The Selfish Giant really blew me away at the London Film Festival, not only that, I did proper sobs. It was my weepiest film of the festival by quite a long way. And I saw Like Father, Like Son.
Clio Barnard’s follow up to The Arbor has a more naturalistic format, but is just as brave. It feels like the sort of film that could only have been made in a country laid low by austerity and recession, where the government seem to be constantly picking at the sores of those with the least, driving them into desperate ways to keep food on the table. It feels like a heartfelt yowl of pain: this is what we’ve become, take a look. It’s not pretty.
Barnard spoke about the film after the screening and said how although it had begun life as something based more closely on Oscar Wilde’s story, it grew into something quite different, but she thought the spirit of the original tale, about a man who wouldn’t share his garden with local children, was still there. (That original story, by the way, also makes me cry – for reference, see this original 70s animation. Then weep.) For all this, and although Barnard’s tale of two teenage boys is certainly gritty, it’s also funny and incredibly moving and driven by two outstanding lead performances.
Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are best friends. Their families don’t really live on the breadline, they’re underneath it scratching for crumbs and the boys shoulder the responsibility to try and make things better. Neither of them are stupid, but both are struggling at school – Arbor because he’s a bit ADHD and out of control, Swifty because he’s been relentlessly bullied. So when they find themselves excluded and a miraculous money-making opportunity comes their way, they don’t waste any time worrying about the dangers involved. Their involvement with local scrap dealer Kitten (Sean Gilder, not particularly kittenish) gives Arbor a way to make the money his family are desperate for while allowing Swifty to spend time with the horses he loves. He’s the sort of role model they’re both looking for in different ways.
It’s almost like watching a documentary, with performances so realistic that your heart is broken almost before you realise where the story is heading. Barnard directs with an undercurrent of fury and a love for her characters that shines, even in the grimmest surroundings – The Selfish Giant is never anything less than gripping.
It’ll break your heart, make you laugh and fill you with rage: easily one of the best British films of our times.
I had high hopes for this one, Andrea Arnold is one of the most inventive directors around and I was keen to see how she would bring a contemporary edge to the classic tale of love on t’ moors. But I hated it. Really hated it. Firstly, I’m well over jerky cam, it just makes me feel a bit seasick. Secondly, the shots of beetles climbing through the grass etc etc really got on my tits and it felt like they were getting in the way of telling what should be a rollicking good tale. I know they are on the moors, Kate Bush mentioned it once or twice. And thirdly, I know I am being a bit squeamish, but there was way too much animal slaughter for my liking. We can see Heathcliff is a bit of a bad ‘un without seeing him break the neck of a rabbit thank you. And as for hanging all those dogs… enough.
I didn’t feel the passion between Cathy and Heathcliff, which should be the whole cut and thrust of Wuthering Heights – some poor acting and a total lack of chemistry between any of the actors really let this down although not to be entirely negative, the two young leads do have some potential. It gets even worse when the cast changes, and the adult versions seemed to have even less chemistry than the young ones – it feels like you’ve jumped into a totally different story. It’s also fair to note that Heathcliff seemed to do a reverse Michael Jackson, getting darker, growing an afro and a wider nose as he aged.
Such a shame, as the costume drama is ripe for some reinvention, but to be honest if I hadn’t been sitting right by the Heathcliffs I wouldn’t have stayed to the end. Lets hope it’s just a blip on the radar for Arnold, and there’s another Fish Tank on its way.
Joyce Vincent’s body was found in a small flat over the Shopping City in Wood Green after lying dead for three years. Her skeletal remains were surrounded by the Christmas presents she’d been wrapping and the telly was still on, tuned to BBC1. It’s one of those stories you can’t help dwelling on – how awful, for someone to have been lying there all that time, while we were all buying pants and toothpaste just minutes away. So I was keen to see Carol Morley’s film, it seemed like she was as intrigued as I was by the fact that someone can just drop off the radar of life. Like most people, I assumed it must be a loner, a druggie – someone who society had been happy to let disappear.
The truth couldn’t be more different and, setting aside the question of how Joyce might have felt about her life being the subject of such scrutiny, the story – told through her friends and colleagues, is poignant and at times heartbreaking. I was a bit worried about the dramatic reconstructions, which can often be a bit naff, but here Zawe Ashton has done a terrific job of bringing spirit and warmth to the mysterious dead woman. It’s a perfectly judged performance and one that takes the film out of the realm of the usual drama-doc and into something more.
Morley did an amazing job of tracking down Joyce’s story, something her family and even the press hadn’t managed to do. Thanks to her determination, we hear from friends who knew a very different girl to the one left alone for so long, and their stories really make you wonder what can have gone so wrong in her life. We do have a fair idea of course, but there are plenty of unanswered questions – her relationship with her family, the fiance who didn’t want to be filmed, not least the authorities that forgot her. The story is fascinating and unbearably sad and it’s a testament to the skills of all involved that at the end, the blurry clip that Morley finally uncovered of Joyce with Nelson Mandela can’t help but bring a tear to your eye. As the credits play out to a soundtrack of her singing, you’re already wondering if that could happen to you, or someone you know.
Along with Into The Abyss, this is one of the films from the festival that stayed with me long after I’d left the cinema – I wandered through the shopping city today and couldn’t help looking up to the miserable flat she spent her last days in. We never really find out why she ended up there, and why she seems to have cut herself off from anyone who cared about her, and we probably never will. But thanks to Carol Morley, she won’t be forgotten again.
Hottest ticket of the LFF this one – and rightly so, this is another assured film from Steve McQueen which cements him as one of the most original directors out there. His not so secret weapon of course is Michael Fassbender who is perfectly cast as Brandon, a man whose penis drives him – from the embarrassing discovery of his download collection on the office pc to the random pick ups he manages quite easily thanks to that ten zillion watt shark like stare he’s perfected. Pants off at 30 paces, basically.
We never find out exactly what’s behind the addiction but we do get a fair idea once Brandon’s sister arrives – Carey Mulligan isn’t my favourite actress, but she’s great here and her central performance of New York New York is genuinely moving. The secrets in their past aren’t revealed, but they are there, and they are dark. These are siblings that are tied together with damage.
McQueen’s direction is immaculate, New York has never looked so beautifully dangerous, and I could have watched Fassbender running through the streets at night for hours. Should have won the LFF’s best film by a mile. Probably not one to watch with the family at Christmas though.