#LIFF2019 Preview: Cinema Versa


Bill Walton selects some films from the Cinema Versa strand of the festival programme:

Last Festival I only managed to see two documentaries (in the Cinema Versa section): Something Left Behind (2018) about the legendary Leeds band The Wedding Present; and What is Democracy? (2018) which highlighted how the very understanding of democracy varies from place to place around the world and over time.

They inspired me to make sure that I see more Cinema Versa films this time. So far on my list are:

So don’t forget to have a good look through the blue section of the programme. You will discover some cinematic gems.


Bill Walton

LIFF2019 Preview #2

Next in our series of posts on Leeds International Film Festival, Hannah tells us about her festival plans…

Last week, on a bit of a nostalgia trip, I watched the French film A Town Called Panic (2009) This showed on bonfire night at the Picture House during LIFF24 in 2010 and was my first taste of the film festival. Since then, my festival has steadily grown from the occasional odd film when I happened to be in Leeds to being an essential fortnight of my autumn calendar, around which all other things must be carefully arranged.

This year I’m going full tilt into LIFF (can we call it LIFF33?). After 2018, I said I’d take it easy and have time to reflect between screenings, maybe pop home occasionally, check in with my family or go for some leisurely lunches. You know, the things it’s nice to do when you’ve taken a week off work. Unfortunately somewhere in the planning, that idea has been bulldozered. The changes in ticketing for the festival, a jam-packed programme to choose from and a kind of film festival FOMO have conspired to keep me as square-eyed as ever.

At the time of writing, I’m lining up 45 screenings across the 16 days of festival; from Hollywood yet-to-be-blockbusters like Jojo Rabbit and Little Monsters, French animation (I Lost My Body), and East Asian action (The Gangster The Cop The Devil, The Wild Goose Lake) to documentaries like The Hidden City, shorts (ALL the animation) and a smattering of classics (All About Eve, Bonnie and Clyde). It’s going to be an effort, but when the line-up is this varied and exciting, I want to make the most I can of the opportunity.

The Picture House has been the scene of some of my favourite LIFF memories and this year has some exciting offerings:

  • The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty – A 1926 silent found-footage film marking the 10th anniversary of the 1917 revolution with live piano accompaniment.
  • The Hidden City – a documentary by Víctor Moreno on subterranean worlds; the pipes, tunnels and transport beneath our cities.
  • Night of the Dead and the inaugural Sci-fi Day – the marathon events at HP are staples of the film festival programme and this year the line-up includes a sci-fi run back to back with NOTD. If you’re really going for it you could attempt both, and I’m sure some will!

Outside the Picture House, I’m really looking forward to:

  • The Gangster The Cop The Devil – Thanks to LIFF, I’ve discovered a love of Korean action. A gangster and a police officer hunt a serial killer – the trailer is promising and I have high hopes.
  • Come to Daddy – Elijah Wood in a grizzly family drama. It might tip into type-casting, but Wood does wide-eyed terror well and I expect it to be put to good use here.
  • Days of the Bagnold Summer – the directorial debut from Simon Bird (Will from The Inbetweeners) is an adaptation from the graphic novel of the same name by Joff Winterhart. A story of a teenage boy and his mum navigating a long summer holiday together. The cast includes British favourites Alice Lowe, Monica Dolan and Tamsin Greig, with Earl Cave (Nick’s son) in the central role.
  • Family Romance LLC – A Werner Herzog documentary exploring a business in Japan that rents out actors to substitute in others’ lives, like a nonfiction rendering of Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2011 film Alps. That film was strange enough and I’m interested to see how the real version might work. From the trailer and bits I’ve read online, it’s going to be an odd one.

With a programme that offers such a variety and by giving myself the freedom to take some risks, the LIFF experience to date has dramatically expanded my cinematic horizons. Before discovering them in the cinema, I probably would have skirted all sorts of excellent foreign-language films because they felt like too much of a challenge and I definitely wouldn’t have gone out to see many documentaries on the big screen. These days the reluctance has vanished and recent years have been a feast of the weird and wonderful.

Taking an afternoon off work to go to the cinema feels like a decadent treat, something you can file under ‘self care’ and spoil yourself rotten at a matinee. Take a whole day off to go to the pictures and it might start to feel strange – more than one film at this time of year and you’ll barely see daylight. Take a few more and step out of your day-to-day life, disconnect from rolling news and immerse yourself in the moving image. There in the dark, you might learn something new, experience something you wouldn’t have otherwise, and lose yourself in other people’s imaginations. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

LIFF 2019 starts on Wednesday. I’ll see you in the cinema!

#LIFF2019 Preview #1

In the run up to the Leeds International Film Festival we’ll be taking a look at some of the films making up this years programme. First up is Stephen…

I wasn’t sure what to expect in this years selection of films but after last year’s late addition of Roma I was hopeful we’d get a chance to see The Irishman on a big screen. Disappointingly it wasn’t in the launch programme but that big gap on Thursday 7th was soon to be filled with Scorsese’s latest. This feels like the real opening film of the festival for me and I just hope the Town Hall seats aren’t too uncomfortable for the three and half hour running time. Netflix seem to making more effort to get this in cinemas and it should also be playing at the Picture House after the festival.

I love the variety of films shown at the festival and often find myself drawn towards the weirder sounding films. There don’t seem to be that many oddities in this year’s programme but perhaps that because the strangeness has gone into the mainstream with Jojo Rabbit. I’ve loved all of Taika Waititi’s films so far (Boy, What We Do In The Shadows, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok – I still haven’t seen Eagle vs Shark) and I’m sure this won’t disappoint although the trailer left me a little cold.

In between those opening and closing films I’m currently planning on seeing around 50 films (and therefore really grateful that the Gold Explorer pass was introduced). Over the years I’ve come to trust the programming team and think there’s usually a good reason to see any of the films in the programme. I’ve tried to take a more practical approach to my schedule this year, trying to avoid dashes across town or upturning my entire plan to fit in films I assume I’ll be able to see elsewhere e.g The Cave, The Two Popes, Ordinary Love and Matthias & Maxime (by the way isn’t it strange that there are two films called The Cave as well as Marriage Story and A Marriage Story in the programme). If you are still making your plans and want to see a better view of when films are showing you may find this Clashfinder useful.

Most of the films I’m looking forward to are from directors I already know and have been praised at other film festivals. All of the following have headline slots and are likely to be popular:

  • Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach’s latest.
  • The Nightingale – Jennifer Kent’s follow up the The Babadook (2014).
  • The Lighthouse – I wasn’t a fan of The VVitch (2015) but keen to see what Robert Eggers has done with this.
  • Portrait of A Lady On Fire Girlhood (2014) and Tomboy (2011) are fantastic and Céline Sciamma’s latest film very different from those, she was also screenplay consultant on one of my favourite ‘forgotten’ LIFF films Bird People (2014).

Some of the lesser known films I’m looking forward to include:

  • Patrick – Really not sure what to expect from this but it was one film in the trailer reel that really stood out as a typical WTF LIFF film.
  • The Incredible Shrinking WKND – another strange sounding one dealing with time-loops. It’s part of the Sci-Fi day at Hyde Park and I’ve taken the easy option of settling in the the entire day.
  • La Belle Époque – the idea of being able to recreate any moment from the past sounds like an intriguing one.
  • Little Monsters – more well known but looks like a lot of fun.

I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to fit in more of the classic films, the Mother Cutter strand is a great idea and a wonderful selection of films. I do have some free time so I may be able to fit some of these films in as well. I’m also glad that the short films are getting more screenings, I’ve not been able to get to many of these in the last few years but this year it seemed easier to fit them around other films.

As always we’d love to hear from you, please leave comments below or head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages to tell us what you’re looking forward to at the Festival.

The Last Tree, Britain 2019

Screening on the coming Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday

This is the second feature both written and directed by Shola Amoo. It is fine production, beautifully put together. The cast are good with a fine leading performance by Sam Adewunmi as Femi. The film follows his development as a young boy with a foster-parent, through life with his actual mother up until his late teens. The setting move from rural Lincolnshire to urban inner-city London. Visually and aurally the film is a pleasure. There is fine cinematography by Stil Williams, fine editing by Mdhamiri Á Nkemi and excellent sound design by a team of engineers.

The narrative and representations are less sure. Both the supporting characters and the settings tend towards stereotypes. This is partly because they are undeveloped; for example, we never really get a proper back-story either for the foster-parent or for Femi’s actual mother. Underneath some distinctive settings and plotting there is a fairly conventional narrative.  The music is judicious but I think that it [deliberately] emphasises the conventional aspects of the story.

The script uses a number of extended ellipsis and I think this introduces an element of fragmentation into Femi’s story. This seems to me an example where the director would have benefited from a fellow scriptwriter.

Even so it is an absorbing title and is great to both watch and listen to. And the subject is both interesting with a contemporary relevance. Definitely worth going to see at the cinema as it is in both colour and full widescreen.

Review: Transit, (Germany / France 2018)

This is the latest release by the German film-maker Christian Petzold. He has already had three of his fifteen credits released in Britain; all fine movies. The last, Phoenix  (2014), was a powerful and stylish drama set in Berlin and exploring changes of identity in a story full of noir tropes. This new title has parallels with the earlier one; the question of acquiring an identity, the displacement of war and the impact of a radical new situation for the main characters.

The title refers ‘transit zone’ where people wait for the official papers to leave; they are displaced and where

“here’s no fixed home. Home is basically homelessness.” (Christian Petzold in the Press Notes).

The story comes from a novel by Anna Seghers from 1944. The settings are Paris and then Marseilles. This adaptation treats period ambiguously so we seem neither in the past nor the  present. This can challenge the audience but emphasizes the  situation of the protagonists:

“They’re borderline phantoms, between life and death, yesterday and tomorrow.” (Petzold).

There are a number of key characters but at the centre is a man seeking transit papers  Georg  (Franz Rogowski)  and the wife of a writer Marie (Paula Beer). So there is a love story in the plot but this has to try and work itself out in a world where war has produced chaos, where police are a threat and officialdom is both remote and overwhelmed.

The idea of ‘transit’ has raised parallels with both Casablanca (1942) and Port of ShadowsLe quai des brumes (1938). And there is a reflexive narration which Petzold himself has compared to Barry Lyndon (1975). In both its plot and narration it also reminded me of The Sheltering Sky (1990) with two young US characters adrift in North Africa..

There was a single presentation at the Picture House which was well attended. However, it seems no other cinema in the area has screened the title. The production is distributed by Curzon/Artificial Eye who rely as much on online as theatrical. And the title has not been helped in Sight & Sound where it received a normal review in September 2019 whereas a title I felt was inferior achieved the two-page spread offered to only three releases  an issue. My colleague on ‘The Case for Global Film‘ rates it one of the best new movies of the year and I absolutely agree. Hopefully it may return for another screening at the Picture House; I should certainly like to enjoy it a second time.

Review: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are established stars of the Tarantino empire and have made another corker with his 9th film. Is it his 9th? You have to count Kill Bill volumes 1 and 2 as one long epic, and remember that even though the Hateful Eight felt like it was 19 hours long, it was still only the one film. The director has repeatedly said that he only ever planned to make 10, so the pressure’s building to go out with a bang.

It’s 1969, Charles Manson is on the loose, Roman Polanski’s still a welcome neighbour and the Hollywood bubble is thriving in Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor fading out of his 30s and his cinematic heyday, with Brad Pitt as his put-upon sidekick/stuntman/driver/dogsbody Cliff Booth.

Rick is known for a 50’s cowboy TV show and as the film starts the series has come to an end so Rick is on the hunt for his next job. His flavour of dashing leading man is no longer in vogue and increasingly typecast as the villain in one-off shows and movies, Rick looks to Europe and the booming spaghetti western scene. Cliff’s career follows Rick’s, albeit in a less fortunate way. Cliff does as he’s told, travels in economy class and patiently tags along, accompanied by his faithful hound Brandy. Cliff and Brandy live in an out-of-the-way trailer, which is a far cry from Rick’s gated community mansion in the Hollywood hills where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate are new neighbours Rick hopes to befriend to help boost his fading stardom.

There are snippets of life on set and their past filmmaking experiences, including an on-set brawl between Cliff and Bruce Lee and Rick’s encounter with a wise-before-her-time child star. We’re given some wonderful flashbacks to films he’s auditioned for and starred in, including an alternative version of a 60’s classic and one where he tackles Nazis with a flame-thrower. Like the Machete trailer in the Grindhouse double-feature, part of me hopes that we could one day see the rest of the film, although I’m afraid Tarantino might just have shown us the ending.

Once Upon A Time… skips between the big story and the small and inconsequential in a familiar way if you’ve seen any of Tarantino’s previous 8 films. Rick and Cliff chew the fat when they’re driving in a way that has a very similar feel to the ‘royale with cheese’ conversation in Pulp Fiction and the bursts of violence at the ranch and in the climactic scenes yell Tarantino’s name. He clearly isn’t squeamish about subjecting younger, female characters to the same kind of nastiness we’ve more often seen his leading men dole out to each other. He might not be squeamish about it, but I found the dynamic of those fight scenes quite difficult to watch.

If you don’t know what happened when the Manson family met Sharon Tate, you can probably ignore the departure from reality, but I’m torn about it being an alternative history when the real things that happened were so terrible. Injecting new characters on the edges of a real-life story is one thing, but then changing how that story plays out made me uneasy. I’ve read that it could be seen as a way of paying homage to Tate, a way of wishing away the truth, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s a bit of a self-indulgent fantasy on Tarantino’s part.

Misgivings aside, I enjoyed the Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. It’s long, but checking back I’m surprised it’s as long as 160 minutes. Hollywood glamour on the cusp of the 70s, the flash cars and constant sunshine set the backdrop for an immersive ride. If it’s really to be Tarantino’s penultimate film, it lives up to his catalogue so far and sets an exciting tone for a blow-out number 10.

Hannah Bingle

Review: Sprinter

Last Saturday Leeds Black Film Club in association with Kush Films presented a special preview screening of Sprinter.

sprinter2

Sprinter is a warmly entertaining and funny film with many laugh out moments. I love it when everyone laughs at the same time. Sometimes they were laughing when I wasn’t, which meant I’d missed something that a native Jamaican hadn’t.

The things I enjoyed most about Sprinter was the humour, the music and the use of the beautiful Jamaican landscape.

I didn’t find the film too predictable and at certain points, I wasn’t sure which way the story was going to go – which is good!  There are many layers to this story: parent-child separation, family ties, high-school-sports and others (#nospoilers). It’s a lot to weave into one film but I think it’s done well.

The only downside was thinking Bryshere Y Gray’s character was too similar to his Empire role. I would have liked to see him do something different but it doesn’t take away from the film which has some very (very) special moments.

After the film preview, there was a lively Q&A session with the Producer Rob Maylor and actress Shantol Jackson (who plays Kerry Hall) and they both shared personal stories about their own families and how they got to where they are today.  

It was heartening to hear how passionate they were about retaining the cultural authenticity in many different ways such as ensuring the accents were on point and how their hard work paid off when they saw how the locals reacted to the film. 

We all love a good sports movie and Sprinter has all the elements that make it one to add to the list – even more so for me personally  – it is great to see a strong black sports film showing young people who are driven and focussed on achieving great things.

Pain and Glory (Spain, 2019)

Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo and Asier Etxeandia as Alberto

Pedro Almodóvar is a man of many stories. I find his vivid blend of heroism, tragedy and flashes of utter absurdity a heady combination. His films have spanned grand themes and domestic oddities, drugged gazpacho and heroin dealing, tiger owning nuns, but this time the spotlight shines back at the director himself. Or rather, it shines at the idea of ‘the Director’; Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker whose ill health, the significant anniversary of one of his early movies and an encounter with a former friend cause him to review his life and works. Mallo’s life unfolds for the audience, encompassing a childhood with his mother (played by Penelope Cruz), his early career and first loves, through a series of flashbacks and reflections.

It seems almost unavoidable to consider this film as something of a self portrait; Banderas’ appearance is grizzled with a dandelion clock of hair similar to Almodóvar’s own, he reportedly wore the director’s clothes during filming – parts of which even took place in his own Madrid apartment. We have more than a few hints then that Mallo might be a version of the director himself. Almodóvar has shrugged off comparisons at interview, saying he wouldn’t write or direct an autobiographical work, but it feels unlikely that the similarities are entirely coincidental.

There’s a lot to look forward to here. At Cannes this year, Banderas won the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Mallo and Alberto Iglesias (another frequent Almodóvar collaborator, having worked on Volver (2006) and Julieta (2016) amongst others) won the award for Best Soundtrack. Cruz and Banderas are giants of Spanish cinema who’ve made the leap into Hollywood and both keep one foot squarely in Europe. While the pair feature in different timelines in this film, it’ll be a treat to see them on screen together – something that hasn’t happened since their brief cameos in 2013’s Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited!). I hope that the actors’ transatlantic popularity can help to bring a wider audience than existing fans to the intense visual feast of an Almodóvar picture. If you’ve not seen any of his work to date, hunt out Volver (2006) featuring Penelope Cruz returning from the dead, try Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1989), a dark domestic comedy with Carmen Maura and The Skin I Live In (2011) where Banderas is a sinister Dr Frankenstein-esque character haunted by his past.

On top of the Cannes gongs, there are rumours of other nominations for Pain and Glory, with reviewers describing Banderas’ performance as ‘career defining’ and the role he was ‘born to play’. I’m convinced and can’t wait to see it.

Pain and Glory will be showing at the Picture House from Friday.


Hannah Bingle

Notorious (UK 1946)

 

Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) behaviour is NOTORIOUS.

Has she had enough to drink? “The important drinking hasn’t started yet.”

“You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates”

And personally I wouldn’t trust her as my chauffeuse!

So what’s on the menu of this excellent melodrama? For a start it includes some dodgy fare … burnt chicken, indigestible wine and adulterated coffee. And you’ll find a heady stew of manipulation and blackmail, disappointment  and murder, all seasoned with occasional expressions of trust and openness to love.

T.R. Devlin(Cary Grant) is a government agent aiming to infiltrate a group of Nazis who fled Germany for Brazil after World War 2. The setting is Rio de Janeiro in 1946. Essentially, Notorious is a Hitchcockian romance highlighting tensions between feelings of love and duty, which rivals Michael Curtiz’s film Casablanca (1942) for style and entertainment. The script, acting, screenplay and photography all showcase director Alfred Hitchcock at his best. If you are quick you can even see Hitchcock quaffing a glass of champagne just over an hour into the film.

Alicia: This is a very strange love affair.
Devlin: Why?
Alicia: Maybe the fact that you don’t love me.
Despite this, there is an extended kiss, the longest on screen at the time. In the 1930s Hollywood had introduced the Hays Motion Picture Production Code which dictated strict rules to writers and directors about permissible limits to lovemaking, immorality and vulgarity in their films. For example, in love scenes women had to have at least one foot on the ground at all times, and kisses could only last three seconds. Hitchcock got around the last one by having the lovers kiss for three seconds, stop, say a few words, kiss again, walk for a little bit and then kiss again, for a total of two and a half minutes. See the results for yourself!

Another psychological element is Alex Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) intriguing relationship with his mother, Anna Sebastain (Leopoldine Konstantin).

Madame Sebastian to her son: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity … for a time”.

Maybe I should have mentioned that Alex is also in love with Alicia …

So get along to the Picture House to see this iconic film at 2pm this August Bank Holiday Monday.


Bill Walton

Never Look Away / Werk ohne Autor, Germany, Italy, USA, Czech republic 2019.

Young Kurt with Elizabeth and ‘degenerate art’

This new title had two screenings at the Picture House. I managed the second which had a small but respectable audience.  They all stayed to the end, which was 188 minutes later. In fact the film did not seem three hours to me as the characters and the stories were absorbing.

I write ‘stories’ as there are two narrative strands in the film and I thought one weakness was that they never seemed to completely mesh. The English language title refers to the personal and family drama strand. This starts in 1937 as we see the young Kurt [Cai Cohrs) with his Aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) as they follow a guided tour of the Nazi exhibition of ‘degenerate art’. Kurt already has ambitions to be  a painter. But the emphasis is on the personal. Elizabeth admonishes the young Kurt to

‘never look away’ because ‘everything that is true holds beauty in it’.

But she is soon lost and becomes a victim of the Nazi policies of sterilization and extermination of people deemed physically and mentally ‘unfit’.

After the war Kurt and his family find themselves in the zone liberated by the Soviet armies and then the German Democratic Republic. Kurt goes to art school where the official style is ‘Socialist realism’. He meets and falls in love with another student Elizabeth, ‘Ellie’ (Paula Beer). Her father Carl (Sebastian Koch) is a gynecologist and the audience [but not Kurt or Ellie] know that he has a suspect past from the era of the Third Reich. As this starts to catch up with him he leaves for the West. Now married Kurt and Ellie follow just before the erection of the infamous ‘Wall’.

This latter part of the film is closer to the German title, which translates as ‘Without an Author’. This refers to the film using some of the life story of an actual German artist, Gerhard Richter, whose paintings figure in the film. Kurt enrolls at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, at the time a centre of avant-garde art. Here we see another thinly veiled character from real life, the artist  Joseph Beuys. Now Kurt finds an artistic voice  and critical acclaim.

Adult Kurt with a Socialist Realist portrait and an experimental canvas

Less focused is family life, but Kurt and Ellie have children and happiness. The fate of her father Carl is not revealed but there is a hint that nemesis is closing in.

The cast work well, Tom Schilling and Paula Beer are reasonably good.  Sebastian Koch is excellent with a real sense of malevolence. The stand-out performance is Saskia Rosendahl, though she is only seen in the early part of the film.

The production is extremely well done. The design, cinematography and sound all work well to produce a convincing creation of the places and times. And there are both subtle and less subtle references in the style that draw the characters and their experiences together. The music does this at times, but other sequences have a rather obvious accompaniment, sometimes with a Wagnerian tone. I suspect the film-makers were not confident that all the key moments of development totally worked.

This contributes to the sense of a division in the film. And the personal drama, especially the romantic, is rather conventional in presentation. Whereas the artistic is less so. But I think both maintain the interest of the viewer.

The film  is written and directed  by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who was responsible for the very fine The Lives of Others  / Das Leben der Anderen (2006). This film lacks the complexity of the earlier title. The treatment of both the German Democratic Republic and of the later Art Academy rely on rather simple motifs.   I think the director’s craft suffered from a trip to the mainstream and a completely forgettable The Tourist (2010). However, this production is vastly superior to that and, in a year where the new releases  of real quality are sparse, stands out. It is in  colour, full widescreen and has English sub-titles;  definitely a movie to be seen in a cinema.