Interview: director Lucile Hadžihalilovic on EVOLUTION

The process of evolution is prolonged. The process of making Evolution, writer/director Lucile Hadžihalilovic’s follow-up to her acclaimed feature debut Innocence, was not quite as lengthy, but there are still eleven years between the two films. The wait has been worth it; the new film is an eerie, mesmerising beast. Telling the story of a village inhabited solely by women and their young sons, the unfolding tale of medical intervention and conspiracy is full of difficult questions about childhood and the roles we ascribe to ourselves at various ages, and it asks these questions in beautifully troubling ways

We meet Hadžihalilovic in Dublin, where she’s presenting Evolution at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. Her soft-spoken voice suggests a lack of confidence in her (perfectly fine) English. Born in Lyon, France, to Bosnian parents, Hadžihalilovic is an introspective and vivid filmmaker, a description on which Evolution seals the deal. It leads us to ask why, with these skills and this intriguing narrative, it took so long to get the film made. Framing the question in the context of Innocence’s acclaim, Hadžihalilovic seems surprised “Firstly, I’ve very glad to hear how well-received Innocence was.” Why the surprise? “I think, probably, Innocence was a bit more difficult in France. It took a long time for it to be well-received.”

So, why the wait? “The main reason why it took so long [to make Evolution] was finance. I thought that it would have been easier because it was much more of a genre film, but in France sci-fi, or anything imaginary or fantastic is not very well considered. They think it’s not art; they don’t take it seriously enough. But at the same time of course, it was not a commercial film, so it was between two things. For a long time, people were saying they didn’t understand what kind of film it was going to be, and showing them Innocence was, surprisingly for me, not so helpful in showing the kind of film we wanted to make.” Still, Hadžihalilovic was undeterred.  “I tried with one producer for a few years and after a while, I realized that it was not going to happen that way. So then I tried to find another producer, and at the end I found someone who said, ‘We won’t be able to find any more money; can you cut your script?’ So, that’s what I did.” That somebody was producer Sylvie Pialat, who clearly has an eye for topical, edgy fare, be it Alain Giraudie’s Stranger By The Lake, Abderrehmane Sissako’s Timbuktu or Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja. Pialat knew this idea had something, explains Hadžihalilovic, “I cut quite a lot, and she really wanted to make it happen.”

Shot on the exotic black-sanded shores of Lanzarote, Evolution sees young Nicolas (Max Brebant) become suspicious about his frequent trips to the nearby medical clinic for tests. His mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) deflects his queries, offering him sleeping aids and odd nourishment (Worms for supper, anyone?) in place of answers. “I’d like to say it’s very autobiographical,” Hadžihalilovic laughs when asked about the film’s genesis. “The beginning of it, the embryo of it, is very much in my own childhood, about some fears or suspicions I had when I was 10, 11 years old. When I was 10, I had appendicitis and had to go to the hospital. It was very normal; nothing unusual happened, but I absorbed this experience of having your body opened and having something cut inside. When you think about it, it’s something very strange.”

evolution-poster-lucile-hadzihalilovicIt also came at a time when bodies and minds change without medical intervention “It was at a moment when I was a pre-teenager and my body was changing, so it was a collusion between all these things, this kind of experience of fear and expectation. So the film comes from something very intimate, but also I think that it’s shared by many people at the same age. When you are a pre-teen, you begin to distrust and question adults, but you are still a child and not yet a fully-formed mind, so you make your own links and conclusions.”

The film grapples with the roles assigned to gender, primarily roles involving sexuality and procreation “I would say it’s something more pre-sexual,”  Hadžihalilovic explains, “something more primitive, because in a way there is no sexuality in the film. The idea is that, for some reason, the women can’t procreate by themselves, so the boy is playing a very reversed role. I guess also it comes from my own feeling that this would be more interesting with a boy instead of a girl. I think it’s an interrogation of films that are more common about women and pregnancy, but I put it on the boy. Questions of pregnancy are very certainly imposed on women; I thought it would be interesting if they couldn’t, and they found an abnormal and nightmarish way to do it.”

The resulting film is reminiscent of the blends of fantasy and reality of David Cronenberg (more than one scene recalls The Brood) or Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The design is evocative of The City of Lost Children). We ask Hadžihalilovic about the influences that fed into Evolution.Besides this unconscious image of pregnancy, you have a film like Eraserhead, mainly because it deals with an organic nightmare, a bit in reality but not entirely; it’s kind of in between.” Even when focusing on specific films, Hadžihalilovic clearly has enough confidence in the material not to borrow too liberally. “Directly, I didn’t have a particular film in mind, except for a Spanish film called Who Can Kill A Child?” Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 thriller about an island of murderous children is an interesting touchstone, but Hadžihalilovic cites it for reasons beyond plot. “It’s the mood, the idea of a horror film under the sun, the presence of a village with children, something like that. But I think also there is a lot of fairytale influence, when the children are wrapped and bearing these strange creatures. It’s more like Lovecraft, the idea of metamorphosis, especially with the transformation of the body and the birth of the new being.”

The absence of adult males from the film adds another dynamic. “If you see the film from the point of view of the boy, there is no adult male character, so they don’t have an image of themselves growing up. They don’t know what they are going to become.” With this in mind, is Evolution intended as a feminist text? “It was not the way I imagined the film. I was not thinking of saying, ‘It’s up to the boy to do this job now!’ It was probably more my own questions about it that, and that it was more interesting with a boy. It would underline the dramatic, nightmarish aspect of it. It’s about fear of pregnancy, and this kind of primitive sexuality. I put it on a boy, and why not? I think it’s true that it could be seen as feminist; this necessity of sexuality and pregnancy is a kind of oppression. But it was not a manifesto. It was not an active approach.”

By refusing to borrow too much from any one source, it may be that Evolution’s best comparison might be with its director’s previous film. Is this a conscious decision on her part? “It’s not my approach. I absolutely see how Innocence and Evolution are linked and I see the similarities, but I really tried to go away from Innocence when I went to write Evolution. It was more narrative, more of a genre film. It’s true they’re both about children with strange biologies, but this one is a more intimate story.” Perhaps we won’t be using the phrase ‘Hadžihalilovic-esque’, then? “I didn’t have an idea of making a category of my own; I just try to make my own films, and I guess my mind can’t escape from this way of thinking.”

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Interview: director John Boorman on QUEEN AND COUNTRY

John Boorman is reflecting on reflecting. “You know, memory operates in a funny way. I was reading about memory recently, which said that if you relate a memory, you impose a layer on top of that memory. Each time you tell it, another layer is added.” This weekend sees him bringing more of his memories to the cinema screen, adding another layer to his eclectic, but always interesting CV. We meet him in the gilded lounge of Dublin’s Intercontinental Hotel to talk about the past, and how to bring it into the present.

Queen and Country is the long-awaited follow-up to his 1987 hit Hope and Glory. Based on Boorman’s own memories, we go from the 9-year-old Billy Rowan experiencing the Blitz to 18-year-old Billy (played in the film by Callum Turner) being conscripted. Why has Boorman chosen to revisit his cinematic alter ego now? “I always had it in mind to do it, but other things intervene. Also, when I started to think about it again, that period seemed somehow more historically interesting than it was right at the time, because it was a period when everything was changing. After the war, Britain was broke, and within a few years the greatest empire in the history of the world was gone completely.”

He continues optimistically, “At the same time, when the Labour government came in after the war, they did two very significant things. One was the National Health Service, and the other was the establishment of Secondary modern schools. For the first time, every child learned something about art and music, and that produced the kids that became the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and the arts scene of the ‘60s.” Boorman found himself caught between the old and the new. “I remembered this generational gap,” he explains, “and how ‘we, the young’ could see that everything was going to be different now, whereas the older generation of soldiers were hanging on to the imperial Britain. So I thought it was suddenly more worth doing this tale than earlier, because of the distance.”

Despite all this change, Boorman recognizes its failure to completely take root. “It’s extraordinary that, sixty years ago, the coronation took place and she’s still on the throne. I mean, we all felt that that would all be swept away. The class system has been modified, ameliorated certainly, but it exists still supported by the notion of royalty and aristocracy. She’s a very nice lady, but what she stands for is, I think, so old-fashioned.”

Queen and Country is based closely (sometimes surprisingly so) on Boorman’s army experience. In adapting such a personal story for the screen, how does one draw the line between fact and fiction? “It’s very difficult to say exactly. Once you cast it, you’re changing things. It’s a bit of a mystery, the relationship between imagination and memory, because if you tell me the story of something that happened to you on the way here this morning, you’re already applying imagination to an event, and so that obviously has an effect.” As we go on, Boorman exercises his own memory, but we stick with Queen and Country for the moment.

“But what I can say is that all the characters in Queen and Country are based on actual people, and all the events took place, like the story of my first cigarette (It was smuggled in a jar of jam, before being dried and smoked), and the stealing of the clock.” The theft of a prize clock from the sergeant’s mess is one of the main plotlines in the film. “I’ll give you an example of how the needs of a film alter things: the Percy character (played by Caleb Landry Jones) actually stole more than one thing. He stole something every two weeks, and got it out of the camp by posting it. He did it four times and each time it brought the camp to a standstill. It was a deliberate policy of obstruction and terrorism, really, but I whittled it down to one incident; there wouldn’t be room to do the whole thing.”

Boorman was determined to do justice to his memories, even though certain elements were changed from Hope and Glory “When I was casting Sinéad Cusack to read the part of the mother (replacing Sarah Miles in the original film), she asked if I wanted her to impersonate the character from Hope and Glory. I said I’m not concerned about appearances; I’m concerned about the characters. What I did, when I was writing and shooting it, I asked myself the question: is it true? And that really was my guiding principle; did it ring true? Did it seem right to what really happened?”

That last question might be harder for Boorman to answer as the years go on. “The only regret I have is, with Hope and Glory, it’s based on my memories as a child of the Blitz, and I can no longer remember the memories; I can only remember the film!”  He laughs at this point, but his voice suddenly gains a hint of melancholy “And I suspect the same will happen with Queen and Country.”

Despite his pursuit of truth, circumstance prevents Boorman and most any director from shooting in the exact locations where events take place. “We shot for three days on the Thames, at Shepperton where I lived. That’s where we moved to after our house was destroyed in the war. We shot the rest in Romania, because it was the only way we could afford to make the film. We built all the sets there, the army camp, the interiors of the house on the Thames, the street with the ‘50s shop exteriors. When you make a period film, everything has to be made or borrowed. Clothes, props, light switches, everything was different.”

John Boorman on the set of HOPE AND GLORY.
John Boorman on the set of HOPE AND GLORY.

This approach, of building everything from scratch, is a hangover of the making of Hope and Glory. “When I was trying to make Hope and Glory, it seemed like a small film. When I said we needed to build the whole street, one of the biggest sets ever built in England actually, they couldn’t believe this ‘small’ film would cost so much.” Still, the demands of the script and the setting must be met. “When you’re working in period,” Boorman explains, “it’s always expensive. A lot of the time, you can go to a costume house and get all the costumes for that period, but it’s more things like furniture, props, all the detail. Tony Pratt, who designed the film and whom I’ve worked with a lot over the years, is meticulous, even to the cables running down the side of a door. It has to be the cable that you would have at that time!”

In the film, Billy is court-martialed after he (unwittingly or otherwise) persuades a recruit to leave the army. Boorman did the same thing, and is keen to explain himself. “First of all, you have to say in any conflict that only about one in ten soldiers is in the front line. I think we went into the army very reluctantly. We couldn’t see the point of the Cold War or the Korean War; it seemed a futile exercise. When I had the job of lecturing soldiers who were going to go to Korea, I read up about it and it was clearly a war that shouldn’t have happened, based on a series of misunderstandings. So, this boy was the son of a left-wing Labour MP named Ian Mikardo, and he decided he didn’t want to go to Korea after listening to my lectures. MI5 came down and I was investigated.” The paranoia was inescapable, explains Boorman. “Everyone was afraid of Communism back then; they wanted to establish if I was a Communist sympathizer. The slogan at the time was ‘There’s a Red under every bed.’ So I was clearly subversive, but I did my best to conceal it, and I hid behind facts, and the facts made it pretty clear that it was an immoral war.”

The film deals with the fallout of Billy’s (and Boorman’s) actions, but the director ensures it’s not heavy-handed. “There’s nothing overtly ideological or political in the film, but it’s right under the surface all the way through. All the class differences between Billy and Ophelia (played by Tamsin Egerton) which make their relationship impossible at the time, and the attitudes towards royalty and empire, were all lying in there. It’s very representative, I think, of how people felt at that time.”

So, Boorman hasn’t softened his views in the intervening years. “No, not at all,” he declares emphatically. “George Bernard Shaw said two things. He said ‘if they pass a law that only men over 40 could go into battle, wars would soon come to an end,’ because it’s children who fight wars, 18-year-olds. He also said, ‘If a man is not a socialist when he’s young, he has no heart. If he’s not a Tory when by the time he’s 40, he has no sense!’ I was a rabid socialist when I was young, and I’ve always held those views, and I’m a passionate opponent of consumer capitalism.”

All this being said, his affection for the period and the people is what drives the film, rather than any regret or bitterness. “Any bitterness I felt at the time has been washed away by…” Boorman descends into a coy laugh before he can finish the sentence, leaving a pleasant air of mystery. “I certainly had a feeling of affection for that time and those events. And my family, of course. My sister’s return from Canada was volcanic.” Billy’s sister Dawn (Vanessa Kirby) makes the same homeward trek, bringing colour and a certain amount of disruption to their riverside home. “The extraordinary thing was that she stayed, and she did have an affair with the Percy character. That didn’t last very long, but her son was about 19 when she met his friend, who was 20, and she married him, a man 15 years her junior, and they were happily married for 30 years. When she died, he was absolutely distraught and became a recluse.”

One of the main talking points of Queen and Country is the fact it’s been billed as Boorman’s last film, not least by the director himself. He puts his decision to retire simply on the toll the filmmaking process takes. “When people ask you ‘Are you making a film?’, they usually mean ‘Are you shooting a film?’, which of course is the shortest part of the whole process. It takes 2-3 years to make a film, and the shoot only takes 6-7 weeks, so what discourages me from going on is the length of time it takes to get the money, casting, designing and all of this.” By ‘this’, he motions to our opulent surroundings. He’s clearly not a fan of the publicity circuit. “I did two weeks of promoting the film in America. I spent ten days in France. It’s that more than anything. I think I have the strength and the intelligence to make a film, but I’m not sure I can withstand everything that surrounds it. It drags on the energy.”

With Boorman retiring, that leaves a number of proposed projects hanging in the air, such has Broken Dream, which has been around long enough to have had River Phoenix once slated to star. “I have two or three things I’d like to have made, Broken Dream being one of them. Another one I have, which I’m very devoted to, is called Halfway House, which is a kind of version of the Orpheus legend. The Halfway House is a place where people go when they die, and my invention is that you go there, and you’re given a tape of your life. You have to edit it down to three hours before you can get out!” We’re intrigued, but Boorman is resolute he’s not the one to make it. “Sometimes I think maybe I will try to do it, but there are mornings I wake up and my bones are creaking and I think ‘No, I won’t.’” The walking stick in the 82-year-old’s hand hints at the creaking bones, but he’s perfectly able to chat and reminisce with perfect recall.

Sinéad Cusack and Callum Turner in QUEEN AND COUNTRY
Sinéad Cusack and Callum Turner in QUEEN AND COUNTRY

As much as we like the idea of Halfway House, it’d be a hard sell. That said, Boorman has found no ease in trying to fund his films over the years. “It’s actually gotten more difficult,” he explains.  “You notice every weekend there are seven or eight films released, and most of them disappear. I don’t know how people get the money to make them, and there’s all these outlets like Netflix that films filter into. But to make a film and get distribution is very difficult, and I’m glad I’m not starting my career now.” In Boorman’s view, there’s too big a gap between the biggest and smallest films. “There used to be a middle ground, which is gone now. You have American mainstream movies, and then a huge gap down to the independent film ghetto, where you can’t really make a film for more than $2-$3 million. If it’s more than that, it’s very difficult, so you have there rather impoverished films being made, with the support of the Irish Film Board or the British Film Institute, and it’s very unsatisfactory.”

Boorman is used to studio work, and acknowledges the pros and cons. “If you work in the mainstream, it’s great in the sense that a studio will supply the money and they will distribute it and advertise it, and spend money on that. On the other hand, you have the studio pressure, in that they send you reams of notes about the script. It’s all about the script. They will try to get you to change the script to what they want it to be before they give you the green light. That pressure didn’t used to be there at all.” He references a famous example. “When I made Deliverance, I never had a single note from the studio. I went off and made the film, came back and showed it to them, and they made no suggestions about changes and that was it. That was very much my experience at that time, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which was the Golden Age, when studios believed in directors.”

Sean Connery in ZARDOZ
Sean Connery in ZARDOZ

Impending retirement seems to have made Boorman keen to reminisce. The mention of his 1974 oddity Zardoz causes his ears to prick up. “Oh, yeah! I made that after Deliverance was a big hit. I made it for $1 million, negative pickup. That means I delivered the film and then they paid me, so I had to borrow money to make it. It was very ambitious.” He seems bemused but thankful for the film’s cult status “I got a call from Fox to say they were restoring it, and would I contribute to that. I asked why, and they said there was a lot of interest in it.” Boorman can’t help but laugh. “Every time in America, whenever Zardoz gets mentioned, there’ll be a cheer. This film went from being a failure to a classic without ever being a success!”

One of the director’s films that never enjoyed success with audiences or critics was Exorcist II: The Heretic, but even that seems to be getting a second wind. “It’s coming out on Blu-Ray shortly, and we’ve restored the colours, which I was very, very happy about. Geoffrey Unsworth was the cameraman, and he had a special technique to produce these kinds of pastel colours that we were trying to achieve. [On the Blu-Ray] we managed to get the back to how they were at their best.” Even in a work as lampooned as Exorcist II, there’s beauty to be found.

There’s a sincerity to Boorman as a filmmaker, but his works often contain a rich satirical streak. It’s clear in later works, like his 2001 adaptation of John Le Carré’s thriller The Tailor of Panama, but the director traces it back to his early career, and his Fellini-inflected 1970 film Leo The Last. “In a sense, this theme you have in Leo The Last, which is the gap between rich and poor, when Leo discovers his money is coming from slum rents, is in a sense the same theme in Zardoz. The starting idea was the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. The rich were living longer as they had better medicine. I thought that if you extend that into the future, you could certainly get to a point where you’d achieve a kind of immortality through science. So, that’s been a theme disguised in many of my films.” Is he suggesting Zardoz could be a sequel to Leo The Last? “Yes.” He doesn’t elucidate on that point, but the suggestion is enough to leave us amazed.

Boorman’s always had his pick of the stars. Even his stranger efforts will have a role for the likes of Sean Connery and Richard Burton. However, as evidenced by Hope and Glory, he doesn’t cast stars for the sake of it. “The financiers always want you to get stars; that’s the perennial thing.” So, how does you get the stars you want? Boorman’s answer is to aim high. “When I made Deliverance, they had very little confidence in it at Warners, actually. They said, ‘We’ll do it if you can get two stars.’ So I got Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando. Warners asked how much did they want. I told them, and they said that makes the film too expensive. This is the same conundrum I’ve had all my career, and many other directors too.” Still, Deliverance worked with Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, so no harm done. “Warners suggested making it with unknowns, and making it very cheap. So, I went in the other direction, and they kept beating me up over the budget. In the end, the only thing I could cut was what I had for a composer and orchestra. I cut them, and just did variations on the theme of ‘Duelling Banjos’, which became the score. It probably turned out to be a better score than had it been composed with an orchestra!”

John Boorman on the set of DELIVERANCE
John Boorman on the set of DELIVERANCE

That happy accident leads us to the topic of film scores. His Exorcist II collaborator Ennio Morricone recently bemoaned the state of modern film music, but how does a director approach what he needs musically? “I never think about the music until after I cut the thing together. The only exception was Excalibur. I went to see the Ring Cycle by Wagner, and that was a huge influence on the film, and I felt from the very beginning that Excalibur needed Wagner. I had a score for it, but Gotterdammerung and Tristan and Isolde were key. Wagner said ‘I don’t make operas; I make musical dramas.’ I think that he’d be scoring movies if he lived in our age.”

Stephen McKeon’s IFTA-winning score for Queen and Country is a handsome accompaniment to Boorman’s images, though you can never be sure what will work. “I’ve always had an ambivalent feeling towards music, but there are some instances in the cinema where scores have made a film.  Morricone’s an example. His music is absolutely crucial to the Spaghetti Westerns. They’re an identity for the film; they connect to them. I suppose I got that with ‘Duelling Banjos’. It’s so much entered the language, in a way.”

The success of Deliverance, and its assimilation into popular culture has not escaped its creator. “Just the other day someone sent me a t-shirt with two Peanuts characters on it paddling a canoe, and one says to the other, ‘Paddle faster! I hear banjos!”’ Now, that’s completely obscure unless you know the film.” Of course, most people know it. “It’s a curious thing. If a film connects to the zeitgeist and locks in with an audience. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does that movie becomes part of the culture.” What greater accolade could a director hope for?

Interview: director Miroslav Slaboshpyitskiy on THE TRIBE

This interview was originally published on Scannain.com

“Some woman asked me did someone ever abuse me or rape me, so… yeah. It was very funny.” Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy is a man with an interesting sense of humour. To make a feature debut like The Tribe, he’d have to be.

No matter where it’s played, The Tribe’s reputation precedes it. Told entirely in sign language, and without subtitles, this tale of a group of deaf Ukrainian teenagers operating a crime syndicate has been acclaimed for its confidence and its unique treatment of very stark material. We meet Slaboshpytskiy in Dublin, having presented the film to an audience the night before at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It was at the resulting Q&A session that the question of his experience with abuse cropped up. “I think Ireland is the first place with such nice questions!”, he laughs. The 40-year-old director is a very affable chap, and quietly charming. Bearded and dressed in a zip-up hoodie and jeans when we meet, the unassuming exterior belies a man possessed of great skill and intellect. The Tribe is unlike any feature seen before, but Slaboshpytskiy makes it about more than the lack of spoken language. An interpreter joins us, but her skills are required only sparingly. Slaboshpytskiy knows what he wants to say.

When we ask him about the reaction to the film thus far, he readily rattles off a list of festivals where it has played, the enthusiasm betraying a man who can scarcely believe what he’s achieved. “I’ve been presenting this film to different audiences in different countries, starting in Cannes last May, and San Sebastian, L.A., Sundance, Park City, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Milan, Paris, and via Skype with Russia. In general, audiences really like the film.” He seems to appreciate the curveball thrown at him at the Dubin screening. “Unfortunately, I haven’t had quite the same questions from other countries. Always accepting, people are always very nice, shaking hands, but they ask the same two questions: how did you shoot the last sequence, and how you managed to direct the deaf actors. I think sometimes I just have better places, but people accept the film, especially at London and L.A. I have no problems; nobody wants to kill me so far!”

The question of how one directs the deaf is inevitable, not least because the deaf are relatively lacking in representation onscreen. Indeed, the fact the cast of The Tribe are deaf informs the film’s style, but Slaboshpytskiy admits he’s not necessarily any more attuned to a deaf cast’s needs than anyone else.  “I was studying in the same school where we shot The Tribe, and on the opposite side of the road we had a school for deaf people. I saw the people and how they communicate with each other. Sometimes we’d have a battle with them, and sometimes we’d communicate with them. I think that was all my experience with deaf people. I have no deaf people in my family. I’ve never been in love with a deaf girl. There were no reasons”.

“My real relationship with the deaf community was struck when I shot Deafness.” Slaboshpytskiy’s 2011 short served as a dry run for The Tribe, allowing him to demonstrate what the full film would look like. “I had the concept of the full-length feature film for a long time, probably over twenty years,” he explains, ”but I had no financial possibilities of shooting the full-length feature. I had the possibility of shooting a short film when I met the people from the Ukrainian Society for the Deaf. The short premiered at Berlinale, and screened at a number of festivals.” The film was something of a breakthrough for its director and the deaf community onscreen. “After the Berlin screening that February, we screened it for the Deaf Culture Society in March. They made it a celebration! They made concerts, sang songs in sign language, invited a lot of TV and press. It was then I started to be in touch with the deaf community in Ukraine. I would meet a lot of people from this community, from deaf boarding schools. Later, it really helped me to work with this community and work on The Tribe.”

For all intents and purposes, the film is necessarily silent. The lack of dialogue is but a part of its disorientating atmosphere, with only occasional sound design creeping to make its mark in a number of genuinely disturbing scenes. It’s a world away from the silent masters of yore, but was Slaboshpytskiy influenced by them? “If you speak about any one of them, it would probably be Buster Keaton, of course. Also Harold Lloyd, Charles Chaplin. But to be clear, of course it’s an homage to silent movies, but I didn’t want to make an homage to the form of the silent movie, but I hoped to the spirit of the silent movie. Like, I mean a very young and very fresh universal art form which audiences can understand from ocean to ocean.”

Try as Slaboshpytskiy might, even a film as daring as The Tribe will be analysed for hints of metaphor and commentary. “If you shoot a film about a boarding school or in a prison, the audience always accepts it like a metaphor for society. Concerning Ukraine, when I studied in film school, I studied film history and read about German Expressionism, and those are people who feel the coming fascism and dark times, and so for this reason they feel a need to express it in film. I’m always doubting it, thinking, “What is this stupid thing? These films, they just tell stories!”. But later, after coming up with The Tribe, I’m thinking I’m wrong about that, because no-one thinks “I feel something happening and I must express it!”

the-tribe-posterSo, is The Tribe a commentary on Ukraine, or its hostilities with Russia? Slaboshpytskiy says no. “I finished the script of The Tribe in 2011. Then, no-one’s thinking about Maidan; no-one’s thinking about war with Russia. Nobody can imagine it. I live in Kiev, I breathe the same air as other people who will sit in the protest camp in the central square in a few years. And I think I felt something in the air, but I didn’t shoot a metaphor. I just tried to tell a story.”

That’s not to say The Tribe doesn’t have a basis in reality. “I talked about the deaf mafia at the Q&A session,” explains Slaboshpytskiy. “It’s an issue, especially in the former Soviet Union. I know that, a few years ago, Interpol arrested former Soviet citizens which produced an illegal network of deaf people!” Slaboshpytskiy is so keen to tell all, he gives the translator a spiel. “The leader’s an Israeli citizen nicknamed ‘Nose’, and he’s been put into jail for organising an illegal network of deaf beggars. I can’t tell a lot about the deaf mafia in film; I can tell about the lowest level, which is a school. But I’m thinking about it, and I want to make a film about it. The Ukrainian state was modelled on the basis of criminal groupings, and a lot of people perceived it as mafia. It’s one of the reasons why there was a revolution.” The last mention of mafia is uttered by the interpreter in a cautious whisper. Is she afraid they’re listening in?

If Slaboshpytskiy is venturing into new territory with The Tribe, he’s taking no prisoners. The long takes alone are a riveting way to keep the audience on its toes, though this wasn’t necessarily part of the plan. “We found the style of shooting on the set,” admits Slaboshpytskiy. “I would be happy to tell you that when I finished the script I knew everything because I’m a genius and I was sure of what I do. But it’s completely untrue.”

The film makes no concessions to taste or expectations. Scenes of sexuality and violence continue well beyond the point a cut might normally interject. So, what motivated the way Slaboshpytskiy depicts the lives these deaf mobsters lead? “We had a number of reasons,” he explains. “The first reason: when deaf people communicate with each other, you couldn’t shoot over their shoulders. You must always see the person.” This practicality is compounded by realist, unflashy cinematography and design. “My DoP (Valentyn Vasyanovych) is a fine documentary director, and we made a decision to try this style.”

“Finally, we got the calculation of the different elements. We have a long sequence. We have in-frame editing. We don’t change the point of view. The camera is your eyes. The audience is one of the Tribe. You are personally taking part in the robbery, you’re always involved.” If we are made complicit in the crimes committed, then the consequences must also be accentuated. “It’s a film without verbal language, so it must involve you deeper and deeper. So, for this reason, I completely agree that violent scenes are more effective.” That effectiveness is summed up in an anecdote Slaboshpytskiy tells when seeking support for The Tribe. “When I had just finished the film, I sent a cut to a friend of mine, a film critic who lives in Paris. I asked for his opinion and his support, and he said a very strange sentence: ‘During the first hour, you were getting us more and more involved, closer and closer, and at the end you just cut our eyes with a blade.’ ” With praise like that (and a reference to Un Chien Andalou to boot), you know you’re on to a winner.

Event: NOAH Premiere report

This report was originally published on Scannain.com

Rain is a constant risk of Dublin life, but it was apt to see the clouds descend on O’Connell Street for the premiere of Noah on Saturday (29th March). A heavy mist smothered the city in expectation of the arrival of Russell Crowe, the film’s leading man, on the red carpet. In a canny piece of advertising, Crowe attended three premieres in the British Isles in the space of one day. Exhausting? Noah must have God on his side.

The drizzly clouds never let up, dampening most everything except the spirits of the attendant crowd who has assembled by the barriers skirting the red carpet. The mood stayed buoyant as PR folks passed flyers for autographs out to the crowd, whilst an actor dressed as Noah proclaimed a very damp end of days for the sake of hawking weatherproof paint. Security was tight; breath was baited; patience was abundant but tested. The grins of all involved in this event screening bellowed with one ironic message; this was going to go flawlessly, come hell or high water.

Noah is a retelling of the Genesis story, as Noah (Crowe) is charged by God with saving his family and samples of all of Earth’s animal species from an impending flood. Noah and his family begin construction of a huge ark, much to the chagrin of violently skeptical locals. The spectacle of such a story is nothing new to director Darren Aronofsky, whose films never lack for ambition (See his curtailed yet beautifully transcendental love story The Fountain for proof). Still, a straight adaptation would be too much of a gamble now. Instead he manages a tricky balance between Bible story, environmentalist tale and adventure, with minimal irony and strong performances from all concerned. Alongside Crowe, the cast features his A Beautiful Mind co-star Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone (It’s saddening to learn that at no point in the film does Winstone yell, “Oi, Noah, you slaaaaaag!”)

Russell Crowe meets the press at the Dublin premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH
Prior to the film’s release on this side of the Atlantic this Friday (April 4th), Dublin, Edinburgh and Cardiff welcome Crowe and his young co-star Douglas Booth (playing Noah’s eldest son, Shem) to their respective red carpets. Dublin is first on the list, with fans arriving from early in the morning ahead of the screening’s 12:45 start. The rains get heavier as ticket holders are admitted first, followed by photo-ops for the local hangers-on ahead of the arrival of the main draws. Booth arrives first, sporting a faint check suit. Despite cheers from the folks outside, his red carpet time is brief; the man everyone is here to see is following close behind.

Crowe arrives in style, in a black-and-white patterned scarf and elegant black coat. The fans scream for his attention, and he does not disappoint. Despite time constraints, he responds to autograph and selfie requests with an efficiency that only the experience of many premieres past can bring. Reputations be damned; he has classic star wattage viewed up close. Moving between media outlets along the red carpet, he’s to the point but disarmingly charming. Questions inevitably turn to critical responses to the film from conservative Christian groups. Were he and the filmmakers surprised by this? “No,” comes to honest reply, “We kind of expected that, just the same way we expected to be banned in certain Muslim countries as well. But it’s gratifying that people are actually starting to see the movie now, because it gets irritating after a while. 12-14 months of criticism based on people not seeing the film.” His reference to skepticism on the public’s part during production belies that certain gruffness beneath the warmth. If nothing else, Crowe is only human; expectations for a biblical story would always be low in the modern age.

Our attention turns to the filmmakers. We ask Crowe what he felt Aronofsky brought to the project. “A lot of planning, and a very specific budget!” is the knowing reply, delivered with a warm smile. That specific budget is currently touted at approximately US$125 million, so a man with a plan was clearly a must. Was working with Aronofsky part of the draw for Crowe? He confirms, “Definitely. I’ve been following Darren’s growth as a filmmaker for about 15 years, and I was really taken aback by Black Swan. It’s one of those calls that you wanna get, you know? Here’s a guy coming towards the peak of his powers, and you’re the guy he wants to call!”

Showing his enthusiasm, Crowe reveals a tale from the casting process. “[Aronofsky] made a gag at our first conversation. He said ‘I’ll tell you what the movie is we have to make together. I’ll make you two promises, but don’t say anything after I say the title.’ He said it’s Noah, and then he said ‘Here’s the two promises. One: I will not require you to wear sandals. Two: I will not have you on the bow of a ship flanked by a giraffe and an elephant.” It’s a relief to hear this from Noah himself; that image could be either kitsch or ironic, two points of view which the film purposefully avoids. Crowe nods to the balancing act Aronofsky performs with Noah. “In his vision, even though you’re talking about a biblical story, Darren’s allowed a certain latitude for evolutionary theories as well.”

Running late, time constraints force Crowe on his way. The press gallery consisted of seasoned journalists and relative newbies, but all are left with a feeling of achievement. His reputation and his handlers precede him, but Crowe clearly has a great deal of energy devoted to Noah. The marketing push has been a big effort, and he has two more premieres to fly to before the day is out. We later hear he made it to the Edinburgh screening before the Dublin screening had even ended! Whether or not he’s doing the Lord’s work, his director and the film’s backers should be pleased by Crowe’s efforts.

Interview: John Hurt at JDIFF

John Hurt

There is something inherently powerful about John Hurt. A lot of it may be in the voice. His gravelly tones, somewhere between a rasp and a roar, have depicted power and distrust for decades. Now a little older, those marvellous intonations and informed pronunciations convey a great wisdom. All of this means the prospect of interviewing Hurt is initially terrifying. Be assured, though; behind the curtain there is just a man. Mercifully, he’s a very pleasant and chatty one. On entering the interview room, we are greeted with a vision resplendent in corduroy and a majestic unruly goatee. We acknowledge our nervousness. “You don’t need to be nervous. I’m just a bloke!” The 5’9” frame might suggest so, but that wonderful voice causes us to suspect otherwise.

We meet Hurt in Dublin, where he’s arrived as a guest of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. He’s here to present a preview of Only Lovers Left Alive, the latest lament for lost time from acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch. It tells the story of two married vampires, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), whose disaffection for the modern world and its values threaten their very existence. Hurt plays a vampiric version of Christopher Marlowe, the infamous alleged ghost writer of most of the works of William Shakespeare. It’s an marvellously entertaining and smart film, treating the vampire with the respect that such a dangerous creature deserves. Was Hurt a vampire fan?

Hurt as Marlowe in ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
“No, not really.” comes the frank reply. “I never thought of it that way. But I like the device of it, because you can’t… look at somebody over one lifetime. And if you get the chance of looking at them over maybe another lifetime, and maybe looking at them from a different point of view and so on, then you begin to think, ‘Oh, yes, I see the point.’ I’ve never seen the point of drinking blood… to be whoever you are, but I’m not asked to do that. I’m asked to play a part. I mean, if I were making a film I wouldn’t choose to make it about vampires!”

The idea of the vampire as a device is very relevant to Only Lovers Left Alive. Both Adam and Eve are accomplished artists in various mediums down through the centuries, having idolised and even befriended great thinkers and writers through the years. Their melancholy look back to the past is a theme of much of Jarmusch’s work. The elegiac mood and unhurried pace of his films has won Jarmusch many fans, and a varied repertoire of actors with whom he works. Only Lovers… is Hurt’s third film with Jarmusch, about whom he is very complimentary. “I just love Jim. I like the way he thinks. I like the way he talks, and it’s fun working with him. It’s just nice. I mean, if Jim calls me up I say, ‘Where and when?’ I don’t ask what it is, because you never know with Jim. He can’t explain himself, he’s hopeless!”

Hurt continues, “But he’s a good filmmaker, a really good filmmaker, and I’m not ashamed of any of the three films I’ve made with him at all.” This may be a reference to the cool critical reception for their last film together, 2009’s The Limits of Control. Not that it matters much to Hurt. “Not that I’ve had a lot to do in any of them!”, he acknowledges. ”It’s just the way it works out, and I like him, so it’s always nice to make a film with him.” That said, Hurt is keen to dispel any idea that enjoying working with someone doesn’t make it easy. “It’s quite tough when it comes to it. When the juices are going, [Jim]’s quite tough, which is great. It takes you along, it takes you on a journey. It’s not just sort of nice and simple and bla bla bla. You are working properly, which is nice.”

One of the noteworthy trends on Hurt’s CV is the number of real people he has portrayed onscreen. He won much praise early in his career for his performance as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant (a role he returned to in 2009 follow-up An Englishman in New York). Hurt earned one of his two Academy Award nominations for his heartbreaking portrayal of John Merrick in The Elephant Man (the other was for Midnight Express). He also played Stephen Ward, the man at the heart of the Profumo affair, in Scandal and was Mel Brooks’ vision of Jesus in History of the World, Part I.

Yet playing Marlowe, or at least this version of him, is different. How does one approach turning one of history’s greatest silent partners into a vampire? “The difference between playing Marlowe and the reason for seeing him spread out over four centuries is the whole Shakesperean myth, which I was never particularly interested in before. Shame on me, because I should have been!” The conspiracy theories never go away, with each one gaining momentum even still. “Jim got me very interested.” explains Hurt “So much so that I actually deviate from him. I think it was De Vere (Edward, 17th Earl of Oxford) who wrote the plays. I think everything points in that direction. But we’ll never know that, unless something is unearthed. But it’s completely fascinating!”

Hurt as Quentin Crisp in THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (1975)
Hurt’s long career (52 years since his first appearance in an episode of Z Cars, and counting) was due in no small part to his portrayals of real people, but with the years and the award season rolling on, the glut of biopics being foisted on award voters and audiences alike seems to grow ever larger. We asked Hurt how he feels about this trend, considering the amount of films he’s made based on true lives. “I suppose I never considered them biopics. Certainly, I never considered The Naked Civil Servant a biopic, and yet it is the most obvious. It just never occurred to me. I was playing Quentin, and I met Quentin, and so on. But the word ‘biopic’ hadn’t come into being then anyway. ‘Biopic’ now has that sort of thing that it makes you feel like you’re.. it’s a ‘sub’-genre.”

The mention of awards in this context causes him to sit up. “Don’t go into that with me.” Have we hit a sore spot? A tense pause follows. “I mean… well, you can, but I’m not in favour of awards anyway.  And I’m not dog in the manger; I’ve got plenty.” Despite awards recognition many times in his career, Hurt is not rushing out to canvass for glory. “I don’t agree with them, and I don’t agree with the idea that you can compare one thing with another and say, “Oh, this is better than that.” I don’t think you can. I mean, we do because the audiences love it. But I can’t think of any good reason other than that. 12 Years A Slave was not made as a big movie, by any means.”

Whether or not he gets awards, Hurt has had an incredibly diverse and interesting career. He works with auteurs like Jarmusch or Lars von Trier, backs up bigger ensemble pieces like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or the Harry Potter series, and he turns out to be Doctor Who. Is this variety what keeps him going? “I have no idea!I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know if you’ll be sitting in that chair in 40 years time. Hopefully not! What do you want to be doing?!”, he asks with wry laughter. We’re caught on the hop there. The wise old man has caught us napping. “I’ve no idea how it works. It’s just a bit here and a bit there, and it’s interesting. That takes over your life at that point, and then something else takes over; I never know from one year to the next what I’m going to be doing.”

Interview : Mea Maxima Culpa director Alex Gibney

Alex GibneyThis interview originally featured on Ramp.ie

In a career of over 30 years, director Alex Gibney has proven himself most adept at capturing the fallible side of human nature in a way that is both intelligent and incisive. He’s charted the falls from grace of Enron and Eliot Spitzer. He’s probed the demons that drove the genius of Hunter S. Thompson. He won an Oscar for his examination of the practice of torture by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. All these films blend smart filmmaking with a humanity right at the core, and the same is especially true of his latest film.

In Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence of the House Of God, Gibney charts the efforts of the Vatican to cover up the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. His approach is to tell the tale from the point of view of four victims of one of the first acknowledged cases in the United States. Fr. Lawrence Murphy molested up to 200 children at the former St. John School for The Deaf in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Four of Murphy’s now-adult victims share their story, and from there Gibney charts the scandal all the way to the Vatican, revealing other countries’ experience of abuse along the way, including Ireland. It’s harrowing but also necessarily upfront and honest. In the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, questions will be asked of the reason’s surrounding the resignation, and Mea Maxima Culpa could well stoke the fire.

Gibney’s film is informed by his own experiences. As a lapsed Catholic, the resulting film benefits from his knowledge and own understanding of how the Church works. We caught up with Gibney a few days after the screening of Mea Maxima Culpa at the London Film Festival in October.

 

THE FILM CYNIC: Before you made Mea Maxima Culpa, how aware were you of the problem of abuse in the Catholic Church in the US?

ALEX GIBNEY: You know, it’s a funny thing because now that I look back, I mean I suppose I should have been aware when I was young. You know, some of the lead-in questions the priests would ask me and my pals about sex, and also certain joking references like, ‘Don’t be going back in the sacristy with Fr. Hanlon’. But it was all said in a sort of joking way, like it was just part of the deal. So I think, like everybody else, I wasn’t really made powerfully aware of it until 2002. I mean, I remember Sinéad O’Connor ripping up the picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live, and I remember some other incidents, but it was 2002 when it became really evident.

Many people remember Sinéad O’Connor doing that.

She was in the film for a while, and that moment was in the film for a while, but not any more.

When it came to investigations and interviewing the victims, were they keen to talk?

I think so. I mean, all of them didn’t agree at first, but we did persuade them all to come on board. And I think all of them felt the silence had been eating them up inside, so talking was actually something they could do that was actually healing the pain.

It’s interesting, when we had the US première of the film at the Milwaukee Film Festival, a lot of the survivors turned up, and the Church issued a statement that said ‘Oh, isn’t this too bad that this… This is a story that happened a long time ago. It feels like the picking of the scab of an old wound that is only doing damage to the victims themselves.’ Which was of course a pathetically self-serving statement by the Church, but they’re also dead wrong. The fact was this ability and willingness to speak out was actually part of a healing process, not part of a scab-picking.

Was the idea to focus on the Milwaukee case, or was the expansion into other countries always part of the film?

It was always part of it, but it was not necessarily all the countries. This case in particular (St. John School for the Deaf) seemed so powerful in part because of how horrific it was, but also because the documents did lead you straight up the chain all the way to the top. I felt other films had been done about victims in the past, but what hadn’t been done was a powerful story that would lead to the top, and a powerful story that had at its heart a bunch of characters who are heroes in some fundamental way. So all those things convinced me.

Mea-Maxima-Culpa-Silence-in-the-House-of-God-2-300x200
Mea Maxima Culpa charts the scale of the abuse, right up to culpabilty of the Pope in its denial and suppression.

But the biggest problem in the cutting room was how to balance it with the intimate story, which was very moving and so resonant when we started to find these old home movies of the period in Milwaukee. When we cut it, we had about 80 minutes of the Milwaukee story, and it was a riveting story. But I think we knew that we had to balance them out, so the hardest part in the cutting room was to figure out that right balance.

Honestly, Ireland wasn’t necessarily organically related. I mean, there’s nothing about the Murphy report. In fact, it was causing us problems; we had Laurence Murphy in Wisconsin and the Murphy report in Ireland. We have a Fr. Walsh in Wisconsin and a Fr. Walsh in Dublin. What was powerful about Ireland for us, and why we had to figure out a way into the story, was because the landscape changed so radically in Ireland. It was vital to show how change could occur.

That change manifested itself in events like the speech by Enda Kenny…

Unbelievable speech! ‘The rape and torture of children’.

Which it was. And some Church authorities backed up him up on that. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, for example.

I think Diarmuid Martin is, in his own way, a hero. We tried to talk to him; for whatever reason he decided not to.  He did a heroic thing by leaking those documents to the Murphy Commission. But his career in the Church is over.

I think also the Irish situation, if I may, is writ large what is the situation for many Catholics. I mean, priests say ‘If we get them young, we never lose them’. I’ve experienced this myself; there’s a woman in the film who says it (Catholicism) is like a blood type. But I think, for a lot of Catholics, it’s just who you are and so it’s very difficult to denounce the Church because it’s like denouncing yourself. And in Ireland, Catholicism is so bound up in nationalism and resistance to the British crown and all of that, so it’s very hard to give that up.

Even though we’ve gone beyond that degree of nationalism in the Republic, Catholicism is just accepted as a norm.

That’s what makes it remarkable that the change has happened. It think it’s a testament to just how grievous the crimes were. I was told that Desmond Connell’s line got a laugh (In an archive interview with former Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell, when asked why he didn’t visit with abuse victims, he claimed he had too much work to do). In the States, it gets a sucking-in of breath, but it is a remarkable comment when someone says they have so much to do.

Is there anything the Church can do to pull itself out of this mire?

Yeah: open up the archives. Secrecy was the crime, so end the secrecy. What would be wrong with that? I mean, if you’re an institution devoted to power, you could understand why that’s a problem, but if you’re an institution devoted to charity and love, as the Catholic Church would like us to believe, then what would be wrong with opening up all the archives and showing us all the documents?

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.