#LFF2019 The Story of Sound in Film; An Irish Drama; a US Indie Comedy and Mexican Social Realism.

Our second day at the LFF screenings began with a blast or, more specifically, with tons of them as featured in Midge Costin’s superbly didactic documentary ‘Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound.’ It continued with the thought provoking Irish drama ‘Rose Plays Julie’ dealing with a young woman searching for their real parents; ‘The Climb,’ a deadpan US indie comedy about friendship and we finished the day with our favourite film of the festival, so far, a Mexican drama about the great wealth divide ‘Workforce.’ Here’s our chronicle:

After a career spawning four decades of sound design in Hollywood blockbusters such as The Rock or Armageddon, Midge Costin suitably debuts as a filmmaker with ‘Making Waves: The Art Of Cinematic Sound.’ This highly informative documentary puts together in less than two hours a rather complete story of all the historical moments that brought forward the use of sound in film up to the spectacularly immersive experience that it is Today.

From the first film with sound, Al Johnson’s ‘The Jazz Singer,’ to the complex sound design of any movie nowadays, mixing special effects, foley artists, music, voices…Costin interviews directors who have been known to give a particular importance to the aural element on his films (Spielberg; Lucas; Lynch; Barbra Streisand who fought for her version of ‘A Star Is Born’ to be the first using stereo…) and the technicians and engineers that shaped its sounds as it is Today: Walter Munch, the sound person of choice among New Hollywood directors; Ben Burtt who became Hollywood’s engineer of choice since his work in ‘Star Wars’ and many others.

There’s also practical examples with films like ‘King Kong’; ‘Citizen Kane’; ‘Saving Private Ryan’; Pixar’s shorts; ‘Roma’…focusing on their individual contributions to the art of sound in what is a very recommendable piece of work for those with an interest in the craftsmanship of cinema.

One of the films from this year’s official competition was next, ‘Rose Plays Julie,’ the fourth feature by Irish filmmaker partners Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, whom after the more experimental approach of their former documentary ‘Further Beyond,’ are back to the psychological depths of films like ‘Helen.’ In this case, telling the story of a young vet student, given in adoption at birth, who driven by existential concerns about the life she has versus the life of the person that she could have been, begins to look for her biological parents. The title refers to her actual name and the one that appeared in her birth certificate, illustrating the dichotomy she faces.

Molloy and Lawlor’s formal approach, using long, often static and carefully composed shots, takes the viewer inside Rose’s mind, following her train or thoughts as she approaches the discoveries on this process and we rarely leave this inner world, often on doubt at discerning what is fantasy and what’s reality. The research for her mother leads to a famous actress, who reluctantly accepts to talk to her, revealing the reason why she left her behind is because she was raped by a famous archaeologist. Rose then, pretending she is an actress gathering information for a role, volunteers on his biological father’s excavation sites where the drama unfolds and history repeats itself. All of which is dealt with leaving ample space for reflection on the harsh themes the film goes through, and the controversial turns the story takes.

The use of a very particular angle to portrait this sadly relevant and almost commonplace subject nowadays is perhaps the biggest merit of another notable piece of work in the career of these filmmakers, still not as well-known as they would deserve to be.

Another cinematic tandem is the one formed by Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin, who share writing, producing and acting credits on their debut feature ‘The Climb,’ also directed by the former. This extension of a previous short film into a full feature one won an award this year at Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’ thanks to its peculiar sense of humour at portraying a toxic friendship going on through the years, despite enduring many dramatic ups and downs.

It all begins with an admission of betrayal. One of them takes his friend to the French Alps to confess, while taking advantage of his better physical condition at cycling up a mountain, that he and his soon to be wife have cheated on him. The rest of the story is told in episodes, coinciding with important family occasions such as weddings, funerals or Christmas, all of which are punctuated by another life-altering event, creating unexpected tensions and twists that fed into the slow burning comical story line.

‘The Climb’ shares with the majority of American indies Today a taste for the quirky and the dysfunctional, but the best friends’ characters and their opposite personalities, like a buddy version of the biblical Kane and Abel; an effectively broad farcical tone; the tender but almost deadpan treatment of emotions and the off-key use of classic French songs in the soundtrack surprisingly mix well to create a quite enjoyable fun ride.

The day ended on a high note with another first feature, ‘Workforce,’ by the Mexican auteur David Zonana, produced by festival veteran Michel Franco, sharing the latter’s usual mix of social realism and disturbing moral issues. The film offers a damning look at the contemporary great wealth divide through the miserable working conditions of a group of painter-decorators, played by non-actors, employed in a luxury chalet. It also underlines the general corruption and violation of rights they suffer when one of them dies after falling from the ceiling and a shady experts report concludes he was drunk, preventing the owner from having to compensate his widow.

When the house’s owner suddenly die, one of the workers, pressured for money and tired of the hardship they have had to put on with, finds out he had no heirs to claim the property and, with the help of a shady lawyer, begins this plan to de-facto squat the place and pay the needed legal costs to remain living there. For this scheme to succeed, though, he needs to bring all his colleagues and their families in and they all need to contribute towards the legal fees. But what originally almost seemed like social equality and poetic justice soon will morph into something much less fair in which the social structures of power begin to reproduce themselves.

Zonana brings unusual complexity and a real-life feeling to this moral reflection on the corrupting effects of the capitalist values enforced by society. ‘Workforce’ will surely stand out as one of the timeliest, most thought-provoking works in this year’s festival.

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