Wednesday, 4 October 2017

LFF 2017:
9 Fingers / Good Manners / 1%

Like some kind of annual festival of film based in London, the London Film Festival is once again upon us, promising another selection box of cinematic treats of vastly disparate quality. But given this bewildering choice, how do you know which film is the delicious pink-wrapped fudge and which is the satanically evil coffee cream? Well, don't ask me, I'm the last person you should rely on. Maybe try a proper film critic or something. Anyway let's kick off with three films I sincerely hope you haven't paid good money to see.

9 Fingers
dir. FJ Ossang, France/Portugal, 2017
A low-level gangster gets involved in a bungled heist and eventually finds himself trapped on a cargo ship with almost as little clue about what's going on as the audience, in this aggressively inscrutable ordeal from Gallic provocateur FJ Ossang. What begins as an intriguing modern French noir swiftly degenerates into impenetrable nonsense, with the added frustration that there's almost certainly some vaguely interesting satire going on somewhere within. I say "satire" because a strong whiff of political metaphor permeates the film, but what it's trying to say remains an unsolvable mystery; maybe you have to be French to understand the stream of non-sequiturs that make up the script, but I suspect even that would afford minimal advantage.

Themes of madness, revolution, control and destiny hover vaguely in the film's margins without ever coalescing into anything tangible, and it's a deeply alienating experience. Reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's π in its low-budget, claustrophobic surrealism - but without any of the promise towards which that film hinted - this is punk filmmaking on a baffling scale.

Good Manners
dir. Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra, Brasil/France, 2017
Imagine Let The Right One In with a werewolf instead of a vampire, and you've got the very film writer / directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra were probably hoping to make with this. Alas, the end product is a toothless horror-drama so lacking in both horror and drama that it'll have you howling for freedom from its near-interminable running time.

Split into two tonally contrasting halves, Good Manners begins slowly and stays that way as Clara, a nanny in São Paulo, is hired by shallow wannabe-socialite Ana to help her around the house in the run-up to the birth of her baby. Things eventually become interesting around the half-hour mark, but it's not until an hour in that events take a turn for the slightly gory but unintentionally silly, when Ana's baby finally bares its teeth. Part two picks up the pace a little, but it's let down by lengthy gaps between exciting episodes and a distinct smell of cheapness when they finally appear. It's interesting to note that no men are seen in the film's first hour, leading you to think that this might be a worthy comment on single motherhood or sororal bonds, but by the time the no-frills CGI is unleashed and the film dissolves into genre schlock you've forgotten all about any potential it may have once held. Plus it's 130 minutes long and literally nobody needs that.

dir. Stephen McCallum, Australia, 2017
Every year, by law, the London Film Festival is required to screen at least one Australian crime drama, and its write-up in the LFF brochure MUST make reference to Animal Kingdom - a connection more often than not justified solely by the fact that Animal Kingdom is also an Australian crime drama. A further clause in this improbable piece of legislation is that the film in question must be nowhere near as good as Animal Kingdom, and in 2017 the film that meets all these legal requirements is 1%.

A testosterone-drenched machogasm about internal rivalries in a biker gang, 1% comes across as Macbeth on motorbikes but never shifts up enough gears to become the Shakespearean Triumph it wants to be. I appreciate that it's tough to make a film in which every character is morally reprehensible and still have the audience care about them, but at this - unlike, say, Animal Kingdom1% falls flat on its tattooed face. Literally everyone is horrible, and there's no Ben Mendelsohn to make it OK. Moreover, the potentially gripping power struggle between the nominal protagonist and antagonist (the Vice President and President of the gang respectively, as if it's a fucking country club) suffers from the fact that it's hard to give a shit about either of them given that they're both massive twats.

Writer and actor Matt Nable awards himself the best role, as old-school psycho Knuck (the Duncan to Ryan Corr's Macbeth), and he's the most charismatic presence on screen despite giving himself the worst dialogue: he barks "FACK OFF CANT!" with admirable brio but it's hardly Bard-y. Nable's depictions of the gangs at least feels authentic and researched (their leather waistcoat "colours", which bear their rank and name, are too ridiculous to be made up), and there's an underlying sense of uncomfortable menace throughout. Also of minor interest is the contrasting world views of the leads: one is forward-thinking and inclusive, the other an unhinged isolationist, and they're both too blinkered to spot a mutual threat lurking in the background. In the moment, however, there's nothing memorable about 1% to allow it anywhere near Animal Kingdom in the pantheon of Australian crime dramas; we await 2018's entry with ever-fading hope.

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