The 57th London Film Festival 2013 by Mark Wilshin
We’ve travelled the ocean’s waves, gone back in time, into outer space and all across the world – terrified, laughing and crying. But now as we reach the end of this year’s journey through the cinesphere, how to make sense of this overwhelming battery of images, this kaleidoscope of film? And of all the films in this year’s London Film Festival, one of the most memorable is JC Chandor’s All Is Lost a one man’s tale of survival. Not only is it a great one-hander with an unexpectedly sprightly performance from Robert Redford, it’s also intriguingly undidactic. Like Steve McQueen’s stunning 12 Years A Slave it is simply the exposition of one man’s survival. And while there are hints of age-defying arrogance to Redford’s Our Man lost at sea in the Indian Ocean after his sailing boat nets a dent, 12 Years A Slave is a stark exhibition of man’s cruelty in an age where a man’s life could be purchased. Likely to go down in history as the film about slavery (after a run of anti-abolitionist movies this year from Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained under Obama’s administration) it’s an experiential treatment of white supremacy and black captivity with lashings and lynchings which refuses to comment on the racist violence.
Perhaps no explanation is required (or at least none of the religious sentimentality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and certainly, Steve McQueen’s adaptation remains true to the lack of didacticism in Solomon Northup’s published testimony. And yet, it’s symptomatic of the cinema of our times (particularly in Hollywood) which reduces story to the texture of experience, leaving it up to the audience to create its own meaning. It’s a technique that’s existed in European cinema for decades, from the abstract films of Michelangelo Antonioni and the documentaries of Nicolas Philibert, which is now muddying the waters of big-budget films. Like the opening gala Captain Phillips, Jim Jarmusch’s modern take on the vampire narrative Only Lovers Left Alive or Alexander Payne’s tight monochrome comedy Nebraska, the pleasure is very much in the journey, hinting at meaningful themes of global poverty, addiction, family relations and slavery rather than rounding them as narrative destinations. Instead, it’s the spectacle of cinema, in all its joyous, glorious vibrancy – from the sweeping circular motions that open Only Lovers Left Alive to the furious whipping of Patsey by a maniacal Michael Fassbender in 12 Years A Slave.
Or Alfonso Cuarón’s sublime fall to Earth Gravity. Featuring only Sandra Bullock for much of the film, as she slides back into the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s an unusual (near) one-hander, focusing on the 3D spectacle of outer space and its gripping chain of events rather than performance. Of all the other one-handers, Steven Knight’s Locke comes closest – in which Tom Hardy’s unusually restrained performance risks eclipse from its repetitive visuals and phone-based concept-story. Juliette Binoche, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Redford however, have more room for manoeuvre in Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915, John Curran’s Tracks and JC Chandor’s All Is Lost. Of them all Binoche’s is the best – a bleak, haunting portrait of a genius imprisoned in a mental asylum driven into paranoia and despair by the men pulling strings. Robert Redford’s Our Man in All Is Lost is a feat of nimble agility for the septuagenarian actor, dragged underwater, overturned and shimmying up a ship’s mast. And almost entirely without speaking, he moves from methodical carefulness to desperate hopelessness. Mia Wasikowska’s Robyn Davidson almost doesn’t count as a one-hander so much interaction does she have with photographer Adam Driver and the hotel owners and camel trainers that become part of her adventure. Like Locke it’s a concatenation of interactions as she crosses the Australian desert from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. But with a loving black labrador and four grunting camels, she’s a beacon of animal husbandry and an icon of disaffected youth seeking solitude.
Like Tracks, the theme of family relations was everywhere in the London Film Festival, another daughter in Saving Mr Banks, but overwhelmingly between fathers and sons – delicately fostered in Nebraska, violently exposed in David Mackenzie’s nailbitingly tense prison-bound thriller Starred Up or doubted in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father Like Son. But there are also great British films like Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant and Pawel Pawlikowski’s haunting journey into the past, Ida, as well as stunning performances from Paulina Garcia and Luminita Gheorghiu respectively in Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria and Calin Peter Netzer’s Child’s Pose. It was a good showing for queer films with Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger At The Lake, Abdellatif Kechiche’s explosive and daring Cannes winner Blue Is The Warmest Colour, John Krokidas’ literary riot Kill Your Darlings, Xavier Dolan’s psychololgical thriller Tom At The Farm and Tomasz Wasilewski’s sexily defiant Floating Skyscrapers. Of the many documentaries, Nicolas Philibert’s thought-provoking and charming La Maison De La Radio, and Claude Lanzmann’s seminal appendix to Shoah, The Last Of The Unjust. And there’s perhaps no other film at this year’s festival that stands up to all that plastic pleasure of experience and proclaims the vital historical importance of film.
Dog And Wolf Awards
Best Feature Film: 12 Years A Slave
Best British Film: Starred Up
Best Documentary: La Maison De La Radio
Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)
Best Actress: Juliette Binoche (Camille Claudel 1915)
Best Director: David Mackenzie (Starred Up)
Best Camera: Mandy Walker (Tracks)
The 57th London Film Festival took place between 9th and 20th October 2012