Quick takes from the 60th London Film Festival, with public screenings from October 5th-16th, 2016.
A Date for Mad Mary
Mary’s not crazy-mad, she’s angry-mad, in that incoherent way that young people floundering around to figure themselves out often fall into. After a short stint in prison — for a violent crime that was surely an expression of that rage — she returns home to her Irish town to find that her disconnect to friends and family has grown even wider, and it’s a real struggle to fulfill her duties as maid of honor to her best friend, Charlene, in the run-up to her wedding. No longer able to rely on others to define her, Mary must decide for herself who she is, a task she approaches with snark to cover up her terror and her confusion. The things that make Mary a misfit create a portrait of female identity that is at odds with convention, and it’s something we don’t see much onscreen… and if the film finds an easy answer for Mary’s conundrum rather than a less obvious one, she is still an intriguing person to spend time with, thanks to a stellar central performance from Seána Kerslake, who infuses warmth and intelligence to Mary’s reflexive lashing out and a sneaky poise to a proudly ungraceful character. A terrific dramedy.
Australia’s deplorable treatment of asylum seekers gets a devastating takedown in this brutal documentary from filmmaker Eva Orner (who previously gave us the fabulous doc The Network, about a TV network in Afghanistan). In apparent direct contravention of international agreements on the treatment of refugees, and certainly in breach of basic human decency, Australia has subjected people (including children) fleeing war and persecution to indefinite detention in offshore camps in inhumane conditions, imprisoning them like criminals (though even the harshest prisons have better conditions than these camps) and further traumatizing vulnerable people already deeply damaged. Secret filming at the remote camps — where no journalists have been permitted openly — and interviews with guards and volunteers reveal shocking abuse and neglect of the utterly innocent, and at enormous financial expense: The Australian government could simply give generous grants to refugees to settle and integrate into Australian society and would spend far, far less. And the nation would save itself a dishonor for which it must be shamed. This is an international crime, one that much of the world is unaware of, and it cannot be allowed to continue. This film is urgent and essential journalism.
The Dreamed Ones (Die Geträumten)
Mid-20th-century European poets Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann carried on a decades-long correspondence in the postwar years, even though he was a Romanian Jew who lost his parents in the Holocaust and she was an Austrian whose father was a Nazi; true story. Apparently it was quite the romance, even though they were hardly ever in the same city at the same time, but it’s really difficult to immerse ourselves in their passion in the way that The Dreamed Ones would like us to. In this odd hybrid of documentary, performance-art piece, and fictional narrative, director Ruth Beckermann places cameras in front of actors doing dramatic readings of Celan and Bachmann’s letters to each other, and keeps the cameras rolling when the actors take breaks. First problem for English-language viewers: no matter how comfortable you are with reading subtitles, it presents a huge barrier when you are meant to appreciate the poetry of a language that you don’t speak and with which you are simply struggling to follow along in. Second problem: actors Anja Plaschg, reading Inge, and Laurence Rupp, reading Paul, are hugely appealing: she is very Hilary Swank-ish gorgeous and ardent, and he looks like the love child of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston, so, you know, *swoon*, and they take cigarette breaks with envious Euro cool and sophistication. But we’re meant to see some sort of romance blossoming between them, too, and it simply isn’t there. I hate to say this about a movie that was clearly conceived to honor an uncommon relationship that was based in literary intellect, but this is a tediously dull depiction of it.