London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 18

Two and a half weeks into the screenings, and LFF has really taken off, providing two great films in as many days. That’s a ratio that almost never happens outside festival time (hell, I’m lucky if I see two great films in as many months most of the time).

LAST SCREENING (Laurent Achard)

Horror has often looked to cinema itself for scares, be it a sublime example like Peeping Tom, or a ridiculous one like 1991 guilty pleasure Popcorn (look for it, honestly), the movies have inspired many filmmakers to scare us and, apparently, many psychos to stalk us. Last Screening is a profoundly odd film, it is at once an austere examination of slasher films and a slasher itself, it is both typical of and utterly unlike the genre it belongs to.

Sylvain (Pascal Cervo) runs a cinema which is about to close; a reality he can’t accept both because he is obsessed with movies and because he has a secret beneath the screens. Just as the pressure is building a pretty young actress (Charlotte Von Kemmel) comes to the cinema, and she and Sylvain begin to become friends.

In terms of its story, Last Screening is quite a typical slasher; it’s got a male killer who stalks women and mutilates them in a very specific way, related to his character’s background, it’s got a pretty young ingénue who forges a dangerous connection with the killer and it’s got a selection of incidental victims and even a few flashbacks to fill in the background of the killer. What marks it out is the approach, the gore score isn’t the point here, indeed the killings all take place either offscreen or from a distance, I’m used to this being because a film can’t afford decent gore effects, but here it’s a clear artistic choice, and one that works well, particularly in the first and last murder sequences.

Last Screening isn’t terribly scary, but the elements come together quite well, the performances from Cervo and Von Kemmel are strong, with Cervo effectively playing both sides of Sylvain, and Von Kemmell cute and charming. The artsy style marries interestingly to the slasher movie until the last ten minutes, which are a redundant lurch into the entirely expected that simply serve to hammer home points that we can easily infer from the rest of the film, it’s a shame, because until that point this is an effectively offbeat little film.

3 / 5

CRAZY HORSE (Frederick Wiseman)

Fred Wiseman has been making documentaries for almost 50 years, and he still makes them in much the same way. Like his previous work, Crazy Horse is largely a document of time spent at an institution; in the case the erotic dance club Crazy Horse Paris, which has been in existence for 60 years. Wiseman shot there in the Summer and Autumn of 2009, as a new show was prepared by the club’s choreographer and artistic director.

Though there is construction in the shooting and editing (the 134 minutes of this film were collated from 150 hours of footage) Crazy Horse is remarkably free of imposed structure from its director. There is no narration, there are no captions (aside from the subtitling of French dialogue) and there are no interviews conducted by Wiseman, this is documentary as the act of looking. Obviously this style of film, the fact that we never venture outside the club, that we never know the participants beyond it, and that all we learn is what is seen and heard in the moment, will aggravate some viewers, personally I found it entirely compelling. Wiseman’s choice of moments gives us a wide ranging picture of the club and its people. We see rehearsals, production meetings, financial meetings, costume fittings, auditions, backstage footage, performances and more, all of it beautifully captured by the director’s regular cameraman John Davey.

The film reveals a wry sense of humour behind the camera, Wiseman seems to specialise in finding moments of humour that inform us about people; the dancers laughing as they watch ballet bloopers, the reaction to a transsexual auditionee, and the supremely awkward scene in which the artistic director rattles off a pretentious tirade to a film crew, much to the amusement and annoyance of colleagues. This is a beautiful film too, the Crazy Horse has beautiful design and lighting, and Wiseman and Davey delight in it, and in the beauty of the girls.

I loved Crazy Horse, it will be an acquired taste, but if you like Wiseman’s work then this is yet another brilliant example following (and echoing) La Danse and Boxing Gym.

5 / 5

LAST WINTER (John Shank)

I (like every right thinking person) love Terence Malick’s early films, so when I saw this compared to his work in the LFF brochure I had high hopes for it. Oh well.

Johann (Vincent Rottiers) lives in rural France and works as part of a farming collective set up by his late Father, but times are tough and the rest of the collective wants to start working for an outside company, Johann is the holdout, not wanting to change the way he works, whatever the cost.

Look, I know that as a critic I’m not supposed to use this word, but sometimes you have to – Last Winter is boring. It’s insanely boring, not just because Johann does little more than trudge silently around farmland for much of the film, not just because it is, a few shots apart, so underlit that it is like looking at a movie sitting at the bottom a puddle of dirty water, not just because when something interesting threatens to happen (in the form of the arrival of Johann’s Sister) it is underexplored, and gone within 20 minutes, but because all these things are true. It seldom intrigues at story, character or visual levels, and when it does the result is either a straight up steal from Terence Malick (a scene in which Johann’s barn burns down which is right out of Badlands) or left unfulfilled (Florence Loiret-Caille might be interesting as Johann’s Sister if we had any insight into why she needs looking after or why she seems to form an attachment to a young boy who often hangs around at Johann’s farm).

For the most part I found Last Winter to be grey shots of nothing happening, with a side order of unfulfilled promise, for me, that’s not really enough.

1.5 / 5

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