BFI London Film Festival content commissioned by Film East. Click on the images to view the original review.
The Worst Person in the World
Julie (Renate Reinsve) is a 20-something with no clear direction in life. Not knowing what she wants to do as a career, she jumps between professions, never really committing to any of her projects. She begins a relationship with a man nearly 20 years her senior, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), who is well-respected in his job and ready to transition to the next phase of his life. With the differences in perspectives and life experiences, Julie and Aksel are on the brink of collapsing, threatening their love for one another.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH:
Trier’s film is a sensual experience. Not because of its sexual nature, but simply because of its intimate rawness and unflinching depiction of the complexities of modern relationships. The film thrives in its quiet moments, forcing you to sit with the pain caused by this funny thing called love, punching you in the gut with its honest retelling of the fallout of a fizzled romance. You can’t help but project your own experiences on these characters, adding even more torment to the viewing experience, by reflecting on your past loves and losses. The Worst Person in the World, in the best way possible, truly functions as a cathartic piece of art, allowing you, like Julie, to let the past go and move onto the next phase of your life.
Where Trier’s film stutters is in its muddled plot, not quite sure what genre it wants to be or whose story it wants to tell. The inclusion of various stylistic choices -- such as voiceovers, shifting timelines, unspecified protagonists -- overbears the tender story; the simplicity of strong acting and powerful dialogue is just enough to keep the film engaging. But perhaps it’s the messiness of the film that gives it its most personality -- for life is rarely ever perfectly constructed.
Yet regardless of its faults, The Worst Person in the World is a cutting, vulnerable and fragile exploration of complicated relationships, delivered to almost perfection by a stunning cast.
Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha
Drive My Car
Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, Drive My Car is a philosophical reflection on love, life and art. After an unexpected tragedy, theatre director Yūsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) travels to Hiroshima to take up an artist residency, directing a multilingual adaptation of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya. During his commute to and from the theatre each day, Yūsuke forms a bond with his designated chauffeur (Tōko Miura), with the two helping each other to come to terms with the pain that haunts them.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH:
Despite its daunting three hour runtime, Drive My Car transfixes its viewer, leaving you unable to look away, completely engrossed in its world. From the moment the film opens, you are dropped into the middle of these characters’ reality, slowly becoming enticed by the lives they have lived and the stories they have to tell. Hamaguchi finds a perfect pace for his film, knowing exactly when to let you breathe and when to challenge your emotional limits. The long tranquil driving scenes contrast beautifully against the harrowing drama, with the monotonous rehearsal sequences providing a welcoming distraction from the narrative’s deep loneliness. But nothing quite compels like the actors’ monologues; each one delivered with steady and uncompromising perfection. Much like Yūsuke’s play, the film’s multi-language approach allows for the bond of humanity to shine, highlighting how much can be said without ever being spoken (making what is said, even more powerful). Drive My Car is an exercise in the artistry of filmmaking, bringing together narrative, acting, cinematography and direction to produce a film that is almost flawless.
Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Andy Jones (Stephen Graham), an emotionally scarred London chef, struggles to maintain exceptional standards at his 5-star restaurant while battling a deteriorating domestic life. Boiling Point follows the staff of Andy’s restaurant during one of its busiest nights, exposing the relationships, dramas and teamwork required to make a restaurant succeed.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH:
A rhythmic exploration of the tensions within a commercial kitchen, Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point teeters on the edge of eruption for its entire 90 minutes. The film’s single-shot cinematography drops you right into the kitchen’s chaos, provoking a bubble of anxiety to begin building inside of you. But what you also get with this intrusive filmmaking style is a glimpse at each mistake that is being made within the kitchen (triple-dipping a used spoon into the tart custard, hot sauce flying all over the staff, raw meat contaminating clean surfaces, hands not being washed) and the microaggressions faced by the serving staff (racists remarks, appalling manners entitled attitudes force fake smiles and apologies on each servers members’ face). You feel for these characters and their hard work, but know that the fatal mistake is just around the corner. Yet the real standout of this film is Stephen Graham’s composed performance. Unlike his usual style of bursting into fits of extreme rage and anger, Graham’s ability to remain calm while on the brink of explosion is awe-inspiring, showing his true place as one of Britain’s finest actors.
Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point and Steven Knight’s Locke
After a mysterious box shows up unexpectedly at their home on Christmas eve, teenager Alex (Paloma Vauthier) and her mother Maia (Rim Turki) are thrown back into the past, being forced to relive Maia’s previous life as a teenager in a war-torn Lebanon. Alex, after stealing her mother’s old journals, audiotapes and photographs from the box, begins to learn about the life her mother once lived, shaping how she understands herself and her relationship with her mum.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH:
Memory Box functions as an exploration of the lives of three generations of women and the commonalities between them. Despite its socio-political setting, the film thrives because of its ability to capture the many layers of being a young woman. The genuine and authentic connection between Alex and Maia -- the hurt each feels towards the other, as well as their never-ending love -- captures the beauty of a mother-daughter relationship, reminding you of how powerful that one simple bond can be.
Yet, it would be remiss to not mention the brilliance of its soundtrack, fully immersing you in Maia’s carefree and selective teenage ignorance, giving the film its auteur style. Although a bit slow at times with some questionable moments to include, Memory Box is a beautiful reflection on the evolution of womanhood, motherhood and livelihood.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s Memory Box and Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis
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