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London Film Festival 2015 Pt 2 Paula; Partisan; Observance: The Apostate; Aferim! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
11 01 2016

ImageThe New Year is time for a quick mop up of the films I saw at LFF this year that never quite made to review stage! After the two from the archive (here) I saw a clutch of films from young directors from round the world. Most impressive was a modest first film by Eugenio Canevari from Argentina. Made literally for almost nothing, with friends family and neighbours providing not just cast and locations, but also on location catering, PAULA takes clear-eyed and sympathetic look at a spirited children's maid at a crisis point in her life - she is poor, powerless and pregnant.

Not for the first time has a servant figure been used to highlight a society's moral deficiencies, and here the fact that her self-regarding employers depend for their wealth on farming genetically modified crops, which are beginning to be suspected of causing birth defects, adds a bitter dimension. Paula acts more like a mother to her little charges than their languid real mother, and has repeatedly to remind the little girl not to call her ‘Mamma'. She spends her time off hopping onto her clapped out little scooter and taking to the dirt track that leads from the well-appointed house to the other face of Argentina, seeking an answer to her problem. But any solution calls for money and independence, neither of which she has. The film lasts just 64 minutes, and In deciding against a cinema-friendly length, Canevari has given himself the freedom to make it just as long as it needs to be, no padding, and not afraid to let scenes extend like real life. The final scene is a case in point, an afternoon party, hosts and guests lazing around the garden, social chit chat, often bitchy, children at a loose end, the domestics only faceless bodies holding trays of food, pouring drinks, to be summoned then disregarded. Admirably open-ended, what seems to be Paula's sudden lurch away from her shitty life is comparable Charlotte Rampling's glowering farewell to comfortable bullshit at the end of 45 Years.

ImageAriel Keiman's first feature PARTISAN is graced by the charismatic presence of Vincent Cassel, in a role that could have been made for him. He is Gregori, the patriarch and only male of an undercover commune of adoring and compliant rescued mothers and children, hidden away from a bleak outside world - the cheerless outskirts of wonderful Tbilisi providing a compelling landscape). Using his charismatic physical presence Cassel gives us a strong leader, intelligent educator and loving father, almost convincing us for quite a while that he could be a benevolent despot. The unknown state of the world outside -is he actually protecting his flock from some post-cataclysmic situation, or is it just our ordinary world that is morally unacceptable to him? - makes us scarcely able to judge to begin with, and uncertainty is always an unsettling yet delicious state to be in as cinemagoers. Then when the veil is ripped from our eyes, and the contents of the children's rather endearing little rucksacks are revealed, real unease takes over. A strong performance from young Jeremy Chabriel as the number 1 son whose eyes are opened to reality when a new recruit arrives complements Cassel's. PARTISAN goes on release in the UK this week.

ImageAlso from Oz, Joseph Sims-Dennett has produced more unease with OBSERVANCE, with strands of Rear Window and Peeping Tom, and something more viscerally disturbing fresh out of Japanese horror. Like the latter he knows how domestic landscapes can provide the creepiest of scenarios, and when that landscape is half derelict and in need of a damn good clean it's worse. Parker (Lindsay Farris), working for a remote and unresponsive surveillance outfit and grieving after the death of his young son is charged with keeping an eye on a young woman through the window of a derelict flat into her well-appointed one closely opposite. Scariest when you know least, the implausible MacGuffin of an explanation for the inexplicable really didn't matter and it's the images of that flat with its dust-covered fixtures, rotting walls and alarmingly mucky emanations that sticks with you with sufficient viscosity to accompany you home after the cinema has closed.

ImageThe oddly named THE APOSTATE is a diverting mix of warm comedy and serious comment, that surprisingly succeeds. Gonzalo, despite being full of charm and intelligent is also an aimless slacker who has failed or put off most of his opportunities in life. But on one thing he is determined - to renounce his membership of the Catholic Church, which he sees as having been foisted on him without his ageement at baptism. It matters in a ‘not in my name' way, as he realises how much he detests so much they stand for, and he embarks upon a battle with an amiable-seeming catholic hierarchy to make himself officially an unbeliever. Shades of Buñuel are there in the charming but casuistically crafty clerics who lead him a merry dance, with strong and serious ideas about identity no less strongly expressed for the light way in which they are conveyed. Meawhile Gonzalo bumbles through life, missing out on romance with a cousin while failng to notice the potential relationship on his doorstep. Throughout Alvaro Ogalla, on whose actual experiences the plot is based, maintains a highly likeable and credible presence as Gonzalo, bringing the two halves of the story together enjoyably and surprisingly successfully.

That concludes my brief visit to LFF this, or rather last, year, other than a re-viewing of possibly my top film of the year, AFERIM! Which I saw earlier in Romania. Disappointingly, though it has been released on video it has so far not received general release in the UK. If ever a film deserved big screen viewing it's this one. You can read my review here.

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