Tag Archives: Christine Chubbuck

London Film Festival 2016: Day 13

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

And that’s that.  I’m back home now, in Scunthorpe, got in last night after 2 full weeks away in London.  My experience of gallivanting around the nation’s capital for 12 solid days as a professional film critic all by myself with no backup if anything went wrong has come to a close and, aside from traumatising the neighbour of the man I was Homestay-ing at on the first night by mistaking her house for his, the whole thing went off without a hitch.  I didn’t get lost, I didn’t lose anything, I didn’t run out of money like I was terrified would happen, I didn’t get robbed, I didn’t make an ass of myself in front of anybody.  No, it all went fine.  Hell, it went better than fine, it went near-perfectly.  I saw 40 films overall (41 if you count my seeing Free Fire twice) within the span of 12 days, I got into most all of the screenings I wanted to, and I managed to crank out a full-length article for each one of those days, all without my enthusiasm or energy dropping once – aside from that final night where I finished my work, collapsed onto bed, and then slept for an uninterrupted 9 hours.

I did it, in other words.  I really did it.  I had so many fears and anxieties prior to this trip that everything was going to go wrong and that I wasn’t good enough to deserve this trip and what if I hated the experience and what if I wasn’t inspired to work, and none of those mattered in the end because I did it.  Nothing went wrong, I turned in some of what I feel is my best work yet, I loved every second of the whole thing, and, once I’ve taken a day or two to recuperate, I feel fully re-invigorated and ready to start bashing out new pieces left, right, and centre – there’s the Christine/Kate Plays Christine piece I already have plotted out, and I’m finally going to tackle that “Lost Cels” entry I’ve had on the backburner for a year just for starters.  In a rarity for my life, everything was just as I had hoped and I actually pulled it off instead of falling flat on my face.  This fortnight, as previously mentioned, has been the greatest and I currently feel better than I have done in a long time.

But enough about me.  You want to know what the best films of the festival were out of the 40 that I managed to see.  Well, if you are too lazy to go looking back through all my prior articles from the festival in order to figure that out for yourself, then you’ve come to the right place.  I saw a lot of great films during this festival, 2 of which I would especially feel comfortable putting in the upper echelons of my Top 20 of the Year list if both of them come out to the general populace in time, but these are the crème-de-la-crème, so to speak.  They’re also arranged in alphabetical order rather than order of preference both because you should go and read my other articles, and because I’m lazy and really cannot be bothered right now to stamp them into a definitive ranked order.  So, without further delay, here are Callum Petch’s 10 Best Films of the London Film Festival 2016 (That He Managed To See)!

V63A9899.jpgA Quiet Passion: I usually despise costume dramas, and a torturously long and dull pair of Awards Seasons these past two years have turned biopics into a tainted genre for me, but I sincerely could not get enough of Terence Davies’ costume drama biopic of acclaimed-after-her-time poet Emily Dickinson.  Equal parts witty and tragic, Davies manages to walk the fine line between communicating to the viewer how sappingly dull Emily’s life was despite her hopes and wishes without boring the viewer, as he and a tour-de-force Cynthia Nixon performance paint a complex, sympathetic, and all-too-relatable picture of an independent, undervalued, and increasingly bitter woman forced to sit back and watch life happen to everyone but her.  A stunning film.

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Arrival: Nothing came close to Arrival at the London Film Festival, this year.  Many films tried, one almost succeeded, but nothing else was remotely on the level of Denis Villenueve’s instant sci-fi classic that offers something for everyone – hard sci-fi, existentialism, edge-of-your-seat tension, sincere sentimentality – but still has a singular identity of its own.  Containing many of the best scenes of the entire year (I am still in total awe of the phenomenal first contact sequence), Amy Adams’ best work in a long time, gorgeous cinematography from Bradford Young, an essential score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and all masterfully handled by Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villenueve’s impeccable directing, Arrival is one of those films that really does remind you of just how powerful cinema can be.  Smart, heartfelt, astoundingly beautiful, more adjectives that express positive emotions!

chasing_asylum_01Chasing Asylum: Created with the intention of “shaming” the Australian government over their abhorrent and damn-near illegal immigration policies, Chasing Asylum has found itself more vital relevance given the current state of the Western world and our constant dehumanisation and discriminatory rhetoric towards refugees.  An absolutely horrifying glimpse into the brutal and inhuman detention centres purposefully designed by the Australian government to convince those desperately needing help to turn back or stay locked in as prisoners, Eva Orner manages to create an incisive and righteous condemnation of the kinds of policies a worrying amount of other nations are believing to be the gold standard in immigration control without losing touch of the fact that these are human beings being affected by countries who see them as nothing more than statistical parasites.  Mandatory viewing.

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Christine/Kate Plays Christine: OK, so this is now technically a Top 11 list, but the two Christines are so inseparable from one another to me – both inadvertently complimenting and contrasting, justifying and negating each other’s existences – that I can’t talk about one without mentioning the other.  Both tackling the live on-air suicide of local news journalist Christine Chubbuck in July of 1974 in different ways – Christine via an empathetic and highly-accurate depiction and communication of living with depression, Kate Plays Christine via examining the acting method, finding a meaning in an act that none of us can fully understand, and questioning the quietly sadistic reason why we’re all interested in Christine’s story in the first place – the two films are exceptional watches that have refused to leave my brain ever since I saw them.  And, for the record, Kate Plays Christine is the better film, but Christine has resonated with me more, especially with its career-best Rebecca Hall performance.

elle_02Elle: Yeah, this one really grew on me.  Partially because I saw two other films this festival that demonstrated in great detail just how badly this could have gone wrong, and partially because further discussion about it with other people has made the words coming out of my mouth not sound absolutely horrible.  Elle is button-pushing cinema made by the master of button-pushing cinema, but it also never feels exploitative or offensive, the provocations coming out of a desire to make the viewer examine and re-examine their attitudes towards sexual assault, rape culture, and misogyny – thankfully in ways that cannot be reduced to, and never even get close to, “maybe these are good things.”  Paul Verhoeven directs with assured determination, Isabelle Huppert commandingly keeps things on track at all times with a fascinatingly complex performance, and it’s honestly refreshing to watch a drama about a middle-aged woman for a change.  Plus, like I said before, it’s never ever dull.

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My Life as a Courgette: Incredibly sweet, moving, and taking full advantage of the medium of Animation, My Life as a Courgette is a wonderful drama about life in a group home for orphaned, “damaged” children.  It could stand to be longer than the 66 minutes it runs for, but that’s out of a desire to spend more time in its world and with its characters rather than any rushed storytelling issues.  Crowdpleasing but powered by a melancholy undercurrent that doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the harsh reality that these kids are unlikely to ever be lucky enough to find a new home, and at turns very funny and quietly heartbreaking, Courgette is reminiscent of The Story of Tracy Beaker and is similarly a brilliant piece of work.

nocturama_01Nocturama: At the risk of sounding like every clichéd lad’s mag writer whenever they review a particularly nasty piece of work, Nocturama really does not give a f**k what you want it to be.  It is bleak, confrontational, provocative, seemingly-pointless filmmaking that could lend itself to being called “punk rock” if it weren’t so intentionally detached in its direction, even when it is indulging in stylistic touches.  But Bertrand Bonello’s near-masterpiece, if you get it, eventually reveals itself to a searing indictment of youthful arrogance, egocentrism, and pointless rebellion, a repudiation of materialism and indulgence, and a giant middle-finger to any act of authority-bucking born out of boredom.  It is nasty, compulsive, angry, gripping, callous, essential viewing – Spring Breakers as delivered through the medium of domestic terrorism and without any of the sympathy, and just like Harmony Korine’s own near-masterpiece is gonna divide audiences like there’s no tomorrow.  You’ll either get it or you really won’t, but those that do are in for one hell of a film.

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The Handmaiden: The most pure fun I had at the entire festival, Park Chan-wook’s latest is the Park Chan-wook-iest film ever made, and all the better for it.  The Handmaiden is the trashy psycho-sexual drama that Chan-wook was born to make and he puts on one hell of a directing masterclass, here, effortlessly jumping between tones, genres, and a pile-up of twists with skilful aplomb.  Phenomenally acted, gorgeously shot, and refreshingly gay as all get out, The Handmaiden balances being ludicrous fun with a surprisingly insightful condemnation of misogynistic erotica and the patriarchy.  It does feel about 15 minutes too long and is a little slow to get going, but even as the end credits were rolling I knew that the film was one that will only grow on repeat viewings, as prior knowledge of where things will end up shine a light on elements I missed the first time around.  Plus, it’s a fantastic reminder that Park Chan-wook is still one of the very best directors in the business.

« VOIR DU PAYS » Un long métrage de Delphine et Muriel COULINThe Stopover: French film really cleaned house at this year’s festival, as you can probably tell.  The Stopover is an uncompromising drama about PTSD, misogyny, and toxic masculinity, all brought to boil in the military, and all on the verge of bubbling over during a mandated “decompression” weekend in a 5-star Cyprus resort.  Viewed through the eyes of the 3 women in a regiment otherwise entirely filled with men, The Stopover draws attention to just how tiring, draining, and menacing being exposed to this kind of rampant casual hatred from your ostensible comrades-in-arms can be, building up a surprisingly tense head of steam that pays off in a deeply disturbing way during its finale.  This is one hell of a calling card for The Coulin Sisters, who have very bright futures ahead of them if they can make further films even half as good as this.

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Women Who Kill: I had a very hard time deciding between this and Prevenge for the final slot, but in the end I gave the edge to Women Who Kill purely on the basis of Prevenge being basically guaranteed to get its due with the world when it gets a proper release, and Women Who Kill being hella gay.  Sardonic, witty, very New York, but also capable of an unsettling streak when it aims for it, this twist on the “is my partner a murderous psychopath?” subgenre is super-entertaining viewing.  Writer-director-and-star Ingrid Jungermann’s script is on-point, the performances are all spot on, and its specific immersion in the lesbian New York scene provides a refreshing perspective and a diverse and non-stereotypical collection of lesbian characters in film who all feel lived-in and somewhat real.  A real discovery, Women Who Kill deserves to find a wider audience than it inevitably will.

Callum Petch won’t play your hide-and-seek game.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

London Film Festival 2016: Day 8

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by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Since I started this, if I’m being blunt, holiday masquerading as journalism of some description, I’ve felt noticeably better about myself.  I’ve mostly been happier, my anxiety has calmed down to arguably the lowest it has been in a long time, and I’ve had far more energy to write than I did throughout the entire 4 months leading up to this.  It’s not been a struggle to get these articles pumped out every night, like it has been with anything else I have written over the Summer, and I actually send them off feeling good about what I have written rather than nervous or unsatisfied.  I’ve been feeling more confident, less irritable, more focussed, like this trip has given me a purpose again (cheesy as that may sound for somebody who is doing nothing but watch 4 films a day for almost a fortnight).

Not coincidentally, I’ve also been in somewhat of a bubble since I started this thing.  I check Twitter every now and again and have glimpsed more US Election troubles, more stories of our Tory government swinging further right, serious sexual assault allegations in the Film Critic Industry, but that’s all they are.  Glimpses.  Minor beams of reality piercing briefly into this bubble before dissipating again with little sustained impact.  I’ve spent so much of my life, and particularly my uni life, remaining engaged in this socially and politically aware atmosphere, sort of fearful that my not doing so would be relapsing too far into my White Male privilege.  Yet that’s pretty much what I’ve done since I came down to London, and I feel better than I have done in a long, long time.  I know that I’m going to feel guilty about that soon after I go back home, for shutting myself off from the world and feeling happy as a result despite everything else going to Hell outside of my bubble, but for now I’m feeling great, waking up each morning with an enthusiasm and relative pep that doesn’t subside for the rest of the day.  Feel free to judge.

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Anyways, movies!  There are only 2 further days of press screenings left after todays, so I’m trying to savour each of them before my schedule becomes a lot more open and less reliant on stupidly early mornings.  That said, I don’t particularly mind stupidly early mornings when they involve catching films as riotous as Prevenge (Grade: B+), the directorial debut of Alice Lowe, who also wrote and stars as Ruth.  Ruth, much like Lowe at the time of filming, is 7 months pregnant, going it alone after her husband dies whilst mountain climbing, and talks to her unborn daughter like most any mother-to-be.  Unlike most mothers-to-be, though, Ruth’s unborn child talks back to her, and she’s getting quite insistent that her mum set about on a murderous revenge spree against all of those they both feel were responsible for her dad’s death.

It’s a bonkers premise but, much like with Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (which Lowe starred in and co-wrote), it’s a premise that utilises psychopathy as an outlet to explore more mundane and relatable fears – pregnancy (of course), that fear over wondering what’s “best for baby” and how condescending everyone who is not you can come off as when they try and give you advice, pre-partum depression and the anxiety over the potential hypocrisy of self-care, the need to find villains to focus your anger against in your grief over a tragedy, plus general sexism and Othering as both a woman and a heavily pregnant woman.  It all sounds heavy on paper, but Prevenge filters all of that through some absolutely delicious dark comedy, flitting between gory violence, deadpan exchanges, and goofy slapstick on a dime with ease and producing frequent full-on belly laughs as a result.

Lowe’s direction is stylish and assured, switching between artfully shot murder sequences and a cold stifling mundanity for most everything else, the pacing never slipping, and helped along by a perfectly-pitched dark 80s B-movie score by TOYBOX.  The performances are similarly great, with Lowe obviously carrying the vast majority of the film, but there’s also another standout performance from Jo Hartley as an excessively peppy midwife.  Much like Sightseers, Prevenge does wrap up more than a little anticlimactically, although its actual ending is a great piece of tonal whiplash, but it doesn’t dilute the ride up to then in the slightest.  This is a pitch-black yet incredibly well-handled directorial debut.  It’s the kind of work I’d expect from somebody halfway through their career nearing the peak of their powers; for Lowe to knock this out on her first try – and, again just in case you missed it earlier, whilst SEVEN MONTHS PREGNANT – is quite simply astonishing.  Prevenge is already a future cult-classic, and I cannot wait for that cult to embrace it with open arms.

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Bagging on 76 (Grade: D-), meanwhile, feels more than a tad mean and unfair, if I’m being honest.  Nigerian cinema is obviously not Hollywood, and taking a film from there to task for not being up to snuff with the filmmaking quality of America or Britain or France can be undeserved and ignorant of what their limitations are.  But bad filmmaking is bad filmmaking and bad storytelling is bad storytelling, and I cannot let a film as poorly made, ineptly told, and relentlessly boring as 76 slide through on technicalities.  Inspired by true events, the film charts the lead up to the successful assassination of Nigerian Heads of State and its follow-up failed coup through the eyes of Officer Dewa (Ramsey Nouah) and his long-time partner Suzy (Rita Dominic) as the former uncovers the plot, fails to warn anybody in time due to seemingly everyone in the military being in on it, and then falsely jailed afterwards when he is wrongly linked to trying to carry out the whole mess.

There’s a good story here – filled as it is with espionage, corruption, general injustice, and the opportunity to take the pulse of a vital time in Nigerian history – and it’s told atrociously.  The pacing is horrendous, the tension is non-existent, there’s too much dead weight cluttering down the film (particularly Dewa’s beef with Suzy’s similarly beef-prone family that is just utterly pointless), and so badly written that multiple scenes descend into nothing more than a bunch of flat and uninteresting characters all yelling indistinctly over one another about different things.  The filmmaking is even worse with blatant ADR sessions all over the place, multiple continuity issues, ambient soundtracks that keep starting and stopping, and as for the score…  You remember those “dynamic soundtracks” from old Medal of Honor games or Enter the Matrix, where in theory they were supposed to adapt to the action on screen, but in practice just randomly did their own thing and would suddenly fade out for minutes at a time for no reason?  This has the movie version of that.

And it’s all just so boring.  Once the initial rush of watching a film this poorly put together wears off, it quickly dawns that this is a 2 hour movie, it’s going nowhere fast, and you’ve got to sit through every last remaining second, bored out of your mind watching an unengaging and shoddily told story with constant amateur filmmaking errors that quickly get on your nerves once the realisation that they aren’t going away sets in.  Again, it feels unfair to bag on 76, but this is just bad filmmaking that I really disliked sitting through, and I have to call em like I see em.  76 is just not good enough.

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Despite not having any rush tickets or official press tickets, I still managed to get lucky and acquire myself a comp ticket to get into Kate Plays Christine (Grade: A-), another one of my most anticipated films of the festival which, much like the last time I got a comp ticket to one of my most anticipated films of the festival, is also based around the on-air suicide of journalist Christine Chubbuck back in 1974.  But whereas Christine (which you can get my thoughts on here) was a heavily-fictionalised biopic, Kate Plays Christine is a documentary (OR IS IT) following actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares to portray the role of Christine in a biopic.  Researching her, trying to find footage of her, seeing lots of herself in Christine, and trying desperately to find the emotional truth in her portrayal whilst the lines separating documentary and dramatic fiction blur as Kate ponders whether she’ll be capable of pulling the trigger when it comes time to stage the suicide.

My thoughts on Kate Plays Christine cannot be contained to the space allotted in these articles, particularly since, although they are both trying different things with different themes from different angles and arrive at wholly different conclusions, this and Christine make very interesting yet unintentional companion pieces and comparisons with each other – things I shall expand upon in a separate article either next week or the week after.  For now, Kate Plays Christine is a film trying to do a heck of a lot, particularly as it further blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction.  It’s about the acting method, of course, how actors find and leave pieces of themselves in their characters, having to go to some tough places that they can never fully come back from in order to find that elusive emotional truth in their performance.  The film constantly juxtaposes Kate’s raw, uncertain, surprised empathy to Christine in her interviews with the phonier, campier, more put-on performance she’s giving; Kate Plays Christine constantly exposing the artifice of its film-within-a-film, which is explained to be in the style of 70s soap-operas to further demonstrate the artificiality of acting as a whole.

But Kate herself is aware at every stage of her performance not being good enough, of not understanding the point of certain scenes or why Christine would act, react, or think the way she did.  Kate wants to understand, but her research is getting her nowhere, and she’s failing to find any meaning in the suicide that Christine is remembered for.  This is what Kate Plays Christine eventually pivots towards: trying to find meaning in what, to everybody other than Christine, was a senseless, selfish, and meaningless act.  Why did she decide to kill herself, and why did she choose to do so live on air?  Was it some kind of moral stand?  Was it a desire to be seen for once in her life?  Was it revenge aimed at those closest to her whom she believed had slighted her in some way over the years?  Kate doesn’t know and this fact just eats away at her, both because her process requires that understanding and because she sees so much of herself in Christine and it is heavily implied that this fact terrifies her.

And then there’s this simple question that cuts through the heart of everyone who hears it: why do we care about Christine Chubbuck?  By all accounts, she was a depressed, painfully lonely woman with a boring, completely uneventful and un-special life, like so many other women before her and since that nobody makes giant films about.  She is only remembered today, and even then barely, because of how she chose to die rather than as a person in her own right.  Thus, her death carries the risk of being romanticised in any portrayal, even ones that don’t want to do that and instead try to reframe her as a person whom the audience can understand.  Isn’t there something fundamentally hypocritical and uncomfortable about that?  How, no matter where the journey between goes, her story starts and ends with that on-air suicide?  That we still desire to see or recreate the act?  Is that merely a darkly ironic rebuke to one of the potential reasons for her suicide, or is it sadism dressed up in less-objectionable clothes?

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Far less confrontational and complex was the day’s final film, Tickling Giants (Grade: B), a crowdpleasing documentary about Dr. Bassem Youssef.  Once a heart surgeon working in Egypt, what he really wanted to do was be a comedian like his idol Jon Stewart, and ended up being inspired by The Arab Spring of 2011 to finally do just that, launching Al-Bernameg (The Show).  Taking aim at political comedy and openly criticising politicians and the Egyptian media, both big no-no’s in the Egyptian dictatorship, his show blossomed from a YouTube smash to a television sensation, with a weekly audience of over 20 million viewers, only for the constant shifting of Egypt’s political landscape, and the various regimes’ sensitivity to criticism of any kind, to eventually force the show to shut down and for Youssef to have to go into exile.

The film purposefully keeps its tone somewhat light throughout, though, even when the threats against Youssef, The Show, and his staff and family start to become more and more pronounced, vehement, and serious as the years change.  That feeds into Giants’ overall point about the importance of political satire, the requirement for freedom of speech, and how liberals and political activists can never give up hope that things will get better even after they appear to have been defeated.  It charts The Show’s rise when it focusses all of its energies on making fun of the near-universally hated President Mohamed Morsi, and its slow enforced decline once it changed tack and started making fun of the far-worse but mostly-popular Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as if there’s some kind of double-standard response to certain figures being subjected to satire or something.  Tickling Giants is kept from greatness by awkward pacing that oftentimes feels like its near-2 hour runtime, particularly since its more stylish touches disappear by the hour mark, but it is still a very entertaining watch and a strong reminder that political satire is a vital and powerful aspect of society and culture that the world needs more of today than ever.

Also, it reminded me of just how much I miss Jon Stewart.  I’m talking an actual aching pain, here, caused by his absence.

Day 9: 5 Centimetres Per Second’s Makoto Shinkai brings the Japanese smash-hit, and the first animated feature to ever play in Official Competition at the London Film Festival, Your Name to British shores.

Callum Petch is dozing off underneath his sheets.  You can usually find him at callumpetch.com!  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!