LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2013
Excellent stage and radio dramatist CHARLOTTE BOGARD MACLEOD has been kind enough to share her thoughts on 2 films at this year’s festival that she found inspiring –
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida.
Charlotte Bogard Macleod
How often are writers urged to turn their talents away from film, and towards television? The Box Set has become our Holy Grail. But two new films, Gravity and Ida, prove that cinema is as compelling and urgent as ever.
In Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, the camera moves in majestic choreographed sweeps across the scale and scope of the universe. In Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, the camera remains still, dwelling in monochromatic luminosity on the bleak beauty of post-war Poland. They are two films on the opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum, and both are breath-takingly beautiful.
Cuaron has created an art-house film, disguised as a big budget movie. Gravity adheres to Hollywood’s formula of using Oscar-winning stars (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney), a disaster movie genre, and nail-bitingly tense scenes. It is a thrilling, 3-D, roller-coaster ride. Gravity has netted America’s highest ever box-office opening, grossing over $31million in three weeks.
Cuaron required a big budget to make his film. For Cuaron, the bleak desolation of the universe is a metaphor for the loneliness of human existence. In Gravity, it is loneliness rather than a lack of oxygen which makes it impossible to survive in space. The need for social interaction is as potent a force as gravity.
Pawlikowski’s Ida is also about isolation, and the desire to connect. The film is a fearless examination of post-war Poland, a country complicated by political ideology, Catholicism and Anti-Semitism. In this road movie, a Novice Nun and her hard-drinking, sardonic aunt make for unlikely heroines. Tender, and nuanced, the film examines idealism versus cynicism. The sanctity and sanctuary of the Church sits side by side with atrocities committed in the name of religion.
What’s interesting to us writers is just how few words are used in either film. Dialogue is unadorned. Sparse even. The image is narrator. This is taut story telling. Spare, powerful and poignant. Both films were co-written: Cuaron working with his son Jonas, and Pawlikowski teaming up with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Theirs is a brilliant pairing, with Lenkiewicz’s talent for writing intimate, tender, scenes softening the hard edges of Pawlikowski’s austere filmmaking.
These two films show cinema at its best. Delivering big screen drama, with cinematic brilliance. At their heart, both films have intelligent, sensitive, and strong heroines, who are trying to connect with the world. They are films of vision. There is pain. Loneliness. Despair. Faith. And ultimately hope. Courageous and brave, bleak and beautiful, both films are explorations of what it means to be human.
Gravity: On General Release November 8th
Thank you very much Charlotte – I look forward to catching up with both of those films.
I took pot luck and went to 8 films fairly randomly selected and wasn’t quite as lucky as I have been in previous years.
Ironically one of my highlights wasn’t a feature film at all but a 6 x 25’ TV comedy series, made for Sky Living and sold to HBO, which I referred to last week – ‘Doll & Em’ – I really recommend you look out for in the New Year – it’s excellent – charming, touching, knowing and very funny.
Other highpoints – the Francois Ozon film ‘Jeune et Jolie’, a beautifully made and challenging film about a middle class French girl’s secret life as a prostitute. There was an uncomfortable element to this film that seemed to be almost glamorising what the girl does – but at the same time, as with Ozon’s brilliant ‘In The House’, this is screen story-telling of real flair and imagination – beautifully crafted and written.
‘Manuscripts Don’t Burn’ – an Iranian film about state censorship (which sounds dry but was in fact gripping) – told largely from the POV of one of the henchmen hired by the state to intimidate ‘anti-government’ writers who refuse to hand over their manuscripts. This was sophisticated and morally complex – the ‘thug’ in question has to keep taking breaks from his work to see if his pay (from the state) has reached his bank account as his young child is sick but won’t be admitted to hospital until the man can prove he has the money to pay. This character – the character with whom we empathise most strongly through the story – is capable of acts of great brutality. There is also a clever circular narrative structure – this was powerful and thought-provoking; and very revealing that there were no credits on the film – all those involved in the making of it don’t want to reveal their identities to the Iranian authorities.
The Armstrong Lie – I mentioned this last week. The best film I saw at this year’s LFF – a fascinating character study.
Hide Your Smiling Faces – a US indie, ‘coming of age’ film about two young brothers and their child’s eye view (and response) to a tragic event. (Unlike most critics I’m being careful not to include spoilers!). Beautifully filmed and acted, this is narratively slight but really watchable.
Child’s Pose – a Romanian film about a strong\ domineering, rich, middle-class woman and her response on discovering that her 30 year old son has killed a child in a road accident. A relatively familiar story told from an unexpected point of view, this was fascinating. And the family dynamic between the woman at the centre of the film, her husband, her son, and the son’s girl-friend, was brilliantly observed.
Sx Tape – a ‘found-footage’ genre low-budget horror film directed by Bernard Rose, this had moments of brilliance, marred by a very silly, OTT (and gratuitously violent) ending.
The ‘surprise’ film that I went to turned out to be the Chinese martial arts film The Grand Master. Despite its impeccable credentials – exec produced by Martin Scorsese and Harvey Weinstein who was there to introduce it, this Chinese language martial arts film was probably the very last film I would have chosen to see out of the entire festival. I gave it 15 minutes and that was enough for me!
I’ll be at the London Screenwriters festival on and off for the next three days, running a Script Lab on Saturday morning – if you’re there \ going, please say hello!
And a quick reminder that we’re still taking bookings for two courses this November – our two day weekend ‘How To Write And Sell A Great Screenplay’ course on Nov 16-17, with very special guest speaker LUCY GANNON; and a new one day course ‘Creativity For Scriptwriters’, with guest speaker ANDERS LUSTGARTEN – who I can guarantee will be really entertaining and insightful – on Saturday Nov 30th – both courses in London.
Look at the website for full details – http://thetwophils.co.uk/category/workshop/
All the best
Oct 25th 2013