London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 4

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (Paolo Sorrentino)

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest marks an intriguing left turn, not only into English, but from the driving political thriller Il Divo to something more ephemeral in form. After a lengthy first act, This Must Be The Place becomes a road movie about a former pop star (Sean Penn, basically made up as The Cure’s Robert Smith) on a journey through America, looking for the concentration camp guard who tortured his Father years before.

Like most road movies, This Must Be The Place is largely a series of vignettes, as Penn’s Cheyenne encounters all manner of people on the way to find this old man. Some work better than others, but for me this is when the film is best; ironically when it is most aimless. Because Cheyenne is such a profoundly odd character and Sorrentino and co-writer Umberto Contarello’s screenplay is actually very sharp witted, it’s real fun watching him drift from place to place and interact with people, sometimes just for moments.

My favourite section of the film has Cheyenne briefly staying with a waitress (Irish actress Kerry Condon, with a note perfect American accent) and her young son. This could easily have been cloying, especially when the kid asks Cheyenne to play the titular Talking Heads song so he can sing along, but the characters are all so well drawn and played, and the screenplay never quite goes where you expect it to, so the whole fifteen minute sequence is a charming digression.

Penn is perfect throughout; unrecognisable, and lighter and more fun than he’s been in years (maybe since Fast Times at Ridgemont High), there’s a mischievous wit about Cheyenne that acts as a chink of light, breaking through the character’s evident depression. It’s a lovely and very layered piece of acting.

A few things don’t work though; the Nazi plot always feels like it has been teleported in from a different movie, and after spending a long time setting up a set of characters in the Ireland set first act the film almost completely abandons them, which is rather unsatisfying. Still, this is largely a delight, it’s an odd film, and it doesn’t always work, but Penn is great and for most of its running time this is a strange little charmer.
3.5/5

CURLING KING (Ole Endresen)

Perhaps because of the weather, perhaps because of the long winter nights, Scandinavia has something of a dour image, maybe that’s why Curling King; a riotous slapstick sports comedy that owes debts to the likes of Dodgeball and Best In Show, seems such a refreshingly different movie.

It’s about Troels Paulsen (co-screenwriter Atle Atonsen) the obsessive compulsive leader of Norway’s leading curling team, during a match Troels has a nervous breakdown, after which he is comitted for ten years, but when he is released his old coach is ill and to find the money to get him a lifesaving operation Troels must reassemble his team and confront his old rival and his demons.

There’s nothing very unpredictable happening here, even the jokes are rather telegraphed at times, and the plotting is very thin indeed (to be expected, perhaps, at just 75 minutes), but it’s hard to mind because the whole film has such energy and is so well executed. The comic timing is excellent, and the jokes are nicely varied, ranging from droll verbal gags to some lovely slapstick (check out Troels girlfriend’s (Linn Skåber) very awkward pole dance) to some bawdy humour thanks to one member of Troels’ team (Harald Eia).

The performances and visual style are unsubtle, but they work well for the tone of the film, which has an infectious sense of fun about it. Yes, it’s far from the deepest thing you’ll find at LFF, but so what? It does what it does with great assurance, and, frankly, too few films do really silly humour really well these days.
3.5/5

LAS ACACIAS (Pablo Giorgelli)

I was roundly mocked by a few of my peers at last year’s festival for loving a very low key, uneventful, Argentinian film called What I Love the Most (they’re still wrong, it was great), so I went in to Las Acacias optimistic. Formally it’s not too dissimilar from What I Love the Most; two characters, many long takes, few big events along the way, but what this film crucially lacked which that one had for me was a pair of characters I wanted to hang out with, and who talk to each other.

Las Acacias is about a taciturn truck driver taking a young mother and baby from Paraguay to Buenos Aries. For about the first half hour that they are together NOTHING happens. They sit in the truck and they drive, in silence. The baby cries a bit. They drive, and drive, and drive. In the last hour of the film they have a few brief conversations, and even seem to become friendly, but in between these scenes… you guessed it… they drive.

Some will say that this is a lyrical film, the these characters don’t need to talk because their silence says everything. That’s not to be dismissed, many fine films do work that way (Kim Ki-Duk’s 3 Iron leaps to mind), but it didn’t happen for me here. The performances aren’t very expressive, and there is absolutely no drama, and so no dramatic stakes. I nodded off briefly during the film (I checked the details of what I missed with some other critics, turns out they drove a bit) and I’d suggest that there are probably better places to sleep than a cinema, so you can safely miss Las Acacias
1/5

Next Week: I missed Friday’s films, so next will be Monday’s crop: Chow Yun Fat in the brilliantly titled Let the Bullets Fly, Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Rebecca Hall in ghost story The Awakening

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