Quick takes from the 60th London Film Festival, with public screenings from October 5th-16th, 2016.
I’m not much of a fan of experimental films, but there’s a quality of dreamy questing in Spaceship, the feature debut of British writer-director Alex Taylor, that I found intriguingly wistful. The teenagers who live around an army base in suburban England whisper stories about alien abductions, and then Lucidia (Alexa Davies) goes missing in a dazzle of colors and flashing lights, as witnessed by a friend. Her lonely widower father, Gabriel (Antti Reini), searches for her and her friends speculate about where she has gone, but this isn’t a science-fiction mystery, and no one seems particularly worried about her. The plotlessness and general lack of specific response to Lucidia’s disappearance becomes an avant-garde fug that frustrated me, but I quite enjoyed the overall sense of Lucidia’s friends and family as wandering through a plaintive self-portrait of themselves as lost people trying to find a way to muddle through this whole big mess of life. Gabriel’s story, as a Finnish immigrant who has no desire to return to his homeland, is an emotional echo of that of Lucidia’s friends, desperate to leave behind the uncertainty of adolescence and migrate permanently to adulthood. These kids, as deeply odd as they are in some of their habits, feel more like the real teenagers I actually know — smart, passionate, creative, and confused — than movies usually give us; I especially like Tallulah Rose Haddon as Alice, a teenage girl playing with her own power. I’ll certainly be eager to see whatever Taylor comes up with next.
Winner of the Camera d’Or, an award for best first feature, at this year’s Cannes was French filmmaker Houda Benyamina’s Divines, an absolute corker of a coming-of-age tale with a vividly drawn heroine and a blistering eye for the ironies of a life of crime. Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) lives in a Romany shantytown outside Paris, and she knows that the life of wage slavery that her vocational school is trying to prepare her for is not her thing. So she arranges an audacious introduction for herself to drug dealer Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda), and now Dounia and her BFF Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena), who hails from the housing projects that Rebecca rules, work for Rebecca. When she’s not running criminal errands, Dounia occupies herself with spying on Djigui (Kevin Mischel), a security guard trying to trade up from his dull job to be a dancer; she likes to watch him writhe and gyrate at dance rehearsal. It’s a subplot that Benyamina puts to dual use: as a contrast in the legit world to Dounia’s own attempts to better herself (for at least that’s how she sees it), and as an ultra-female-gazey twist on the female eye candy boy-centered gangster movies typically offer; Dounia’s only interest in Djigui (at least at first) is all about what he looks like… and Benyamina is not shy about letting her camera channel Dounia’s lust for him. Comparisons with last year’s Girlhood — also about a girl gangster in a Parisian banlieue — are inevitable, but while the two films certainly complement each other, this one sings with its own unique voice on friendship, loyalty, and making one’s own opportunities. And the performances from the trio of women at the center are mesmerizing, lively, and uniquely unforgettable.
Lupe Under the Sun
It’s a long way into the hushed, bemusing Lupe Under the Sun before a single word of dialogue is uttered: we merely pay simple witness to the everyday routines of Mexican migrant farm worker Lupe (Daniel Muratalla) in Southern California as he wakes up before dawn, prepares lunch in his tiny efficiency room, endures a long ride with other migrants to an orchard, picks peaches all day, and returns home. Some days he takes a slow bike ride to visit his girlfriend, a lonely widow. And that’s about the extent of Lupe’s life. Filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes’s previous works have been documentaries about life on the US-Mexico border, and this — his first narrative feature, in which he cast nonprofessional actors — could almost be mistaken for a documentary as well. What opens as a portrait of an elderly man living a hard life with apparent pride and dignity slowly begins to challenge our perceptions and our sympathy: Is Lupe more than what we see here, or could he be even less? Is he struggling, separated from the life he once had back in Mexico, or is he just empty, a robot of a man? Reyes’s gentle appreciation that that uneasy question may be unanswerable is haunting.