What To Watch At The #LFF This Weekend


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While we’re still recovering from last night’s excellent surprise film, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s animated marvel ‘Anomalisa’, the festival reaches its last two days. After a week that has brought such highlights as Laurie Anderson’s documentary ‘Heart of a Dog’, a life-affirming meditation on death and existence, and her insightful conversation with Brian Eno, part of the LFF Connects events; Miguel Gomes ambitious ‘Arabian Nights’ trilogy, loosely taking structure and ideas from the classic Middle-Eastern folk opus ‘1001 Nights’ and adapting it to Portugal today in a portrait of the multiple anonymous stories left by an austerity stricken post-financial crisis country or the SXSW winner ‘Krisha’ and its startling study of the devastating effects of addition set against the backdrop of a Thanksgiving big family reunion. Reviews for all of which are coming soon.

Whether you want to carry exploring this year’s excellent programme or just don’t want to let the festival finish without having had a taste, there’s still plenty to choose from. Beyond the obvious “begging, borrowing or stealing” to get a ticket for its sold out closing gala, Danny Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’ biopic, starring Michael Fassbender in an Oscar-tipped performance. Here’s a few recommendations from what we’ve already seen and a few more from the titles we are still eagerly anticipating, paired as suitable double bills to help you make the most of your festival experience:

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CAROL/TRUTH

The indisputable star of the festival, Cate Blanchett brought elegance and glamour to the red carpet in the European premiere of Carol, Todd Haynes acclaimed lesbian drama. The Aussie star is also promoting ‘Truth’, James Vanderbilt’s newsroom drama about the scandal caused by George W. Bush’s military service TV report, co-starring Robert Redford, for which she’s also collecting raves. Both make a perfect double bill for fans of an actress who is at the peak of her career and will also be honoured with a BFI fellowship during the event’s awards ceremony.

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EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT/FROM AFAR

Followers of world cinema have a chance to check the extraordinary good health Latin American filmmaking is in, beginning with Colombian helmer Ciro Guerra and his extraordinary trip into the heart of the Amazon jungle with its ancestral psychedelic culture, ‘Embrace of the Serpent’. Beautifully shot in black and white, the film is inspired by the journey diaries of two scientists, separated by four decades, both helped by a local shaman in their search for a sacred healing plant. Following their explorations we witness the ravages white colonialism caused to the indigenous way of life. Somewhere in between anthropological reconstruction and Apocalypse now-like cultural clash madness, it’s one of the most original cinematic experiences we’ve enjoyed in recent times. ★★★★½

Equally impressive, if completely different, is Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas’ first feature, ‘From Afar’, winner of Venice’s top prize. The unlikely romance between a mature gay man and one of the young men he finds cruising the streets of Caracas is told with a clever dosification of details that wisely builds up on its ambiguous premise. A slow-burning psychological drama, based on a story written by the director himself and Iñarritu’s former collaborator Guillermo Arriaga, it constantly defies stereotypes and the viewer’s expectations, questioning at each step the motives behind the way that impossible relationship unfolds. It also benefits from an intelligent, muted lead performance by Chilean Alfredo Castro (also excellent in another of the festival’s best films, ‘The Club’). ★★★★

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DHEEPAN/VICTORIA

Two genre-bending thrillers defying audience’s expectations make our third recommended double bill. The first one is this year’s controversial Cannes’ Palm D’or winner ‘Dheepan’, the story of an ex Tamil Tiger who recruits a local woman and a young girl to pass for his dead family and elude French emigration controls on their way to a better life. A film rooted in social realism that’s a moving observation of the desperate measure emigrants from war stricken countries need resorting to. Once the fake family settles in their new suburban environment, a tower blocks neighbourhood controlled by drug dealing gangs, it becomes an action thriller that keeps on changing as the characters evolve. Jacques Audiard may not have matched the brilliance of former works such as ‘A Prophet’.‘Dheepan’ is arguably a less deserving winner than, let’s say, ‘Carol’ or ‘Son Of Saul’. But despite a few flaws it’s still a deeply satisfying work that won’t leave anyone unmoved. ★★★★

More impressive still is ‘Victoria’. Sebastian Schipper’s accomplished thriller gives ‘Birdman’ a run for its money by being truly shot in a single take. It begins in almost romantic comedy territory when a Spanish girl visiting Berlin meets a group of friendly East German guys on a night out clubbing and begins a fling with one of them. She soon finds herself involved in the gang’s nasty business and it all morphs into a gripping heist movie that will change tone again to a quieter, naturalist drama on its third act. Brilliantly scripted and executed on its exhilarating rush, ‘Victoria’ strikes as a remarkable achievement. ★★★★½

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CLOSET MONSTER/CHEMSEX

LGBT Audiences could enjoy an interesting double bill formed by Canadian young director Stephen Dunn’s debut ‘Closed Monster’ and British documentary ‘Chemsex’. The first one, a quirky coming of age dramedy about a teenage guy’s fear of facing his sexuality. Growing up in a broken home, he’s found shelter on his inner creative world, where a talking pet hamster voices his thoughts as an alter-ego, and the making of horror-themed make-up effects has become his vocation. His uneasy transition into adulthood pushes the film into darker territory when his dad’s volatile temper and typical blue collar macho attitude comes in the way. A solid debut that despite its familiar story manages to avoid cliché and boasts an unique tonal combination that Dunn somehow makes work. ★★★½

On the oposite side of the gay spectrum, Will Fairman and Max Gogarty’s gutsy exposé ‘Chemsex’ is bound to ignite a much needed controversy about the little known, ongoing health crisis spreading within the gay scene, brought by the use of intravenous drugs in sex parties. The film explores in uncompromising detail the practices involved and their side effects, as well as addressing the complex issues behind it. Showing the candid testimonies of several men engaged on that lifestyle and some others that have left it behind, it also counts with the medical expertise of the only UK clinic dealing with those issues, shaping up a tough watch that serves its purpose as a wake-up call for a situation spiralling out of control. ★★★★

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SHERPA/MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE

Documentary lovers are not lacking choice with some of the most talked-about recent works of the genre being screened. Two of the most interesting ones delve into areas also explored by other recently released movies. ‘Sherpa’ would make a perfect, more thrilling twin companion to Hollywood’s recent blockbuster ‘Everest’. High-altitude filming specialist Jennifer Peedom went to the Himalayas to document the increasingly uneasy relationship between local guides and Westerners. The Sherpas help climbers all the way to the summit, bearing most of the risks and hard-work required by an overstretched adventure travel industry. Essential for the Nepalese economy, they don’t get the support or compensation they deserve. In the middle of the filming, Everest suffered its biggest tragedy ever, shocking images of which the team was able to capture, sadly elevating this piece of work from excellent to extraordinary. It all led to the Sherpas going on strike fighting for fair compensation for victims and better working conditions. Peedom deftly balanced the points of view of all parts involved: local guides, tour operators and disappointed customers whose interest were not always in tune, all against the backdrop of the mountain range’s breathtaking beauty. ★★★★½

Another high-profile documentary work is the latest by Louis Theroux, ‘My Scientology Movie’, in which the popular broadcaster takes on the church of Scientology with his habitual humorous manner. Although we sadly missed it, it was received with high praise for his much goofier approach to the controversial religion than Alex Gibney’s also acclaimed ‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.

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