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London Film Festival 2016: Souvenir, Una, Bleed for This, and The Death of Louis XIV

October 8, 2016

I’m dipping in and out of London Film Festival press screenings over the next few days. This is my first twenty four hours.

Eurovision vs pate

The first film I saw today was Souvenir, starring the wonderful Isabelle Huppert. She plays Lilliane, a faded pop star and former French Eurovision contestant. Now she’s middle-aged, drinks too much and works in a pate factory, garnishing loaf-sized tubs of the stuff with bay leaves and dried fruit. All very French and of course, she still looks fabulous because she’s Isabelle Huppert. One day a gorgeous, young boxer joins the pate factory workforce. He recognises Lilliane and, after they begin an affair, attempts to bring her back out of oblivion, which involves Huppert attempting re-entry into Eurovision for France with a fucking terrible, terrible song.  It was slightly absurd, and yet whimsical and enjoyable in a way that only the French can pull off. If this was an English film it would be way more sordid and comical. Imagine Sonia, now living in oblivion, working in a processed food factory in Runcorn.

Melodrama in a packaging depot

Another film that could have been set entirely in Runcorn (not a good thing) is Una. The opening shot is of a young girl, sitting outside a large Barrett-style home. This is Una. Rooney Mara plays an older version of Una, who tracks down the man, Ray, who abused her when she was thirteen (though to be fair, the story is much more complicated than that). Anyway, this man now works in a packing depot, and a large proportion of the film is set in this packing depot. Maybe I’m biased because I briefly worked in a packing depot (in Runcorn) but this is a bit of a shit location for a film. Ray and Una circle each other in the work canteen, and then go on the run around the depot as minor industrial unrest breaks out, and Riz Ahmed and Tobias Menzies come looking for Ray.  Ray then goes home. Despite working in a packing depot and being an ex-offender, Roy now lives in a really middle class house, with a very middle class wife, and despite staying in the depot with Una until they’re locking up, he has time to go home and prepare a huge posh buffet for a party that evening with his wife and a load of their posh friends. This laughable lack of social reality just undermines the dark subject matter. The film was based on a play, and very much feels like it. There are some good performances here, but nothing whatsoever cinematic about the whole thing.

Boxing

After that, I needed a proper fucking movie, so I opted by Bleed for This, which has one of the best titles of the festival and couldn’t really ever have been set in Runcorn (though we did once have an Olympic medal winning boxer) Bleed for This tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza, a champion boxer who suffers a near-fatal car crash and is told he might never walk again, let alone fight. Anyone who has ever watched a sports movie will be able to predict what happens next. All the boxing-movie troupes are here, but Miles Teller, playing Vinny, puts in a good performance. And the fight scenes aren’t bad. The film has little to say other than the usual inspirational, triumph over adversity stuff, but it’s a boxing movie, so there you go.

The wigs! The ruffs!

Quite late last night I watched Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV online. This film could in no way be set in Runcorn. The plot, such as there is one, is that it’s 1715 and the legendary French King is, well, dying. It’s the definition of a ‘chamber piece’, being set entirely in the king’s boudoir. Jean-Pierre Léaud, young star of French New Wave films like the 400 Blows, plays the king, who lies in various stages of agony as courtiers come and hassle him to put on hats, the Duke of York and a French ally come pestering for money, and various doctors prod and probe, including a dodgy guy from Marseille who has a potion made from bull’s sperm.

But the wigs! The costumes! The cinematography, in candlelight, is stunning, at time invoking seventeenth century paintings. It’s a strange, dream-like film that still lingers and I’m tempted to see it again on the big screen, just to see those wigs again. No one in the whole festival is going to have better hair than Jean Pierre Léaud. So far, the best thing I’ve seen.

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