BFI London Film Festival 2012, Part II

This article originally appeared on Ramp.ie

So, how do you follow seeing Bill Murray at a big premiere? You go to an even bigger premiere!

56th BFI London Film Festival: Argo
Producer Graham King, Bryan Cranston, Ben Affleck and John Goodman at the LFF Argo premiere

Argo, Ben Affleck’s follow-up to The Town, arrived into London laden with praise from other festivals, and the film’s stars were in full force to show it off. Bill Murray may be a cool cat, but his reception was nowhere near as loud as the one Affleck received on Wednesday evening, with ladies producing screams of such pitch that dogs were left cowering in their wake. Affleck, smooth in a navy suit, was joined by his co-stars Bryan ‘I own your TV schedules’ Cranston and John Goodman, the latter proving unpopular with his refusal to sign autographs. Affleck was more than willing to oblige, much to the delight of the crowd. Affleck’s pride in the film was in evidence as he introduced it, and it’s absolutely justified. Based on a true story, Argo depicts the declassified and utterly incredible attempts by the CIA to smuggle six American diplomatic staff hiding in the Canadian embassy in Tehran after the capture of the US Embassy by Iranian Revolutionaries in 1979. The plot involves CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck) leading a phony film production to Tehran to scout locations for a sci-fi film and smuggling the fugitive Americans out on the return trip. The cast do solid work, but the plot’s the thing here; Argo is a first-rate thriller, with the edge of your seat kept occupied all the way through.

The Argo premiere was undeniably big, but bigger still was the crowd that turned out to see the Rolling Stones arrive at the Odeon Leicester Square for the premiere of Crossfire Hurricane. Brett Morgan’s documentary takes audio interviews with the band and builds a memorable montage of footage and music around them. You can imagine some of the topics covered (The Rolling Stones took drugs?! Who knew?!), but it’s delivered with honesty, energy and more than a little wistful nostalgia. The soundtrack’s not bad either.

The dry cool Thursday evening made for a memorable red carpet, as the light grew slowly dimmer and four luxury cars with blacked-out windows pulled up to shouts of joy from the crowd. Charlie Watts bounced on to the red carpet, Ronnie Wood surveyed the attendant masses, whilst Keith Richards impressed simply by still being alive. Mick Jagger, meanwhile, ran to the crowds for a few quick autographs before all four were ushered up the carpet, leaving the crowds in awe at the living legends.

For all the talk of premieres, there are so many films at every festival that arrive with little fanfare. Over 200 hundred films screened at the LFF this year, but so many may have been passed over by the masses. The talent may not be on the red carpet, but there is plenty on the screen to entice. One such film is The Hunt, Thomas Vinterburg’s compelling Danish drama. A noticeably shorter red carpet was laid out for Vinterburg, but it’s the loss of anyone who chose not to see it on the basis of the length of a rug. In The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre) gives a gripping turn as a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of sexual molestation. The Hunt is relatively no-frills, as Vinterburg’s Dogme roots would dictate, but the paranoia and intensity is cranked up to near-maximum.

However, even The Hunt got a relatively generous presentation. There are plenty of films that receive no gala of any kind, even with critical cred and awards in tow. Take Post Tenebras Lux, for which Carlos Reygadas won best director at Cannes this year. A near-full screening was treated to the visual spectacle that is PTL, and lead actress Nathalia Avecendo took part in a Q&A session afterwards. It often occurs that the cast and/or filmmakers will attend smaller screenings out of a desire to present their film and advertise it, and for film fans it is a wonderful chance to pose questions and posit observations they may not have otherwise posed/posited. That said, explanations seem to defy Post Tenebras Lux. It plays as an evocation of director Reygadas’ memories and nightmares. This personal approach makes audience identification difficult, and the lack of a coherent plot alienates further. Still, it’s a visual treat, and anyone who likes to put their brain matter to work in a film will absolutely feast on Post Tenebras Lux.

The festival gives an award for best documentary alongside its official competition award, and this year’s line-up in this category is an standout collection of eclectic topics. The aforementioned Mea Maxima Culpa is a strong contender, as is The Central Park Five, an examination of how a rape and attempted murder was pinned on five black youths on pure circumstantial evidence and a desire to solve the case quickly. Institutional racism in the NYPD and prosecutor’s office ensured the innocent outsider was made to suffer. In a similar vein, Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis dealt with another miscarriage of justice. The case of the West Memphis Three has already been examined in detail in the Paradise Lost trilogy, but Berg approaches the case with the benefit of recent and unprecedented access to the accused and their families. Besides, any miscarriage of justice of this scale will always be worth retelling.

The week also had its share of classic screenings, including re-releases of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and Hitchcock’s The Manxman. The undoubted highlight was the presentation of the 50th Anniversary restored version of Lawrence Of Arabia, introduced by no less than star Omar Sharif on Saturday afternoon. The weekend continued on with premieres big and small, including Sightseers (Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to the disturbing Kill List), Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell reunite to follow up In Bruges) and Great Expectations (the closing film, Mike Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel). Saturday evening saw the presentation of the festival’s awards, with victory for Rust and Bone, Mea Maxima Culpa, acclaimed fantasy-drama Beasts of the Southern Wild and London-based coming-of-age drama My Brother The Devil. The curtains closed on Sunday evening for another year, but London was going out on a high, with the London Film Festival the final element of a great year for a great city.

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