Friday, October 31, 2008

2008 London Film Festival

‘I suppose you’ve a long list of things you want to see at the London Film Festival,’ remarked a classmate at the start of the month. But I’ve learned my lesson. In 2006 I overdid things badly with my press pass, saw too many and nearly drove myself mad trying to review them all. I couldn’t write about films for six months after.

Last year I didn’t even try to review all the films I saw, and prioritised the Chinese ones. This year, apart from the four Chinese features and one short in the festival I saw only one other. It was called ‘Visionz’, a Ugandan film set in a ghetto on the outskirts of Kampala. There was a plot of sorts, with four teenagers headed for a city recording studio, but first they had to buy a blank disk. That took a lot of time and effort. The film was mainly a portrait of life in the teeming slum, alongthe lines of ‘City of God’, across the spectrum from drug dens to revival tents. The music was excellent and the non-professional leads were convincing.
In 2007 the Chinese films were mainly about migrant workers and the effects of rapid change. This year the theme was social disruption among the stationary populace, an exception being the first film I saw, ‘The Warlords’. A historical epic, it had Jet Li making difficult leadership decisions, hindered by Andy Lau as his blood brother. Both were sworn to help the government put down a rebellion on the late Qing dynasty but differed about tactics. They were also in love with the same woman, but that was a side-issue. There was lots of hand-to-hand fighting and blood spattered lenses, an absence of chariots thundering across the plains but plenty of agonising. How do you deal with 4,000 captives when you’ve hardly enough provisions for your own men, for instance? It drew on ideas from recent hits such as ‘Hero’, and ‘Crouching Dragon’ and I’m fairly sure it’ll get a general release. It deserves to.

'The Warlords' was screened at the Odeon Leicester Square on the same night that Gwyneth Paltrow turned for a guest appearance at ‘Two Lovers’, due to start half an hour before on the same night. So I got past all the paparazzi who were corralled behind the barriers and hung about in the foyer after I’d collected my ticket, wondering what was happening. That’s how I got an exclusive shot of Gwyneth answering questions before the screening. Shame it's a bit dark but I'm still learning how to handle my new camera.

I’ll write about the other Chinese films later.

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