So did anyone drag themselves out in the rain to wave at the pretty people? Did anyone actually go see The Constant Gardener? Well if you couldn't get a ticket or decided to wait a few weeks for the thing to open nationally you didn't miss a great deal. The Constant Gardener is a bit of a dog. It pot-boils down to the not very shocking fact that large pharmaceutical companies operating in Africa don't have helping the sick at the top of the agenda and that governments such as our own are implicit in helping Big Pharma make a profit. At least Lord of War makes an argument for blowing things up being COOL. Testing your dodgy TB vaccine on kids dying of AIDS - not so sexy.
This is a John le Carre adaptation so the killing being made in the profit margins becomes a literal killing when Rachael Weisz' do-gooder comes a cropper at the hands of some do-badders and suddenly it’s all eyes on distant hubby Ralph Fiennes to sort out the mess. The problem with the movie mostly lies with the Fiennes' character (not his performance) Justin Quayle - he's such a wet fish before and after the murder that you want to reach into the screen and slap him silly. Fiennes describes him as an "everyman"... which is the most depressing statement ever. It's hard to relate to a chap who only shows an interest in his wife's life after she's been gang raped and killed. The amateur investigation that follows is pulled off in such a foppish way that you want him to be gang raped and killed next. He never seems to get annoyed by any of this - he has the occasional sob, but mostly he just looks very earnest - like he's just been asked to bend over by the head boy at Eton.
Weisz is as reliable as ever in a pretty thankless role as the annoying wifey - more likable when she's in bolshi student mode than in pregnant activist mode. Supporting cast is ok as by-the-numbers colonial types with only Pete Postlethwaite doing much of anything interesting with his role. The fantasy ending which sadly would NEVER happen in real life manages to lift proceedings slightly but it's too little too late. The few London locations are well used - Canary Wharf, the Liberal Club, St Mary Magdalene in Paddington - but one scene in which the interior of the Tate Modern is dressed up as a lecture hall to show off the stunning London skyline sitting behind it is just jarring. That said we'd have preferred more of St Paul's dome and a little less of Weiss drying her arse.
It shows again this afternoon at 12.45.
Now we've got that out of the way let's move on to some of the really GOOD STUFF that you can go and see.
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Old Boy is a Londonist favourite. We're often found reenacting the corridor sequence with a rubber claw hammer and we've now made a habit of asking to see young girls' birth certificates before we sleep with them. So expectations were high when we first heard that Sympathy for Lady Vengeance was doing serious damage at the Korean box-office. If you've been following Chanwook Park's career from Joint Security Area and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance then you'll realise that Lady Vengeance is the final part in a loose trilogy - linked not through characters or plot but rather through the theme of vengeance that looked like it couldn't be topped after the jaw dropping Old Boy.
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance was concerned with 'abduction', Old Boy 'confinement' and now we move onto 'atonement'. It's also Park's first film from a female perspective (Lee Young-ae here from JSA in a career making role as the vengeance seeking heroine) as well as being his funniest and in many ways also his most disturbing. It's not as violent as Old Boy (not onscreen at least) but it's perhaps more brutal. The occasional bout of slapstick is beautifully placed making the audience we were with laugh out loud as often as they were stunned into silence. The visuals are as inspired as anything from his last movie and you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking film released in 2005. Even blood emptying through a plastic sheet looks beautiful here.
Young-ae never puts a foot wrong as the blood-red eye-shadowed Lady Vengeance and if she retired tomorrow would be ensured her place as a cinema icon for this single role. Old Boy's Choi Min-sik reminds us why he's one of our favourite actors - his performance here (very against type) is up there with Takeshi Kitano or a Peckinpah villain (track down Crying Fist if you want to see yet another side to a phenomenal actor).
The plot... well it's perfect. Lee Geum-ja has just been released from prison after confessing to the abduction and murder of a small boy. She spent her time wisely, 13 years planning revenge on her old teacher and is aided by the people she befriended in prison (where she justly gained a reputation as both an angel and a witch) and the cop who put her away in the first place. As the plot unfolds details of her previous life and stay in prison are filled in and we slowly begin to realise just exactly what is going on. Add a side trip to Australia, the most beautiful hand gun you've ever seen, a wronged preacher, forced cunnilingus, fabulous confectionary and a denouement that is so stunning in its audacity and logic that it stays with you long after the film's close. Our film of the festival so far.
It plays on Saturday night at 11pm. Criminal it only gets the one screening.
The Girl from Monday
We love science-fiction almost as much as we love Hal Hartley movies so when we read that The Girl From Monday was his first foray into the genre or as he put it a "fake sci-fi movie about the way we live now" we were cock a hoop (we hope that means what we think it means). Sadly we couldn't find a single person after the press screening who agreed with us that this was a great move. Everyone we spoke to seemed to hate this film... idiots. Good job we know we are ALWAYS right.
The Girl From Monday is a sweeping satire of our sad state of affairs re. consumerism and big business. Set in the future (or perhaps an alternative present) the final large companies have merged into one gigantic world wide brand causing a revolution of consumerism. This is a world were individuals are regarded the same way as stock interests and can go up or down in value depending on their actions. Sex itself can generate better spending power as long as you choose a partner also on the way up. Failed office romances for example have to be reported to insurance companies and are investigated in a similar way to traffic accidents. Not surprisingly then love has lost its meaning, life has lost its meaning, and consumerism is all.
But there is disquiet. Counter revolutionaries are trying to shift the status quo, but are being stamped on hard by company troops (nostalgically low tech and looking like the Federation goons from Blakes Seven). Punishments run from being sent to the moon to serve hard labour sentences for the worst offenders down to being forced to teach high school - such a high risk job that only convicted criminals are allowed to risk it. Bill Sage works for the bad guys, Triple M - worse he's directly responsible for some of the biggest ideas that now dehumanise his fellow man. Unknown to his employers he also runs a network of counter revolutionaries doing their best to usurp the system from within. When things take a turn for the worst he finds himself taking care of an immigrant - an alien from the constellation of Monday - as well as becoming involved with a colleague who is taking her first hesitant steps into the underground via a relationship with one of his freedom fighter underlings.
Hartley fave Sage is great - looking like a disheveled Robert Redford circa Three Days of the Condor, Brazilian fashion model Tatiana Abracos gets to look pretty and not wear much as the titular alien, leaving a big slice of the movie to Sabrina Lloyd and Leo Fitzpatrick (moving further out from under the shadow of Larry Clark).
The sweep of the film is broad, the budget is tiny and the thing is a lot of fun. Never preachy, adopting instead a Sleeper mentality of jabbing us awake from the consumer paradise we currently lose ourselves in. Not Hartley’s best, but a nice return to basics and the kind of thing we'd like to see say Terry Gilliam having a bash at as this nifty little flick has a lot in common with his Brazil.
It plays Wednesday 26 October at 6pm and Thursday 27 October at 4pm.
Tickets and further details of all this year’s films can be found on the LFF website.
Special mention to onedotzero who as part of the LFF will be presenting a special session focusing on the influence of london on innovative film makers and creatives. The event at the NFT on Monday is something we are looking forward to as it features Paul Kelly, Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair. Full details here.