Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day Four - "When Sam met me I was very easily - I don't want to say manipulated, but swayed".

Day: 232
Film total today: 5
Films seen so far this year: 210 (22 to go)

No bears today either.


Low-budget sci-fi about a group of scientists caught up in a bio-chemical crisis.

Radiant is like Primer gone rubbish. Last year's surprise hit of the festival (coincidentally released theatrically this week) was an equally low-budget sci-fi flick, but where that was audacious, thought-provoking and brilliant, Radiant is just...well, bad. The films are also similar in that they both feature an omniscient narrator, but that's where the comparisons end. This is by turns pretentious, boring, badly thought-out and unimaginative. Given the choice between a low-budget film about the outbreak of a virus and the high-budget version, I'll take the high-budget version any day. I mean, you'd think a film where the government has been secretly funding a team of crack scientists who are trying to create the ultimate vaccine (which, in turn is accidentally released and starts to KILL) would be a huge amount of fun, wouldn't you? Well, guess again. Nice idea, poorly executed, though I liked the bit where the lead guy described their likely symptoms and then they went through the symptoms in record time. One star.

Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family

Documentary filmed over eight years, about two gay men who "bring a woman into their relationship". And marry her.

Impressive, heart-warming and eventually depressing documentary by Susan Kaplan, filmed over eight years. Sam and Steve are two bisexual men who have been in a relationship for several years. One day Sam turns round and says, "Wouldn't it be great if we brought a woman into the relationship?" and Steve gradually comes round to the idea. (Later on he says the line above, about not being easily manipulated, but easily swayed). After a couple of trial runs that didn't work out (one woman only loved Sam, not Steve; another was just in it for the sex), Sam tentatively suggests the idea to his friend Samantha and she agrees. They stay together for 13 years. It's not entirely clear when the documentary was actually started (or whose idea it was), but it was presumably shortly before they decided to have a baby, as we see Samantha taking a pregnancy test and we're there for the result. After that, the cracks begin to appear in the relationship - prefigured by Sam's obsessive games of 'What if...?' - but it's a long, slow process before the inevitable happens. (Too slow, to be honest - the film could easily be a good 15 minutes shorter). It's a fascinating relationship, to be sure. Samantha probably comes off best - it seems that she really loves both men. Sam's very neurotic, but his family background makes up the most interesting part of the film (his father was a notorious criminal who was loving to his family but went to prison for armed robbery and murder). And Steven...well, Steven starts off very sympathetic but becomes a total wanker by the end of the film, haggling for hours over whether or not he should have to pay to look after their dog. There's also a lot of therapy-speak and you start to wonder whether all that therapy was really such a good idea, as they all seemed so happy in the beginning. Ultimately, that's the sad part of the film - we see a genuinely loving, happy relationship that really works and is almost inspirational...and then it all falls apart. Three stars.

When Will I Be Loved

New York drama by James Toback, about a hustler attempting to pimp his girlfriend to an Italian billionaire.

That James Toback, eh? He's a saucy one. And he certainly likes his "group sex in Central Park" scenes, judging by this film and Black and White. Actually, When Will I Be Loved is probably Toback's best film since Fingers, but that really isn't saying much. He has also somehow persuaded Neve Campbell to drop her famous no-nudity clause for this film - the film begins and ends with shots of her masturbating in the shower. (He's not known for his subtlety, really). Frankly, Neve, this is outrageous behaviour. You go naked for Toback but not for Wild Things? Where's the sense in that? Anyway, the film stars Frederick Weller as Ford, a hustler who is trying to pimp his girlfriend (Campbell) to an Italain billionaire played by Uncle Junior from The Sopranos (Dominic Chianese). The film starts well - Toback cuts quickly between short scenes of both Campbell and Weller (Campbell indulging in a surprisingly tasteful and erotic lesbian sex scene, as well as flirting with random men and a university professor played by Toback himself; Weller attempting to set up a deal with Damon Dash) and there's a genuine rhythm and energy to the editing. Then it turns out that Campbell and Weller are together and suddenly he has nowhere to cut to, although the long scene in her apartment is surprisingly effective. After that, the film becomes like a bizarrely hip retread of Indecent Proposal and...well, and then it becomes something else entirely. There are also cameos from Toback's celebrity friends, such as Mike Tyson, Damon Dash and, most delightfully, Karen Allen, although she barely has any lines. Not as bad as any of Toback's other films might lead you to expect. Three stars.

The Beat My Heart Skipped

French remake of James Toback's Fingers, starring Romain Duris as a tightly wound young man with dreams of being a concert pianist.

Very possibly the best film of the festival. French heartthrob Romain Duris (who looks a little like a Gallic Ewan McGregor) plays Thomas Seyr, a small-time hood who occasionally does a bit of strong-arm work to assist in his father's dodgy real-estate deals. A chance encounter gives Thomas the chance to audition for a place in a famous musical academy and maybe become a famous musician, like his mother. Thomas begins to take lessons with Miao Lin, a Chinese piano virtuoso (Lin Dan Pham), who doesn't speak a word of French - music is the only language they have in common. Meanwhile, he becomes attracted to his best friend's regularly-cuckolded wife, Aline (the gorgeous Aure Atika) and gets caught up in his father's business, whether it's plotting revenge on the Russian gangster that stiffed him on a deal or trying to persuade him not to marry a much younger woman (Emmanuelle Devos in a strangely small part). The film is wonderful from beginning to end - it's beautifully shot and Duris gives a thoroughly engaging performance. There are some superb scenes, particularly the scenes with Miao Lin and Aline, as well as Thomas' amusing initial revenge on the Russian. Highly recommended. Five stars.

Mad Hot Ballroom

Documentary about a New York Ballroom Dancing competition for 10 and 11 year-old boys and girls.

Everyone is saying that Mad Hot Ballroom is this year's Spellbound, but for my money, that mantle already belongs to "the whistling movie" (Pucker Up: The Fine Art of Whistling). However, the similarities between Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound are, on the surface, more obvious, because both films deal with a competition and both films feature children. The main problem is that the pleasures of Mad Hot Ballroom are all the same - it's basically almost two hours of going "Awww, aren't those ballroom-dancing kids cute? And isn't it a shame that some of them will be crack dealers and hos within a year or two?" The main problem is that the film is too long and the focus is too wide - by deciding to focus on three entire classes of children we don't get to know the kids as well as we should. That said, some interesting characters do emerge (one of the teachers takes it all a little too seriously), particularly the sweet-natured, slightly chubby little boy and a couple of amusingly precocious girls. There's also a good balance of highs and lows - we see one class's devastation at being knocked out early on and...well, I shouldn't say anything else but the final competition is nail-bitingly tense. There are also some lovely scenes of the children rehearsing out of school hours on a rock in Central Park - although someone meanly pointed out to me afterwards that these would, of course, have been staged. It's still a very enjoyable film, but it's not as flat-out delightful as Spellbound. That said, I loved the kids enthustiastically cheering each other on and they are terrific dancers - it made me want to take ballroom dancing lessons. Three stars.

Party time

And then I went to the party for Battle In Heaven (one of seven festival films I'd already seen in London before the festival started) and saw Tilda Swinton dancing to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'...