Wednesday, 17 October 2018

LFF 2018: Roma & The Green Fog

dir. Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, 2018
Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical love letter to the women he grew up with in Mexico in the early 1970s will hit your TV screens, courtesy of Netflix, very soon. I feel it's only fair to warn you that if you watch it on your telly, unless your telly is sixty feet wide and there isn't a single thing in the room to distract you, then I will come round there and slap you with a cold chimichanga. Get thee to a cinema to see this while you can, because it is one of the most beautiful things created by mankind since the chord of A minor and deserves better than you watching it with the lights on and looking at Twitter every six seconds.

Shot by Cuarón himself in luscious, pin-sharp monochrome, Roma tells the story of Chloe, a maid and all-round skivvy to a slowly-disintegrating middle class family in Mexico City. It's slow and without much in the way of incident until the incredible final act, but it's packed with beautifully observed tiny details that leave you in no doubt about how deep Cuarón has reached into his memories. His camera moves at the same unhurried pace no matter how prosaic or extraordinary the onscreen events, as if he's going over them in his mind in a comfortable armchair with a glass of port and a cigar, and the effect is hypnotic.

A story of strong women beaten down by weak, flawed men, but rising up to answer a natural instinct to protect and nurture, Roma could so easily have been a mawkish, melodramatic, button-pushing weepie in lesser hands. But Cuarón is a master storyteller, as he's repeatedly proven - most recently in Gravity, which gets an unexpected but fun nod here. And while the quietly gritty urban reality of Roma couldn't be further from the noise and spectacle of Gravity, it's infinitely more fulfilling, finding poetic symmetry in the sluicing of a driveway and the cleansing power of the sea, and suggesting unattainable relief from a thankless existence in the distant passing of an overhead aeroplane. So treat it with the respect it deserves, and buy yourself a 60-foot-wide telly.

The Green Fog
dir. Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, USA, 2017
Every year by law, the London Film Festival must show an Alfred Hitchcock-referencing curio of some kind, and 2018 is no exception. This time it's Guy Maddin's quite bonkers collage movie The Green Fog, which is both a loose remake of Vertigo and an ode to San Francisco's long and varied history on film. Using only existing footage, Maddin and co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson stitch together clips from dozens of movies and TV shows set in Frisco to retell the story of an acrophobic detective and the lols he has forcing a woman to look like another woman who is in fact the same woman but not the woman he thought she was.

As Maddin hops between films, actors and characters chop and change identities (look closely, you can see what he's done there) while the story unfolds with all the structural discombobulation of a cheese-fuelled dream. There's very little dialogue; in fact most scenes literally cut out all the dialogue, leaving a staccato series of facial expressions that tell the story visually, as Hitchcock himself did so often and so well. It's all very weird, for sure, but not without a sense of humour: Scottie and Madeleine's day trip to Muir Woods is represented by NSYNC's similarly-set video for This I Promise You, while a clip from The Streets Of San Francisco sees Michael Douglas commenting on his own buttocks in a scene from Basic Instinct.

Maddin could've taken the easy route and built his film entirely from clips of Brian De Palma films (he does allow himself a couple of shots from High Anxiety, which is surely cheating), but perhaps he's saving that for another time. For now this is a loving, original and - at 63 minutes - blissfully short tribute to Hitchcock. And like any curated selection of film clips it's fun to spot the ones you recognise (drink a shot every time you see A View To A Kill pop up), but it's just as enjoyable to lose yourself in The Green Fog's brand of oddness, which is derived straight from the source material's own uniquely unsettling atmosphere.

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