The 57th BFI London Film Festival kicked off last Wednesday in spectacular fashion with the world premiere of Paul Greengrass’s new film Captain Phillips. With a stellar line-up this year, including the premieres of 12 Years a Slave, Philomena and Saving Mr Banks, Fohnhouse has had a hard time this week deciding what cinema seat to sink its furry behind into.
First up, though, we decided to go for an obvious choice and kick off proceedings with Captain Phillips - an aqueous ride charting the events of the 2009 hijacking of a US container ship by Somali pirates. Playing the Captain and leading the crew is Tom Hanks, who is characteristically believable as a man who fears he may never see his family again. It’s common knowledge that Captain Richard Phillips survived his ordeal, but, thanks to a great performance by our leading man, it’s as if it happened yesterday and you’re right there completely invested in the fictional Phillips and his survival. We somewhat agree with a comment made during the press conference the followed the screening that the film is pure propaganda for the US Navy, but it only subtracts slightly from an otherwise gripping drama.
Next up we saw four short films from Africa, showcasing some of the continent’s most exciting talent. With themes of tradition, revolution and mythology, one or two of these shorts were more noteworthy than the others, in particular the Burkinabe-French short Twaaga. Based on an 8-year-old boy’s desire to become invincible - like the superheroes he loves - Twaaga, deservedly so, garnered the biggest applause of the night and certainly put its director, Cédric Ido, on our list of helmers to look out for.
Moving away from African shores completely, we then settled in to watch Alfonso Cuarón’s latest Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. More often than not, the third dimension in films is pointless, but every once in a while a movie comes along (Avatar, Life of Pi), that’s all the better for it. Such is the case with Gravity. Struggling to return to earth after their space shuttle is destroyed, Bullock and Clooney join forces to help each through this nightmare. Clooney is his usual grimacing and charming self, while Bullock reaches new heights with her turn as an astronaut with little left to live for. It’s a must see for all.
Now, traditionally, at this point, we would have seduced your taste buds with suggestions of gastronomy hotspots but, sadly, we simply haven’t had the time to dine this year. Instead, we’ve had to settle for faster food – still finger-licking good, though, I must say.
So, after a short break, we were back in Leicester Square savouring the latest offering from the Coen Brothers. Inside Llewyn Davis chronicles a week in the life of the Llewyn, a folk singer living in New York who aspires to make it big as a solo artist. Funny, heartfelt and nostalgic, Inside Llewyn Davis hits all the right notes and makes you want to buy a one-way ticket to New York and live out the rest of your days singing folk songs.
After this screening, we hopped across to Piccadilly Circus to catch Catherine Breillat’s latest film, Abuse of Weakness (Abus de Faiblesse) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon.
Known for her sexually explicit and intimate films, Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness is still an intimate look at a woman’s rehabilitation from a stroke, as well as a portrayal of Breillat’s relationship with a con man she hired to play the lead in one of her movies. While the character of Maud bares an uncanny resemblance to Breillat herself, when we sat down to talk to the director, she insisted that this isn’t her most personal film to date, and believes all her films to be personal. And while the film parallels her own life, the character of Maud is fictional and actress Isabelle Huppert brings her own prowess to the role. It’s half Huppert, half Breillat. We enjoyed Huppert’s half, but the jury’s still out on the other part.
Finally, we caught Don Jon. Written and directed by Gordon-Levitt, this modern day Don-Juan tale is a revelation. Funny and clever, with an assured style and a stellar cast, Gordon-Levitt establishes himself here as an up-and-coming directing force in Tinseltown.
That’s it for our half-time report, folks. Stay tuned for more from the festival and the city that ain’t sleeping much right now!