Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Au Bonheur des Ogres (The Scapegoat) (2013)


After a bit of a delay (the film was initially announced for release in April), this month finally saw the release of Nicolas Bary’s Au Bonheur des Ogres in France. Based on the novel of the same name by French author Daniel Pennac, the film introduces us to Benjamin Malaussène, professional scapegoat and de facto père de famille. Already far from normal, Malaussène’s life becomes extremely complicated when he is implicated in a series of explosive murders at the luxury Parisian department store where he works. With the help of perky journalist ‘Aunt Julia’, he attempts to prove his innocence and expose the truth behind the attacks.

Translating Pennac’s bizarre and wonderful work to the screen was never going to be an easy task, but it should be said straight off that Bary (also one of the co-screenwriters) makes a fair go of it. The quirky tone of the book is upheld, and the direction is on the whole sprightly without being too showy. There are one or two moments where the enhancement of the fantastical elements from the novel actually reduces the potency of the magical-realist atmosphere (the giraffe), but in general the film feels pleasantly abnormal, just like the book. Top marks for filming in Paris’s long-closed La Samaritaine store, recently seen as a palace of faded glory in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors.

A few changes have been made to the original storyline, for better or worse. The setting of the film in the present day entails a certain amount of tweaking of the backstory, which actually serves to make the dark heart of the narrative more believably horrific. The changing of the antagonist makes sense as it keeps the film focussed, but means that we lose some of the nicer character moments from the novel. A few character omissions might spell problems for screenwriters if they get round to working on the sequel, but make little impact in this instalment.

In terms of the cast, Raphael Personnaz does a sterling job incarnating Pennac’s most famous creation, lending Malaussène the perfect air of slight desperation and amiable uselessness. Bérénice Bejo, Jean Dujardin’s ravishing co-star in The Artist, is equally good in the role of his partner in crime-solving, ‘Aunt Julia’. The Malaussène family, keystone to the entire series, are a definite highlight, the standouts being Mélanie Bernier as caring older sister Louna and Adrien Ferran as the eager-to-please but slightly unhinged Jérémy. We also get a final, uncredited treat in the form of a well-known French actress who lights up the closing minutes. I have to admit to never having considered who might play the role, but the person they chose gets it spot on.

This film will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and its oddness is almost a guarantee of commercial failure, but this is a film that deserves some love. It will be a great pity if we don’t get to catch up with the Malaussène family again in the near future. I’d love to see Nicolas Bary and the cast take on Pennac’s sequel La Fée Carabine (The Fairy Gunmother).

3.5/5

MP

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

57th BFI London Film Festival: Final Thoughts

Image: Disney

After 10 days of the 29 bus, Leicester Square and fast food, the 57th London Film Festival is over. Over the past few days, we’ve laughed and cried, and enjoyed some of the finest films the festival had to offer, and we‘ve got the low down on what films to look out for over the next few months.

The second half of our festival experience kicked off with Labor Day, the new film from Juno and Up in the Air director Jason Reitman. Starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, Labor Day tells the tale of a mother and son who take in a strange man who appears in front of them bruised and bleeding. As the film unfolds, the family realises there’s more to the stranger’s story than meets the eye. Labor Day is another solid film from the director. Winslet is as reliable as ever as single mum Adele, and Brolin possesses the charm and the culinary skills to convince anybody of anything, but, while enjoyable, it didn’t quite light our fire in the same way Reitman’s previous films have.

Next up we saw Philomena, starring Judi Dench as the titular character who, after 50 years, enlists the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her track down her long lost son. A poignant true story about a mother’s quest to reunite with her child and a convent’s attempt at masking its involvement, Philomena is already garnering Oscar buzz, particularly for its leading lady.

Another film tipped to take the rest of the glory at next year’s ceremony is Steve McQueen’s latest oeuvre, 12 Years a Slave. Now that we’ve had a few days to dry our eyes, we can agree that early predictions may well turn out to be spot on. Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name, 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and forced to work as a slave. With an all star cast, including outstanding newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as slave Patsey, 12 Years a Slave was the best film we saw at the festival. This time last year it was all about the great Django. A completely different tone, but equally as powerful, this time around it’s all about Solomon and those 12 years.

From tears to laughter we moved on to Saving Mr. Banks, the feel-good movie of the year starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, the woman behind Mary Poppins. Chronicling the two weeks Travers spent in Los Angeles trying to be persuaded by Disney to give him the rights to her novel, Saving Mr. Banks, while not necessary completely accurate is – in true Disney fashion - a charming, funny and very uplifting film, and is guaranteed to melt the hearts of kiddies and adults alike when it’s released around the joyous Christmas period.

The last two films we went for to complete our final evening were Gone Too Far and Locke. Centring around the streets of South London, Gone Too Far is a funny look at what happens when British, Nigerian, Caribbean and Asian cultures collide when a black British boy’s Nigerian brother comes to stay. Adapted from Bola Agbaje’s play, the film has yet to find a distributor, but as Agbaje and the director pointed out at the Q&A, if enough people tweet about it, we could see it break out of the festival circuit and get a general release date. No pressure then, folks!

Finally, we caught Tom Hardy’s new film Locke. Starring only Tom Hardy and a few voices at the end of a phone, Locke is a one-man-and-his-car-type-tale in which we see a man’s life slowly fall apart as he drives from, I imagine from his accent, Wales to London. Thank goodness Hardy is a charismatic character otherwise this could have been a disaster. However, Ivan Locke’s story does grip you as we’re simply shown shots of lights, his BMV and the midnight sky. Locke isn’t as glamorous as some of Hardy’s previous roles, but Hardy is no less committed. The director doesn’t do the best job at wrapping up and resolving every narrative strand, but it’s still a highly watchable ninety minutes with Hardy at the wheel.

That’s it from the festival for another year. We didn’t get to see all the films on our list, namely Only Lovers Left Alive, but there wasn’t one disappointment among our selection. We’ve loved what’s been on offer over these past two years since Clare Stewart took the reins, and we look forward to seeing what she has in store for us next year, her third year. Hopefully there'll be a few charms!

FG

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An Interview with Catherine Breillat

In town to promote her new film, Abuse of Weakness, Fohnhouse sat down with the woman behind such films as Romance, Anatomy of Hell and Sex is Comedy to find out all about her latest feature. Cliquez ici pour le lire en français.



Why did you choose Isabelle Huppert for the role of Maud?

Of all the French actresses, she is one of the most intelligent and most intellectual - which is not the same as intelligent - and I really wanted the film to be about the intellectual and the brute: a clash between one culture and another, a weakened body and, not only a healthy body, but physically strong one. That's why I wanted the body of a rapper.

In terms of that, why did you choose a famous actress?

You know, it's very easy to find girls who can act well... yet it’s much harder to find boys who can do the same. It's strange but that’s how it is.

Why?

Because I think they’re more timid than the male roles I create; they’re often against them. And then to manipulate and express their feelings in front of a woman... it's more difficult for them - especially really romantic or sexual feelings. There are reasons, though... And girls... I saw a lot before finding one. 200... older actresses... and I didn’t find that.

And the rapper Kool Shen?

I asked my assistant to find his phone number....

You saw him on TV?

No, I wanted a rapper. I wanted a rapper’s body because there’s a this brutality.... I remember watching IAM’s Akhenaton... I wanted to see how he was, but I went with Kool Shen in the end. But I looked on the internet to see which rappers I knew... but I had never listened to their music and they had never seen my films. It was the perfect meeting of the intellectual and the brute. Perfect!

Their group is called Nique Ta Mère, "Fuck Your Mother". JoeyStarr is the other member. It’s a legendary group, the first rap group, very, very, very violent. After I met him I still didn’t listen to music but rather the words he wrote. He writes well, and he’s also not an idiot. He’s far from being an idiot; he’s very, very, very, very smart, which you don’t see. He had a superior intelligence, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

Well, some say that rap is poetry...

Oh, yeah, what he writes is fantastic - an extreme violence, because he speaks about the exact opposite of what I talk about.

Yes, it’s a bit macho, right?

Yes, but there’s some stuff that I write about that’s completely macho [she laughs]. In my films I’m sometimes very macho! I often write in the first person of the man because me, I know myself, I know women, but a man, I don’t know. So I write from that perspective in order to enter into a man’s skin and really know him. Absolutely.

If I'm not mistaken, you have a small cameo in the film...

Yes, I am in it [her face lights up]!

Was it a cathartic experience for you?

No, I decided at the last moment because, at the same time, it’s a stage Maud has to go through that the audience doesn’t see  - where she starts walking with the walking stick like that - because the true story of the abuse of weakness starts after. So I did that bit quickly, and we found that it worked... she’s like a shadow in her wheelchair and my walking past her signifies what she will later become, and that she’ll have a walking stick like me. That’s the rehabilitation. That’s everything. It is true that it’s also a private joke, a bit like Hitchcock [she says laughing]... and it’s also signifying that I’m passing the baton to the actress.

Why the need for the film when there's already a book?

Firstly, I needed money [laughs]... urgently so. Secondly, I have always written books, and while it’s true that the books I had.... I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I was lost, like in the last scene of the film when she says, “It was me but it wasn’t me." Of course! Yes, it was me, because I did it and kept doing it and kept doing it… but it wasn’t me. It couldn’t possibly have been me and that’s it. We were able to show that in the film whereas the book doesn’t go that far. We can show that on screen, as well as the ambiguity that you don’t have in the book.

And now, do you feel the same?

Yes, it's still me but it's not me. But I’m not in tears because I've been able to take a step back and put things into perspective. On the other hand, I’m the one struggling from day to day to make money, but the person who did that... it wasn’t me. In my life now, though, I'm back directing and doing other things, so I am me, because I’m doing what I am, but at that time I wasn’t myself. But, believe me, I’ve suffered the consequences. Every day I should commit suicide to be honest. If I could trade places with anyone… I swear! I also have all that’s needed to kill myself. I have all the possible means because I'm high on medication. But what do you want? Me, I believe you have to live life to its fullest. Life is killing me on its own. There are two things I wouldn’t be able to live with: to be completely physically dependent – though that may not be far off - and to be kicked out of my own house. That, no way. That’s it. For now I’m just trying to make movies and move forward and that's it.

The film is called Abuse of Weakness but Maud is very strong character…

Yes, but “abus de faiblesse " is a legal term. I was the one who pressed charges. The original character has been convicted of “abus de faiblesse”. “Abus de faiblesse” doesn’t mean that you can’t be strong mentally. It can be physical. A pregnant woman is considered more emotionally manipulable. An abuse of weakness is when someone repeatedly does things and manipulates the victim in a way that is acting against his/her interests. This doesn’t prevent someone from being very strong... and me, more than anyone. Nobody ever in France, an adult, has pressed charges himself/herself - usually it’s the family. At the same time we did three movies, two books... that’s why he was sure that the case would be thrown out. It’s an absolute law! It’s never happened.

But there’s a lot of medication, you know. A lot! It makes you quite euphoric. It makes you do things you don’t realise you’re doing or that you don’t remember doing... and at the same time I was making movies. But when I make films, at first, those around me don’t want to hurt me. They want the best for me. They help me, completely, physically. I am completely assisted. Now I have an assistant and he doesn’t want me to fall. There’s always someone to hold my hand, help me cut my meat, stuff like that... even someone who helps me get dressed in the morning. It's not because I can’t do it myself, but it requires concentration. We all have a threshold for how much we can concentrate within a day, and it's lowered when we're tired... and a movie, it requires so much concentration. That's why someone helps me all the time. It's very easy to make movies, but it’s very difficult to live alone, and so you can be a burden to the person who helps you live alone.

Your films often deal with sexuality, and in this film there’s a moment in which you wonder whether there will be a sexual relationship between the two leads, but there isn’t. You also often talk about the power of women... is this why nothing happens between them? It is the woman's choice?

That’s very, very ambiguous, you know. To be honest, if I refer to my own story, I 've always wondered if he wanted to or not [laughs]... I 've always wondered. Still, he still did some things. For me it’s not even an option with a potential actor. It’s not an option at all. After yes, but not before!

Some say that this is your most personal film to date. Would you agree?

Sex is Comedy is also personal.

So would you say that all your films contain an intimate part of you then?

Yes, in all my films there’s a huge intimate, autobiographical part etc.. I also often mixed this with other stories that are in the news, as well as my own fantasies - I love painting so that inspires me a lot….

Finally, what are you going to do next... another fairy tale?

I wanted to do Beauty and the Beast because it’s one of my fantasies.

The intellectual and brute...

Yes!

FG

Friday, 18 October 2013

Prince Avalanche (2013)

Add caption: Metrodome

Loosely based on the film Either Way, Prince Avalanche tells the tale of oddballs Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) who spend the summer repainting road lines after a fire ravishes the landscape. Alvin considers himself leader and spends his downtime reading, writing and trying to maintain the moral high ground, while the dim, childish and horny Lance (the brother of Alvin’s girlfriend) appears to have been dragged along kicking and screaming and often finds himself at odds with his pompous partner in crime. As the two make their way across a remote area in Texas, they’re forced to confront their volatile relationship and try to make it through the summer in one piece – with humorous consequences.

Prince Avalanche starts off at a very slow pace and, frankly, you're convinced you're in for a 'boring' ride (to quote Lance), but the tone gently starts to change and with it, your opinion. The characters, thankfully, become more endearing and by the end you’re routing for the persuasive pair. Paul Rudd’s turn as the strict and uptight Alvin is a welcome departure from form, while Hirsh puts in solid work to balance out the scorecard. Set to a backdrop of a despondently beautiful Texas wilderness – aided by Tim Orr’s cinematography – Prince Avalanche turns out to be a surprisingly charming and funny film with strong performances from its cast.

3/5

FG

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Un Entretien avec Catherine Breillat

En ville pour promouvoir son nouveau film, « Abus de Faiblesse », on a parlé avec la femme derrière des films comme « Romance X », « Anatomie de l'Enfer » et « À Ma Sœur ! » pour tout savoir au sujet de son nouveau film. Click here for the interview in English.


Pourquoi avez-vous choisi Isabelle Huppert pour le rôle de Maud ?

Parce que des actrices françaises, elle est quand même une des plus intelligentes, mais surtout une des plus intellectuelles – ce qui est pas la même chose qu’intelligente - et que j’ai voulu quand même vraiment le film, c’est aussi l’intellectuelle et la brute… quand même ça, le film. Ce choc entre une culture et une autre culture ; un corps brisé et un corps ne seulement très sain mais très physique. C’est pour ça que je voulais un corps de rappeur.

En termes de ça, pourquoi avez-vous choisi une actrice très connue ?

Vous savez, c’est très facile de trouver des jeunes filles qui jouent bien… enfin, déjà c’est beaucoup plus dur de trouver des jeunes garçon qui jouent bien. C’est curieux mais c’est comme ça.

Pourquoi ?

Parce que je pense qu’ils sont plus timides que les rôles de garçon je fais… ils les prennent très souvent contre eux, et puis, manipuler et exprimer ses sentiments devant une femme… c’est plus difficile, en plus, de sentiments très amoureux ou sexuels pour un garçon que pour une fille. Il y a quand même des raisons… et des jeunes filles… j’en vois beaucoup avant d’en trouver une. J’en ai vu deux cents… des actrices plus âgées… et ça se trouve pas.

Et le rappeur, Kool Shen ?

J’ai demandé à mon assistant de trouver son téléphone…

Vous l’avez vu à la télé ?

Non. Je me disais que je voulais un rappeur. Je voulais un corps de rappeur parce qu’il y a cette brutalité. Les jeunes rappeurs, ils sont évidemment pas le personnage, donc je me suis souvenue… j’ai quand même regardé IAM, Akhenaton… j’ai voulu voir comment il était, mais j’ai choisi Kool Shen. Mais j’ai regardé sur l’internet pour trouver lequel des rappeurs que je connaissais… et des vieux rappeurs je n’ai jamais écouté leur musique et ils n’ont jamais vu mes films. C’est bien la rencontre idéale de l’intellectuelle et la brute ! C’est la rencontre idéale.

Leur groupe s’appelle Nique Ta Mère, « Fuck Your Mother ». JoeyStarr, c’est le deuxième. C’est un groupe mythique, le premier groupe de rap, très, très, très violent. Après j’ai quand même écouté n’en pas la musique mais les paroles qu’il écrivait – il écrit bien. C’est pas un con d’ailleurs. C’est loin d’être un con. Il est très, très, très, très intelligent. Ça se voit pas. Mais il a eu une intelligence, mais supérieure. Ça je m’attendais pas du tout.

Mais on dit que le rap est un peu comme la poésie…

Ah, bah oui, ce qu’il écrit est formidable – un violence extrême parce qu’il parle du contraire de moi finalement.

Oui, c’est un peu macho, non ?

Oui, mais moi, Il y a des trucs que j’écris qui sont complètement machos {elle dit en ricanant} ! Dans le cinéma je suis parfois très macho. Moi, J’écris très souvent à la première personne de l’homme parce que moi, je me connais, les femmes je les connais, l’homme je ne le connais pas. Donc j’écris à sa personne à lui pour rentrer dans sa peau et le connaître. Mais oui.

Si je ne me trompe pas, vous avez une petite apparition dans le film…

Oui, je passe ! {Son visage s’illumine}

Est-ce que c’était une expérience cathartique pour vous ?

Non, j’ai décidé au dernier moment parce que en même temps c’est un stade que doit passer Maude qu’on ne voit pas. Celui on commence à marcher avec cette canne comme ça, parce que quand même la vraie histoire d’abus de faiblesse, elle commence après. Donc ça je l’ai fait assez vite. On a trouvé que c’était bien qu’elle s’en aille comme ça… comme une ombre dans son fauteuil roulant et que la croise, ce qu’elle va être plus tard dans sa rééducation… et ensuite elle va avoir une canne comme moi. C’est ça la rééducation. C’est tous les trucs. C’est vrai que c’est un « private joke », un peu comme Hitchcock pour le coup {elle dit en ricanant}… et c’est aussi que je passe le témoin à l’actrice.

Pourquoi le besoin pour le film quand il y a déjà un livre ?

Premièrement, j’avais besoin d’argent {elle rit}… et alors urgemment. Deuxièmement, j’ai toujours écrit des livres, et alors c’est vrai que les livres j’avais… je n’y comprenais rien à cette histoire, j’étais perdu, comme la dernière scène du film ou elle dit « c’est moi mais c’est pas moi ». Mais oui ! Oui, c’est moi, parce que j’ai fait, j’ai fait, j’ai fait… mais c’est pas moi. C’est pas moi parce que non. C’est impossible que ça soit moi, voilà. Donc ça on peut le montrer. Le livre ne va pas du tout jusqu’à là. Il peut montrer au cinéma... il peut montrer aussi cette ambiguïté au cinéma qu’il n’y a pas dans le livre.

 Et maintenant, est-ce que vos sentiments sont pareils ?

Non, c’est toujours moi mais c’est pas moi. Mais je ne suis pas en larmes parce que j’ai pris du recul. Par contre c’est moi qui lutte pour avoir de l’argent au jour le jour, mais celle qui a fait ça… c’est pas moi. Mais moi, dans ma vie maintenant, je suis revenue metteur en scène, je fais des choses alors que voilà. Donc je suis moi, parce que je fais ce que je suis, mais à ce moment là je n’étais pas moi. Par contre j’en subis des conséquences de manière épouvantable ; tous les jours je devrais me suicider pour tout dire… n’importe qui à ma place. Je vous jure ! J’ai tout ce qu’il faut pour me suicider en plus. J’ai tous les moyens parce que je suis bourrée de médicament. Mais qu’est-ce que vous voulez ? Moi, je trouve qu’il faut tout vivre jusqu’à la dernière extrémité ; la vie me suicide toute seule… alors bon. Il y a deux choses que je vivrais pas : être dépendante totalement physiquement - qui quand même risque de ne pas tarder – et, être jeter à la porte de chez moi. Ça non. Donc voilà. Pour l’instant j’essaye de faire des films et continuer… et puis voilà.

Le film s’appelle « Abus de Faiblesse » mais Maud est assez forte…

Oui, mais « abus de faiblesse » est une qualification juridique. Moi, J’ai porté plainte. Le personnage original a été condamné pour abus de faiblesse. L’abus de faiblesse, ça n’est pas de ne pas être fort mentalement. Ça peut être physique. Une femme enceinte est considérée déjà plus manipulable émotionnellement, et puis il faut que la personne qui va être le coupable par des manouvres répétés et de manipulation obtient une personne de faire ce qui est entièrement contraire à son intérêt. Voilà ce qui est un abus de faiblesse. Ça n’empêche pas quelqu’un d’être très fort… et moi, plus que tout le monde. Personne jamais en France, d’adulte, n’a porté elle-même plainte – d’habitude c’est la famille. On a fait dans le même temps 3 films, 2 livres... c‘est pour ça que lui, il était sur qu’il aurait un non-lieu. C’est une jurisprudence absolue ! Ça n’est jamais arrivé.

Mais il y a beaucoup, beaucoup de médicament ! Ça rend assez euphorique. Ça vous fait faire des choses dont on ne réalise pas et dont on se souvient pas… et dans le même temps je faisais des films. Mais quand je fais des films, d’abord les gens ne me veulent pas du mal, ceux qui m’entourent. Ils me veulent du bien. Ils m’aident complètement physiquement. Je suis complètement assister. Là j’ai un assistant et il ne veut pas que je tombe. Il y a toujours quelqu’un qui me tient la main, qui m’aide à couper ma viande, des trucs comme ça… même m’aide à m’habiller le matin, parce que c’est pas que je ne peux pas le faire toute seule, mais ça demande de la concentration. Tout le monde a quand même un potentiel de concentration dans la journée qui est tout de même limité après on tombe de fatigue… et un film, c’est beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup de concentration. C’est aussi pour ça qu’on m’aide tout le temps. Donc c’est très facile de faire des films. C’est très difficile de vivre seule, et donc on peut être le poids de quelqu’un qui vous aide à vivre seule.

Vos films sont liés à la sexualité, et dans ce film il y a un moment quand on se demande si il y aura un rapport sexuel entre les deux personnages mais il n’y a pas. Vous parlez aussi du pouvoir de la femme… est-ce que c’est pourquoi rien s’est passé entre eux ? C’était le choix de la femme ?

C’est très, très ambigu. Pour tout vous dire, si je me réfère à ma propre, propre histoire, je me suis toujours demandé si il voulait ou pas {elle rit}… quand même Il fait quand même des trucs. Je me suis toujours demandé. Pour moi c’est exclu déjà avec un potentiel acteur. C’est exclu, alors totalement. Après oui, mais pas avant !

Certains disent que ce film est le plus personnel que vous avez jamais tourné. Est-ce que vous êtes d’accord avec ça ?

« Sex is Comedy » est aussi personnel.

Tous vos films ont une partie intime de vous alors ?

Oui, tous mes films il y a une énorme partie intime, autobiographique etc.. Souvent je mélange aussi avec des faits divers pour l’histoire, et aussi mes propres fantasmes – j’adore la peinture donc ça m’inspire beaucoup…

Finalement, qu’est ce que vous allez faire prochainement… un autre conte fées?

Je voulais faire « La Belle et La Bête » parce que c’est un de mes fantasmes.

L’intellectuelle et la brute…

Oui !

FG

Monday, 14 October 2013

57th BFI London Film Festival Half-Time Report


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!

FG