October is the month of exceeding normal limits. In this case, seeing more films than may be advisable for a civilian, at the London Film Festival. Having missed out on the opening night gala stuff, the first one for me this year was Men, Women and Children, admittedly a choice largely made by my coeval. It’s unfortunate that most of the big “film events” of the festival take place in Leicester Square, most woeful of all the West End foci. There are extra barriers for the Red Carpets, making an already confusing layout more difficult still. There were Young People making those sounds and taking their photos of people on the carpet, which was puzzling because I didn’t think there was anyone particularly salient in the cast. It is a bit odd being ushered in the same way as the famous celebrities, though it is, after all, just a carpet. Inside the cinema there were special cordoned off areas for the different grades of attendee, and I waited by one of those for my coeval’s comfort break, during which she benefitted from some practical advice by someone who turned out to be one of the film’s stars. Each seat had a bottle of water and a small free bar of chocolate, the latter turning out to be a feature of all the gala screenings.
It turned out that the screams outside must have been for the two “young stars”, one of whom we’ve met already. They joined Jason Reitman onstage for the introduction, during which he singled out the composer, who was hiding in the main audience. I disagreed with claims that the inclusion of instant messages on the screen was innovative, given I remember seeing a South Korean film that did something similar about ten years ago. The themes were interesting, notably the mad excesses misguided parental over-protectiveness can reach, and the minor reversal at the end was quite satisfying in a rather bleak way, but I did think it was rather unsubtle and glib.
Non-attendees presented post-film choc sweep opportunities, not that I would stoop to that level. The next day it was Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, the audience for this being skewed (as Hank would say) to an older demographic. In particular, there were lots of middle-aged women determined to grab photos/footage of Leigh and Spall et al on the stage. The Red Carpet was less of an obstacle this time, and I saw Leigh being interviewed by a TV crew. He pointed out that Turner almost definitely would have walked that very spot, because he was such a keen explorer. It reminded me that I still haven’t been to the Turner House in Twickenham, even though I lived very close to it for a while. In the Spring we saw Topsy-Turvy with members of the cast and it was interesting to compare the two. These historical settings induce a very different feel, based as they are on “real” events. It was just as good as you would expect, with Spall’s marvellous irascibility and Dorothy Atkinson great again (she stood out in Topsy-Turvy, too). It looks beautiful, as it should, and Spall convinces as an instinctive, not an intellectual painter. The gentlemen’s club that was the Royal Academy was particularly funny, and poignant. In free chocolate news, they were handed out on the way in, and the couple in front of me couldn’t seem to make their minds up whether to accept them, to the confused exasperation of the usher.
The slightly odd aspect of that evening was that I had a ticket to see the next film, on the same screen in the same venue, but I had to leave and then wait outside in the square until they could let me back in. Someone with a different personality might have stayed in screen 2 and argued that it was pointless to go and come back… At least it wasn’t raining while I watched the large queue forming down the side road, and the consternation amongst those who thought they should be admitted straight away. By the entrance I marvelled at a man who had a dual ice cream cone, with three scoops, one of them nestling mid-cone, which he was nonchalantly slurping. The film we were waiting for was Timbuktu, which I think was one of my secondary purchases (I buy a big batch of tickets on the day they become available then gradually add more as the schedule clarifies). The director gave a brief introduction, helped by the lady who seems to be the go-to BFI French translator. He described it as a “film about water and sun“. I thought it was a pretty extraordinary combination of the blackest farcical humour and the sort of bleak tragedy of remorseless inevitability you see in Paths of Glory. When asked about the process of making the film, the director Abderrahmane Sissako said that:
A film is about the relationship with the people making it, not the script.
In the original script, a daughter was three years old, but when he met a 12 year-old from a refugee camp, who turned up for each of the many auditions, he rewrote it to include her.
Anyway, that’s two days, from a week ago. Lots more reporting to come…