Apparently I didn't take into account quite how brainmelting it would be trying to do LFF the way I have this year. *note to self for next year: TAKE MORE TIME OFF WORK...!*
My brain is still kinda off running around the plains of Armenia/a spooky Cumbrian boarding school circa 1921, and yet there are, like, patients to deal with and letters to be typed. Obviously I may as well start with the interesting stuff (so, completely backwards then)...
The last double-bill kicked off with The Awakening, which at some points had the potential to be utterly fabulous, and at other times was content to tick along as a kind of sub-The Others/Sixth Sense bog standard Ghost Story With a Twist. The fabulousness, as best seen in the first 20 mins, was Rebecca Hall dashing about Edwardian London being Florence the Kickass Lady Ghost Hunter/Writer. Really, we do need more of this particular bit immediately. Whenever the film got occasionally annoying after that, I distracted myself by theorising about a TV show where she disproves hauntings/fights crime on a weekly basis - preferably with Dominic West's adorabubble severely traumatised WW1 vet/kindly teacher Robert as her sidekick.
Honestly, at that point it was a little bit like Sherlock with an awesome girl. And GHOSTS. What's not to love?
Except then the ghost story sadly was... a little unfocused. And while it had the kind of twist that means you have to immediately go back and watch the entire film again, it wasn't exactly earth-shattering. Stuff like this is necessarily very hide-bound by genre expectations, so there was the usual creepy-creepy stuff being seen through murky glass and around corners and up stairs (they did love that stairwell, it was in at least half the scenes..!). There was very effective use of the peephole that spied on the bathroom from a classroom - but mostly not for its ghostly potential as such, as for what it did to the characters. It's kind of crass to just say that these are haunted people anyway as there had been so much death in the preceding decade, but they are damn interesting. Really I wanted more of them just.. being people rather than them being spooked and broken some more (because hell, they were already pretty damn broken to begin with - Florence several times over for all that it doesn't show at first).
And it was quietly romantic, with a remotely hopeful ending, which is insanely unusual for this kind of film (The Others? Sixth Sense? Nope and nope again).
I would slightly take issue with the writer/director's comment recently that 'it's important that Florence be the one to save herself'. Hmmm. I will say they make a big thing of Robert not saving her at most key moments towards the end (let's face it, Robert does drag her out of the pond, but otherwise he can't seem to move fast enough to be helpful), but Flo really doesn't save herself. Someone else does, several times over. Possibly the very last time she theoretically saves herself by persuading him to help her, but does that really count...?
And just to be super-extra-spoilery....
The absolute cracker at the end is where Robert limps back, having manfully disposed of the nasty caretaker's corpse, and it's just like, sorted my dear! At that point I was in vague hysterics at the fact that he just trotted off and buried the slimy bastard singlehanded with no qualms at all, partly because he despised the guy for being a draft-dodger, but mostly because Flo was the one that accidentally killed him in self-defence. Actually, I think my exact reaction was GIRL YOU SHOULD HANG ONTO THIS ONE. Ahem. Unquestioning disposal of one's girlfriend's accidentally acquired corpses is a vastly underrated romantic gesture, I'm just saying.
The thing being is that this film is still in my head a couple of weeks later - for all it's many imperfections - and it's out on Friday here.. Armistice Day, nicely. So I may have to go see it again.
The very last festival film this year was HERE (the fact that it's 'arthouse' is about all the explanation you're gonna get for the vaguely unnecessary use of CAPSLOCK, but what the hey).
Actually it was utterly lovely, for all that it risked being fairly alienating, and I have pretty much zero knowledge of Armenia (except about the Turkish massacre about a century ago, oddly enough). There's a nice American boy doing satellite map engineering in Armenia (part of which is disputed and has never been mapped properly), and he runs into a slightly flighty Armenian photographer who's back home briefly on a grant and slightly reluctant to reconnect with her family, who can't really understand that photography can be an actual career. And then they run into each other again, by pure chance, and take a little road trip to the disputed territory... Well that's one version of it.
Really it's about how difficult it is to connect with someone you find utterly intriguing, if being independent is your default setting - and you really love your job, and your work is being compromised by the things you have to do to stay near someone else. And it's about familial dependency (however reluctant), and linguistic dependency - I adored the things they did with the translations and subtitles being used or not depending on how confused Ben Foster's character had to be at the time, and the scene where Gadarine starts to describe herself as his 'translator and guide' to the border guards, and then momentarily freaks out at what that might actually mean. Armenia is rendered quite lovely, and there is the most adorable drunk scene (even if the resulting epic hangover does have all kinds of consequences later).
As a kind of an art-installation-within-a-film, there are several inserts commissioned from various film artists, along with a Peter Coyote narration of a mapmaking myth that is quite stunningly lovely at times, and occasionally a little distracting from the main story. The best part of this is when Gadarine falls asleep near the beginning surrounded by a sea of polaroids, and the flickering reels feel like you're watching her dreams. And it is kinda Arthouse-with-a-capital-A but not in an alienating way - best of all there's none of the dreaded arthouse signature, the cut to black halfway through a scene (most irritatingly in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Mitsuko Delivers this year). I get what it signifies, but it just always always feels lazy and pretentious to me (ok, I'm a cinematic philistine, whatever...). Stories should have an ending, I'm shallow like that. HERE ends on an awesome map and a kind of hopeful heartbreak, but it does end beautifully. Kudos to Braden King, I was worried about what the hell exactly it was going to be, but I wound up sitting there rapt, and I honestly didn't want it to finish.