Between 13 and 27 October, London was ablaze with red carpet as the cream of the movie industry rocked up to see a range of new British, European and world films at the 55th BFI London Film Festival. This year’s event played host to the British premieres of major films such as We Need to Talk About Kevin starring Tilda Swinton, the Wallis Simpson biopic W.E. and Michel Hazanavicius’ near-silent film The Artist. George Clooney and Madonna were among the famous faces in attendance. But the event was also a chance for lesser-known directors from around the world to showcase their work.
Here is Sublime’s pick of the best: innovative, compelling and, at times, disturbing films to make us think, discuss and learn...
Nineteen-year-old Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert) lives in a juvenile detention centre just outside of Vienna. He is serving time for committing a violent crime and is surly and taciturn towards staff, which leads to a secluded existence with only himself for company.
So far, Roman has had no success in holding down a part-time job, but is supported by a patient parole officer (Gerhard Liebmann) who is not prepared to give up on his young charge, eventually persuading him to take a role at the city morgue.
The work there is physically and emotionally draining, and his colleagues make no effort to be friendly. But Roman’s life takes on some direction when one day he comes across a body bag holding a woman who shares his surname. It occurs to Roman that this might be the woman who gave him up for adoption when he was just a baby, and he begins to take steps to explore his past.
Austrian actor turned director Karl Markovics follows Roman’s movements in a very close, observational style, and also makes inspired use of sound. Whether it is the splash of the teen hitting the surface of the detention-centre swimming pool, the discordant jangle of the guards’ keys or the dry rustle of the newspaper he turns over with his toes, half-heartedly perusing job openings, these noises add great depth and texture to the viewing experience.
Despite its pared-back approach, Breathing never becomes dull or overly gloomy, and there are moments of dry humour as well as scenes of surprising and therefore almost overwhelming tenderness. In one, we see Roman’s rough, rude co-worker wash and dress the corpse of an elderly lady with an entirely unexpected softness. We sense that Roman, looking on wide-eyed from the edge of the room, is as surprised as we are to see this side of the man’s personality. In turn, through the steady yet confident pace of the film, slowly but surely viewers are rewarded by seeing more and more of Roman’s personality. There is a focus on transport and journeying. We travel with Roman through the harsh Austrian weather on the commuter train, bus, in the car and alongside the plastic-clad cadavers in the morgue van, poignantly realising the vastness his thoughts must inhabit, with so much time for thinking at his disposal. Seeing Roman swim lengths, gliding smoothly through the water near the bottom of the pool, is striking because he is propelling himself instead of being propelled. This seems to symbolise his progress toward self-fulfilment. There are also moments of vulnerability – some of them perhaps unscripted – from powerful non-professional actor Schubert. In one scene, Roman’s roll-up cigarette gets stuck to his top lip and he quickly has to tug it loose. Somehow, working with dead people helps show Roman a path back to life – a way to begin breathing again.
THE IDES OF MARCH
Loyalty, betrayal, ambition and revenge are explored in this sleek political thriller, starring and directed by George Clooney. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, the sexy, charismatic press spokesman to Democratic hopeful Governor Morris (Clooney). Stephen also reports to Paul Zara (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), an experienced campaign manager and strategist who values loyalty above all else. His opposite number is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who is portrayed as a master of backroom shenanigans and is out to poach Myers for his own team. Attractive and well-connected intern Molly Stearns (Rachel Evan Wood) lights the touch-paper, and the volatile mix explodes. The drama mimics the exhausting pace of the political campaign trail, and Clooney makes a timely reference to social media when a canny Gosling senses something is amiss and instructs his minions to ‘check the chatter on Twitter’. ‘These are the big leagues,’ he says at another point. ‘When you f*** up, you lose the right to play.’ His words come back to haunt him in the next scene, when a lapse of judgement leads to one of the film’s most poignant moments. The Ides of March is a tense, compelling portrait of the cut-and-thrust world of politics in which everyone is trying to outwit everyone else. This is, in so many ways, a film of our times.
Husband and wife Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz go head to head with Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly in Roman Polanski’s hilarious and telling satire of middle-class hypocrisy. Adapted from playwright Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage, it follows the attempts of two couples to have a meaningful discussion about a fight between their children. Zachary, the son of Nancy and Alan (Winslet and Waltz) has bashed his schoolmate Ethan with a stick, breaking a couple of teeth. Penelope and Michael (Foster and Reilly) invite Zachary’s parents to their Brooklyn home, but what begins as a cordial attempt to resolve a playground dispute soon turns into an ugly, drunken clash. Nancy and high-powered attorney Alan, whose mobile phone is clamped to his ear for much of the film, keep attempting to leave, but their fixation on keeping up appearances dictates their reluctant return, creating a horribly claustrophobic yet compelling atmosphere. The script is tight and hilarious as both sets fight their corner, using ever more extreme language, an irate Foster yelling at one point: ‘Your son is a threat to homeland security!’ A vase of yellow tulips and some smart coffee-table books are among the victims of a gloriously disgusting stream of vomit (literally) that erupts from Winslet’s carefully lipsticked mouth, while fantastic performances from Foster and Waltz in particular, as well as its slick and intelligent script, make Carnage stand out.
Michael is a 35-year-old insurance salesman who lives in an unremarkable house in the Austrian suburbs. In the opening scenes of Markus Schleinzer’s disturbing film, we see him drive home, put his shopping away, cook dinner and lay the table. But he sets two places. He will be sharing the meal with a ten-year-old boy called Wolfgang, whom he has locked in his cellar in order to sexually abuse him. It is difficult to watch this film without thinking of the Natascha Kampusch and Josef Fritzl cases, and Schleinzer has already attracted criticism for portraying the molester as a seemingly harmless everyman – he is balding, bespectacled and dull, but ultimately normal. Schleinzer’s response is that our desire to see criminals depicted as monsters is only about protecting ourselves, and is an attempt to distance ourselves from them. ‘If you make him a monster, what is he? A mythical creature? But he is not human,’ he has said. Michael (Michael Fuith) goes on a skiing holiday with his friends, and bops along to Boney M’s disco hit ‘Sunny’ in the car after being promoted. It is these details which render him so mundane, and therefore make his actions all the more chilling. He is a kidnapper and a rapist who taunts Wolfgang by saying his parents don’t want their son back. Yet he is also just an ordinary person. Much of the film concentrates on the familiarity and small details in the lives of Michael and Wolfgang, an approach which ratchets up huge levels of tension and discomfort. The journey to the film’s dramatic conclusion is disturbing in the extreme and feels, at times, tortuous, but Schleinzer’s work shines a light on something which should not be suppressed and ignored, but discussed and tackled.