With public attendance rising 12% on recent years, the newly re-organised 2012 London Film Festival looks to have been a hit with audiences and critics alike. There were no major surprises with the competitions: Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard’s meditation on love and fortitude in the face of adversity, was a deserved winner of the Best Film Award; the haunting, poetic Beasts of the Southern Wild, nabbed the Sutherland; My Brother the Devil won Best British Newcomer for writer/director Sally El Hosaini; and Alex Gibney’s investigation into the cover-ups of child abuse in the church, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, deservedly won the Grierson. And amongst the 200 plus features and documentaries, were many other highlights:
The ultimate odd couple movie, set in the near future, Frank and Robot sees an unlikely alliance form between an increasingly forgetful, ageing ex-con (Frank Langella) and the robot foisted on him by his protective son (James Marsden). Frank – gruff and set in his ways – is initially resistant to his new, exacting companion (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), who insists on a healthy regime and a quiet life, but pretty soon he becomes an unexpected partner in crime, and by the end, a true friend. As with two of the more interesting sci-fi features of recent years, Eva and Another World, the focus here is firmly on character and relationship, with visual spectacle taking a back seat to genuinely moving emotion.
For die-hard Kubrick fans, in particular The Shining, Room 237 is a crazy, often hilarious, delve into one of cinema’s most iconic entries. Filmmaker Rodney Ascher postulates a host of fabulous claims about Kubrick’s intentions, from the truly preposterous and outlandish, via the mildly unlikely to the disturbingly possible. Persuasively, and passionately argued, to give away the assertions would be to ruin the element of surprise, but suffice to say it’s unlikely that you’d fabulate them on your own, however assiduously you had trawled the meanings hidden in its mise-en-scene.
Lore, directed by Cate Shortland and based on Booker-shortlisted novel The Dark Room, is well worth seeking out. Set in Germany at the end of World War 2, it follows the fortunes of Lore and her siblings after their Nazi parents are taken away by the allies, on a lengthy journey to their grandmother in Hamburg. Joined by a Jewish survivor, and witness to the human cost of prejudice, Lore is forced to face her own ideals and the reality of her father’s and her country’s actions. Like Somersault, the director’s first film, in many ways it’s a coming of age tale; both beautifully restrained and sensitively handled.
In complete contrast, though equally compelling visually, Laurence Anyways, the third feature from French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats) was one of the most exuberant and uplifting of the festival. Tracing the relationship between Laurence and Fred, as he decides to make the transition from becoming a man to a woman, and she tries to cope with the consequences, it’s intense, melodramatic and full of soul. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, with moments of memorable magical realism and a perfectly-pitched soundtrack. Suzanne Clément is mesmerising as the effervescent, mercurial Fred.