Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Drinking Buddies Review - London Film Festival 2013

Drinking buddies review
Mumblecore is the lovely subgenre that began charming us around the start of the decade with Andrew Bujalski’s  Funny Ha Ha. Joe Swanberg’s comedy Drinking Buddies is another addition to this movement of films where the style and mood is understated; budgets aren’t the highest; and the dialogue is improvised, capturing the fillers and awkwardness of everyday conversation. Swanberg joins Jay and Mark Duplass, (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, The Puffy Chair) and Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, both wonderful) amongst the directors who have really got the hang of it.
Drinking Buddies is a prime example of entertaining, indie mumble-core. It’s a comedy and sort-of love web (but it’s no rom-com) which focuses on a group of friends who work in a Chicago brewery. The men handle the practical stuff whilst the only female employee – laddy and easy going Kate, (Olivia Wilde) – sorts out the PR side. After work the group retire to a bar, play pool and get drunk. Colleagues Kate and Luke (Jake Johnson) have a natural connection but are involved with other people;  he is engaged to fun-loving Special Needs teacher Jill (Anna Kendrik) and Kate is plodding along in a lukewarm relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). It’s easy to become immersed in the will-they-won’t-they wonderment; the characters are easy to care about. We could watch them all day.
The two couples leave on a short break and sparks fly where they shouldn’t. Drinking Buddies really is very similar to Lynn Shelton’s comedy-drama Your Sister’s Sister. Both films contain no frills, quality character interaction in a small space – namely a remote cabin – although the latter is slightly more serious and drama-heavy. The nature of this genre is that the naturalistic chit-chatter overshadows the plot, which can be a great thing. Drinking Buddies is funny, although not from jokes or try-hard gags, just from the characters connecting and having fun. There’s something warming about watching laughter that seems completely genuine. This approach relies on effective performances, and the leads in this film pull it off well. If only there could be more films like this; films that entertain rather than challenge yet remain intelligently, acutely observed. Drinking Buddies will certainly fill the little-mumblecore-gem shaped hole in your life.
This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).

Sarah Prefers To Run Review - London Film Festival 2013

Sarah prefers to run review
The 57th London Film Festival is mad with coming-of-age dramas, particularly French ones with sexually confused protagonists (a la Blue Is The Warmest Colour). However I’m certainly not complaining – particularly about this quiet drama from French-Canadian filmmaker Chloe Robichaud – with its appealing muted colours, dusky hues and subtle quirks. Sarah Prefers To Run (Sarah Prefere La Course) is indeed about a girl who prefers to run, and prefers it to just about everything and anyone else. Twenty year old Sarah (Sophie Desmarais) is trying to make sense of adulthood and her identity. The only thing she is sure of is that she wants, needs, to run. This is not a typical triumphant sports movie – do not expect to be overwhelmed by the urge to get your squashed trainers out of the cupboard as the credits roll – a feeling that last years Fast Girls may have induced (ahem), the uplifting Brit-flick from Regan Hall. There is no motivating music here. Sarah runs to a delicate violin soundtrack.

Sarah wants to move to Montreal from Quebec to run as a member of the McGill Athletics Team, but her mother (Helene Florent) isn’t too fond of the idea. It isn’t sustainable, won’t put food on the table when Sarah reaches a certain age, “you can’t beat a dead horse” she says. Regardless, Sarah comes to a platonic arrangement with her friend Antoine (Jean-Sebastien Courchesne) whereby he will moves with her, pays the rent and they marry in order to get a government grant. He is also in love with her, which confuses him as she “isn’t even funny, and never smiles.” Sarah is too preoccupied with flushes of lesbian lust for fellow runner Zoey (Genevieve Boivin-Roussy) to return his affections; a relationship that would have done well to be explored in more depth.
Sarah is petite and doe-eyed but her graceful appearance is at odds with her typically masculine stoic, unemotional nature and disregard for anything feminine (about two thirds of the way through there’s a token clichéd moment where she stares blankly at a lipstick in a bathroom before defiantly deciding to apply it.) It’s obvious that Robichaud hasn’t achieved anything drastically unique with Sarah Prefers To Run but that isn’t to say it doesn’t succeed in its own way. Stylistically we have seen all this before. Some may be irritated by the slightly try-hard twee moments, such as the in-between scene insert shots of fortune cookie messages. Sarah is also an opaque character, perhaps too much so for some viewers, but it is the aim for her to be entirely one sided. There’s no real or apparent direction to this pleasingly ambling film. It’s simply a portrait of a one woman’s ambition, hunger and need to achieve crafted a delicate, understated manner. A promising first feature.
This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).

Blue Is The Warmest Colour Review - London Film Festival 2013

What a great fortnight London Film Festival was. As I was commuting from Brighton I didn't quite fulfill the ambition of fitting five films in one day, however I did manage four occasionally. It was heartbreaking that I couldn't see everything, but I certainly tried. One of the festival highlights, and one of my highlights of 2013, was Blue Is The Warmest Colour; an engaging and beautiful experience of first lust and love.
Blue is the warmest colour reviewThat first love – that first spark of lust – affects us so profoundly that we remember the ecstasy and the agony until our dying days. Abdellatif Kechiche‘s Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adele – Chapitres 1&2) is a French lesbian coming-of-age feature based on the 2010 graphic novel Blue Angel by Julie Maroh. It’s a film that illustrates the immense power of those first throes of desire and infatuation, submerging us into their emotional depths for a hefty three hours. It will not struggle to find its place amongst the strongest and most influential films of contemporary queer cinema (the other that springs to mind is British director Andrew Haigh‘sWeekend, a sensitive and near perfect portrayal of two young men falling quickly and deeply in love, you really must see it if you haven’t yet.)

The main focus is teenager Adéle (Adéle Exarchopoulos), a popular and intelligent girl with a fascination for literature and watching American movies, sans subtitles. It’s obvious she isn’t as boy-obsessed as her fellow comrades, oblivious to good looking male suitors who clearly admire her until it is explicitly pointed out. Pressurized by the relentless encouragement of her peers she starts a sexual relationship with handsome and lovesick Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), but is tortured by her fantasies of blue-haired girl she spotted in the street. She feels there is something seriously wrong with her, and Kechiche does well at exploring the shame and guilt we place on ourselves for experiencing lust that doesn’t fit into society’s structured categorical norms. Adéle isn’t gay necessarily, but her budding bisexuality leaves her feeling isolated and abnormal. It’s admirable the way Blue Is The Warmest Colour frankly reflects the fluid nature of desire.

After a chance encounter in a gay bar with her blue haired crush Emma, (Léa Seydoux) a relationship blossoms. The scenes of their new and exciting passion and hunger for each other are sexually explicit, sure, but they are also tender. This is where the length of the film can really come into its own as it can charts not just the birth of romance but follows it through until the couple experience the daily drudgery of domesticity, doubts and wandering eyes. Kechiche studies the affects of a relationship after a number of indiscernible years; Emma is a successful painter, Adéle is a nursery school teacher, and they live together.  Their romance isn’t perfect. Adéle is more comfortable preparing food than discussing the works of Jean-Paul Sarte with Emma’s cultivated intellectual circle, people who alienate and bore her. Kechiche playfully mocks the dialogue of French cinema when he has Adéle say “they talk about so much stuff”. The tensions that develop between the couple – their changing priorities and growing dissatisfaction – are honest of the flaws and contradictions in real adult relationships.

The performances are wonderful, particularly Adéle Exarchopoulos, who plays Adéle with a real rawness. Adéle is a character with a heightened emotional sensibility, easily affected, and spends much of the film with tears and mucus running down her face. Kechiche isn’t afraid to turn the drama up to the maximum level, but it’s always absorbing rather than sinking into ridiculous melodrama.  Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a beautifully conducted, carefully considered exploration of the elation and torture of youthful infatuation.
This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).