It’s that time of year again, and I’ve bought a selection of tickets to London Film Festival titles. For the most part, I’ve avoided films that are going to get a decent-sized release in the near future, and I’ve also avoided titles that are definitely going to streaming – in the main because I’ll be able to see them much more easily later. I’m not saying that there isn’t value in seeing a prestigious Netflix title on the big screen, probably with the director and some of the cast in attendance, but I’m not really keen to pay a premium to see that film at a premiere.
This is one of those films that you really want to know as little as possible about going in. Cameron (Jim Gaffigan) hosts a science TV show for kids on his local station, but it airs in a graveyard slot despite his exuberance and love for the show. In truth, he knows that life is passing him by. He has always had aspirations to work for NASA and perhaps be an astronaut, and his wife (Rhea Seehorn) has the more successful career, with their marriage teetering on the edge. Other characters include his daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) and his nemesis Kent (also played by Gaffigan) who seems to have it all – including taking over his show.
To say any more would spoil your enjoyment, but the film has a lightness of touch and is laugh out loud funny in many places, even as you begin to wonder where it’s going. Writer/director Colin West really handles the story well, and deals with the at-times surreal elements of the film with panache. I really enjoyed Mark Hadley’s soundtrack which cleverly reflects the period setting of the film. Well worth catching.
The Passengers of the Night (Les Passagers de la Nuit)
Charlotte Gainsbourg is Élisabeth, mother to two teenage kids, Matthias (Quito Rayon-Richter) and Judith (Megan Northam). Her husband has left her for a girlfriend, and the three of them live together in brutalist apartment block in Paris where Élisabeth worries about what happens next. Having brought up the kids and survived cancer, she’s never really had a job and now money is a major concern.
Élisabeth does find work – answering phones on a late-night radio station (within the wonderful Maison de la Radio building that houses Radio France) for Vanda (Emmanuelle Béart who I’ve not seen for years but will forever be Manon in Manon des Sources). Into this world comes the young homeless Talulah (Noée Abita) who Élisabeth lets into their home. She clearly has her own issues, and they put her up until she get straightened out.
The film has a couple of time jumps, as our main characters’ lives progress, and we see Paris through a series of archive clips, sequences shot on Super 8, 16mm film or video, interspersed with our lives. The music captures a lot of the (French) pop music of the time, and the film is a tonal piece as much as anything – a study of the main characters.
I found it thoroughly engaging and enjoyed spending time with them. The relationships between the family felt very real, and the film has some beautiful sequences where we just see characters dance, or ride on the back of motor scooters through the Parisian suburbs.
Writer and director Mikhael Hers was present for a Q&A at the end of the film, talking about how important Paris of the 80s was to him personally and about how both it, and the apartment block that much of the film takes place in, were characters themselves. I did worry about the translator that the BFI had laid on for us though, since Hers often answered questions for as much as a minute at a time before he paused to let the translator do her work!
Often at the start of an historical film you get a caption telling you what year you’re in. It’s pretty unusual for that caption to read “45,000 years ago.” But that’s what we get in The Origin, written by Ruth Greenberg and directed by Andrew Cumming. This is a palaeolithic horror film!
We first meet our key characters on a remote hillside as they shelter around a fire. As they tell each other a story we learn that they’ve arrived on a beach and are looking for somewhere to live. Adem (Chuku Modu) seems to be the group’s leader but there is continual bickering between them, especially as Beyah (Safia Oakley-Green) seems to be something of a “stray”.
And then, one night, they’re attacked by something in the night and Heron (Luna Mwezi) is taken from them. The group resolves to find the missing boy, and so begins a classic horror set-up. An unseen monster, stalking its prey one by one.
The atmosphere is terrific, with the wild northwest of Scotland near Gairloch providing an excellent and moody prehistoric setting. (Sidenote: I stayed in the area they filmed just before lockdown, and Gairloch is a nice little town with a small bookshop and café worth stopping at called Buddah By the Sea). There is a journey element to the film, as the characters head towards a distant mountain where they hope to find safety in caves.
This a brutal and minimalist film, and Cumming adds some kind of “authenticity” by working with a linguist to come up with Tola, the fictional, guttural language that all the characters speak. In a post-film Q&A he explained that what he wasn’t looking for was something like Raquel Welch in fur-lined bikini, or having characters look like Daryl Hannah in Clan of the Cave Bear. Certainly in this film the characters are frequently covered in grime and filth.
And I really loved Adam Janota Bzowski’s score for the film which again was in keeping with the feeling of the film’s setting with violent horns and generally helping build the critically important soundscape of the title.
The screening I went to at the LFF seemed to be the premiere with most of the cast and many of the crew in attendance and very much enjoying themselves. The film is a unique piece and definitely worth seeing.