Today marked the first day of Impact‘s 2011 London Film Festival coverage. In fact, it was a day of ‘firsts’: The first time I personally had been to the London Film Festival, the first time I had seen four films at the cinema in one day and the first time I had ever watched two horses graphically consummate their love on the big screen.
After rising & shining at an hour little-known to most students, I hopped onto the tube to get from Clapham to Waterloo. My walk to the BFI Southbank was a slightly nervous one (I wanted to retain an air of “I know where I’m going”, while not really knowing where I was going), but I arrived easily enough — very early for the first screening. Attempting to check into Foursquare on my Blackberry (at Impact we are mutli-social-media-lingual) it was at this moment that my phone decided to stop working. To be specific, the scroll button would only go left and right, refusing to fulfil the rather more important need of up and down movement. Frustrated, I decided that my day would not be ruined by a lack of Twitter/email access, so I meandered over to the press team who were setting up for the morning’s first screening…
“Hi, I’m Tom from Impact Film, can I get my press…”*FIRE ALARM*
The building was promptly evacuated, the few of us around at that point forced to stand outside and to ponder the possibility that there might actually be a fire, as opposed to every other time an alarm has gone off in your life and it has turned out to be an accident/drill. It was an accident. After ten minutes or so (time enough for me to buddy up with another writer, who writes for the excellent The New Current) we were let back inside. “What could go wrong this time?” I thought.
“Hi, I’m Tom from Impact Film, can I get my press pass?”
No, apparently I couldn’t. It wasn’t there. “Never mind,” the chap manning the desk insisted, “you can get it tomorrow.” He took a note of my name and stated that I would be fine getting into all screenings for the rest of the day. First the fire alarm, then the lack of a pass; I did start to entertain the possibility that my trip to the LFF was cursed. Anyway, time for the first film…
Guilty (French, dir. Vincent Garenq)
The french title of Guilty is actually ‘présumé coupable’, which I believe translates to Presumed Guilty — a far more appropriate title. The film is the true-to-life story of Alain Marécaux, who was absurdly accused of peadophilia and spent several years in jail, despite there being no evidence and the prosecution solely relying on testimony. I’d like to pitch a third potential title for the film: “Bad Things Happen to Alain and Then We Fade Out”, which pretty much sums up the entire plot. About halfway through the movie you begin to hope that events could not possibly get any more depressing. They do. And then some.
As a relentlessly depressing film, Guilty is not ideal fodder for an early morning screening. However, that does not detract from the fact that this is an impressively made and well acted piece of cinema. The narrative is handled aptly, with no drops in pace throughout the 100m runtime. The story is believably replicated on the big screen, and it is an emotionally draining experience. Don’t expect this film to make many friends — in fact, it’s biggest impact is to serve as a shattering indictment of the French judicial system — but if you fancy a slog-fest of raw, upsetting incidents, this will be on the money. I would’ve liked it to have contained more levels and elements of ingenuity, but Guilty is undoubtedly a well constructed film.
After Guilty I felt like I needed a long lie-down. No such luck; half a tuna sandwich later we were herded straight into our next screening…
Oops, apparently I can’t mention the second film just yet. Shame, I was going to slate it. Moving on to the day’s third film…
Shock Head Soul (Simon Pummell)
An intriguing title, and, apparent from the very first shot, a thoroughly intriguing film. Shock Head Soul documents the life and troubles of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose memoirs, written while suffering from extreme schizophrenia, went on to be considered an influential study on the field of psychoanalysis after they were read and interpreted by Sigmund Freud.
The film itself is an amalgamation of different media — we have the actual experts giving their opinions on Schreber (interestingly all dressed up in 19th century get-ups), animations that depict Schreber’s delusions, and the dramatic impressions of the actual events, superbly acted by Hugo Koolschijn (Schreber) and Anniek Pfeifer (his wife). Evidently, it had the potential to be an ugly mess of a film, but not long in it became apparent that the creative team had managed to seamlessly impose each artform upon the other. At times it feels Malick-esque, a stimulation of not just the eyes and ears but of the soul as well — this film’s merits go beyond aesthetics. Containing an engrossing, fascinating story, a real quality of production and some strikingly beautiful visuals, Shock Head Soul is a tapestry, a rich film that will not be for everyone, but was the highlight of this particular reviewer’s day.
Now I really needed a lie-down. Still no luck. Despite the fact that Shock Head Soul was my final LFF screening of the day, my adventure continued…
Earlier in the week I had been invited to a screening of She Monkeys, a film from first-time director Lisa Aschan. Despite not rsvp-ing, now that I could definitely make the screening I decided to trek across to Soho to see if they could fit me in. After a much-needed refuelling in Pret, I arrived at the Soho Screen Rooms just in time to see Christopher Eccleston having a nosey round the place with his girlfriend (celebrity spot no.1). No I didn’t take a picture — we’re not tabloid press! Venturing into the rather swanky establishment, the PR girl handling the event assured me that I’d almost definitely get in. So, after some snacks and light refreshment (booze was on offer but I was far too drained), I settled into the cosy Screen 1 and awaited the beginning of my fourth film of the day…
She Monkeys (Swedish, dir. Lisa Aschan)
An enjoyable, if at times a little lightweight, exploration into sexual development, She Monkeys marks a promising debut for Aschan. The story of two sisters, the film features both comedy and drama, being successful in both during the first half, with the latter draining as the film enters its final stages. It is a cleverly crafted piece of cinema, but the film lacks depth that often feels like a distinct omission. As it approaches its conclusion, you are left wanting a little more weight, a reason to become more emotionally involved. Regardless, it never dips in pace enough to be dull, and some of the lines delivered by the younger of the two sisters are genuinely hilarious. One thing to note — if you’re intimidated by horses’ genitalia then this will not be your cup of tea.
And with that the day was done. A few of us headed to a pub called the John Snow — which by the way I highly recommend — for a quick drink and then I called it a day. It has been both emotionally and physically draining, but an experience that has whetted my appetite for the rest of the festival. Keep an eye on the website for further daily updates; eventually the EMBARGOED films will have their publication restrictions lifted and I will post my opinions on them as and when that happens. That’s all for now; see you tomorrow!