person.
Good films I would recommend:
Redoutable – terrific French film about Goddard’s descent into insufferability. Love him or loathe him, this is fun.
Good Manners – Brazil. Horror story/allegory. Can’t say anything about the plot because the less you know, the better. Fun and unique.
Mademoiselle Paradis – Austrian. blind musician and composer in 1777 Austria. Great story, excellent acting and so sad that she has been largely forgotten. Beautiful music, scenery, costumes and language. Loved hearing Austrian Getman mixed with the French as it was the vogue at the time.
I Am Not A Witch – Zambian. Well, the filmmaker is Zambian but grew up in the UK. There aren’t many (any?) Zambian films, and I love Zambia. This was beautifully shot and uniquely so. It’s a very sad story of a very real problem in Zambia. People believe in witches and it has very real and violent consequences. Good film with some problems that I cannot quite put my finger on.
A Fantastic Woman – Chile. Portrait of strength, dignity, integrity and resilience in the face of being a Trans woman’s whose partner dies. Good but choppy. The story just didn’t flow.
120 bpm – Paris Act Up. It’s a good reminder of how far we’ve come. And what AIDS activism needed to be like to wake the world. Poignant and unapologetic in terms of sex and relationships. I really liked it.
Mauka– Congo. Charcoal seller. Slow and deliberate story of charcoal seller and his lot in crushing poverty. Never gets discouraged or even angry. But perhaps his reactions are not based in any reality, but are a “noble poor” filter the white filmmaker puts on this man. If so, it’s problematic and that question bothered me throughout the film. Somewhat evocative of Tree of Wooden Clogs, but not quite there. However, the actual scenes of the process of making the charcoal, bringing it to Town and selling it are must sees if one has never been to a country where charcoal is still the primary fuel.
Blade Of The Immortal – Japanese. samurai film slow pace until it gets to the rivers of bloody mayhem fight scenes. Miike’s 100th film.
Chauka, Please Tell Us The Time – about the forgotten refugees that Australia has exiled on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Surreptitiously recorded on iPhone. Slow moving and sometimes repetitive. But important to give this issue a voice.
The Birds Are Singing In Kigali– Polish – Rwanda. Director said it Best, “a difficult and painful film that develops like trauma.” Polish and she commented on holocaust in Poland and in Rwanda and how she felt compelled to make this film. It’s worthwhile seeing, particularly to think about what it’s like to flee, survive and then come back from something like that.
Good, but didn’t move me:
Beyond the Clouds – Indian film by Iranian Director. Set in Mumbai with conspicuously little traffic or crowds. Possibly worthwhile seeing it for that reason alone. A pretty and bittersweet film about taking responsibility, a brother and sister from a poor background and the challenges of retaining their humanity and decency despite their daily struggles.
Mountain – same filmmaker as Sherpa (and some of the same footage, and if you have not seen Sherpa, do. It is still one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen). Beautifully shot and beautiful music. Particularly brilliant scenes with climbers and other extreme mountain sport people. Narrated by Willem Defoe. Best lines: “they’re half in love with themselves and half with oblivion” regarding adrenalin thrill seekers. And about Everest, “it’s no longer exploration, it’s queuing.”
I didn’t care for these:
Maersk Opera – walked out after an hour. An actual opera, but without characters. You see the singers singing in the rehearsal hall of the opera house. Nice space and I like opera. About the building of the eponymous structure. Lots of shots of architectural elements, ants (which was cool), vistas, nature and a super cute doggy (best part).
Spoor– about a woman on Polish-Czech border, getting upset about hunting, mourning her dogs being killed, commenting on the butcher, while eating eggs and dairy. Such hypocrisy. I have no idea why I went to see this film or why I stayed.