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🎬 #40 Not The London Film Festival Films.
This week I’ve been at the London Film Festival - lots of great films, but there’s lots being written about them everywhere, so instead I’m going to talk about two films from two of the filmmaker’s back catalogues [thanks Pete].
Happy choosing, happy viewing.
FILM ONE: THE SQUARE
2017 Dir Ruben Östlund
Having seen his latest, Triangle Of Sadness, at the film festival and seeing him introduce the film - he’s exactly the kind of guy you might imagine would make the kind of films he makes. A showman able to get people excited about sitting through very uncomfortable, yet hilarious and disturbing insights into human nature. Able to say, look how weird we are, look at the state of things - all of which we kind of know but would rather not acknowledge.
If you haven’t seen The Square, it’s his second in a loose thematic trilogy that explores cringey truths about what it means to be a man and the expectations society might have about the fact you have nipples but not breasts.
The Square was his first Palm D’Or winning film - his second is Triangle of Sadness and with that, he becomes the youngest filmmaker to win two. If Triangle is his most accessible and just plain fun film, The Square is the stepping stone to up to that. It tells the story of Christian, a gallery curator, who’s setting up a controversial new installation known as The Square and the consequences that flick out from that.
Östlund’s treatment of the art world and those characters within it is austere, stylish, attractive - just like the art. And yet ridiculous if you look at it closely, take it at face value. It’s a celebration of the pretentious art world and a takedown of it all at once. The most intense sequence could be watched as if it were an installation at the gallery Christian works.
Östlund’s worlds are always slick, always seem like places you’d want to be, but hate to be at the same time. The actors’ performances are as compelling as they are repelling. Claes Bangs and Elizabeth Moss nail the curator and journalist role respectively - getting the rhythms of the screenplay’s many drawn out silences just right. A space for that observation to come to life, a frame for the awkward. Stick it on and stroke your chin, when it’s not laughing in disbelief.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 31 mins of my precious life watching this? Walk slowly around the film with your hands behind your back as you take in a piece of modern art about a piece of modern art.
*Available for free on MUBI and BFI Player and for a small rental fee on Amazon, YouTube, Curzon and Apple TV.
Fact: Östlund storyboards every frame himself in photoshop, probably, I imagine, while sitting in a beautifully designed Swedish house with nice art on the walls. Not really a fact, but he knows exactly how to inject a great track into a scene - ref his use of ‘Justice’ in the driving scene.
FILM TWO: BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE).
2014 Dir Alejandro G. Iñárritu
My sister described this film as ‘the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life’ luckily that doesn’t reflect my opinion of this film - which is in a word, great!
Yeh, some said it was pretentious, overly artsy, but I don’t agree - in a similar way to The Square, it’s both a celebration of the artistic process and a takedown of it. It knows that the process is absurd and so you have a man floating in the middle of a room as the opening shot. It tells you the kind of film it is from the very opening.
The man playing the floating character (Riggan) is Michael Keaton. He embodies a washed up, once bankable star, trying to mount a successful play and the impact that has on his mental health and those swirling around him. So not only do you have a beautifully choreographed ‘one shot’ effect film about the creative process of choreographing a great play, you have a once bankable star playing a once bankable star trying to show the world that he has real artistic talent. Like Mickey Rourke in the Wrestler, this is a self-referential stage to ignite the comeback of a great talent. And not only does Riggan craft a great performance, Michael Keaton does too. Everything we know him for lends even more weight to the struggles of him trying to achieve something great. His Birdman is the reflection of his Batman.
This is also Inarritu’s most dazzling, up to this point, [Bardo, his latest is on a whole new level] employing Lubeski’s ever following lens to put us into the world of the theatre. The director’s imagination blends reality with film, theatre with the real. And it’s down to his talent that this is executed at a scale that makes it even more impressive. You buy into the struggles Riggan’s having even more because of this scale - his most successful role in a blockbuster is haunting him the way a blockbuster would - exploding CGI and giant mecha birds. He’s disparately trying to escape it, he’ll do anything to impress and be known as something more than Birdman.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 59 mins of my precious life watching this? Watch the curtain go up on a tale of imagination, what it takes to get a vision out there for people to see and the struggles of an actor trying to impress an audience who know him only for one thing.
*Available for free on Amazon and Disney and for a small rental fee on Sky Store, YouTube, and Apple TV.
Fact: The amazing score by Antonio Sanchez, made almost entirely from percussion, was disqualified from that years’ Oscars because it failed to fit their criteria. They appealed the decision multiple times but didn’t get it overturned - I think it’s one of the best scores of the last 10 years.
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