Phil on Film Index

Sunday, October 31, 2010

LFF 2010 - The Final Round-Up

Sawako Decides (Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa)

This quirky Japanese comedy occasionally threatens to get a little too quirky, but the film is kept in check by some deft direction and a charming lead performance. Hikari Mitsushima plays the title character, a character who is actually defined by her indecisiveness. In her fifth year in Tokyo, she is currently on her fifth job and fifth boyfriend, and while Sawako knows she is downtrodden and that her life is passing her by, she just accepts this state of affairs with her regular catchphrase, "It can't be helped." She believes she's just an average person who doesn't deserve anything better, but she has to get her act together when called back to the small town she grew up in, where her father is dying and the family clam-packing business is quickly going down the tubes. While the insecure and unassertive Sawako can be a frustrating character at times, Mitsushima subtly gives her a beguiling innocence and openness that keeps the audience on her side, even while Yûya Ishii's storytelling can get a little wayward. The director has a lively, sharp visual style and while Sawako Decides occasionally feels baggy, Ishii does build momentum towards the climax nicely in the second half, and there are a couple of very funny sequences along the way. He also neatly rejects some anticipated clichés by basing Sawako's triumphant final act around her embracing, rather than overcoming, her underdog status.

Essential Killing

Vincent Gallo plays a Taliban fighter in Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing, but that fact is only really relevant for the first twenty minutes of the movie. After he has been chased, captured and interrogated by US forces in Afghanistan – remaining stoically silent throughout – Gallo manages to escape and disappear into the snowy mountains, with troops closing in behind him. At this point, the character's loyalty or religious beliefs have little bearing on his actions; what we are watching here is a man desperately trying to survive, by any means necessary, in the harshest of conditions. With Gallo giving a riveting wordless performance, Skolimowski gradually forces his character into a primal state; kill or be killed, find shelter, eat whatever materials are available. The director frequently frames his actor against the vast emptiness of his surroundings, and some of the images captured by Adam Sikora's camera are staggeringly beautiful. Essential Killing is a striking, lyrical film, driven primarily by a raw animal energy, but also blessed with surreal visions, moments of madness and even a touch of tenderness (offered by Emmanuelle Seigner's kindly mute). This is a stunningly bold and enigmatic film, and I already want to see it again.

Dear Doctor

There's a touch of Ealing comedy about the premise to this beautifully measured Japanese film. In a small village, local doctor Ito (Tsurube Shôfukutei) is regarded as something of a saint, but what they don't know is that he's actually a fraud, with no medical qualifications whatsoever. Miwa Nishikawa's film operates on two narrative levels, cutting between Ito's story, as seen through the eyes of his young assistant Soma (Eita), and the later police investigation into his subterfuge. This director was a former protégé of Hirokazu Kore-eda, with whom she shares a light directorial touch and a deep humanism, finding a perfect balance here between comedy and heartfelt emotion. Shôfukutei has a great comedian's face, and he gives Ito an appealing, impish charm, but he also excels in portraying the character's gradually encroaching guilt and shame over his actions later on. Our attachment to him complicates the film's emotional aspect; what Ito did might have been wrong, but he has brought real joy and relief to his patients, in a way that a more conventional doctor may not have done. Dear Doctor is a really wonderful comedy, creating a group of strong, likeable characters and unfolding a story that successfully manages to amuse and move the viewer. The only time Nishikawa come close to stumbling is right at the end, when she threatens to drag the climax out unnecessarily, but when you see the way she finally does bring her film to a close, it's hard to begrudge her decision.

127 Hours

After closing the 2008 London Film Festival with Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle is back as the festival's headline act once again with his latest effort. He has brought the same sensibility and visual style to a very different story, one in which the central character is static for much of the movie. 127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), a thrill-seeker whose climbing adventure in Utah's Blue John Canyon ended with him being trapped in a crevasse, his arm pinned to the wall by a huge boulder. The title refers to the length of time that Ralston was trapped, a significant portion of which consisted of him slicing through his own arm with a small penknife in order to free himself, but what surprised me about 127 Hours was how quickly the film dealt with that particular part of the story. However, even if it's over quickly, the sight – or, more accurately, the sound – of Franco cutting the nerve in his arm is one that has stayed with me for days, and it was by some distance the most disturbing moment of the festival. Unfortunately, Boyle lets the tension slacken elsewhere, with his desperate desire to keep the film visually exciting at all times resulting in too many flashbacks, gimmicky shots, dream sequences and cutaways, all of which were less impactful than the simple reality of a man trapped and alone. Still, 127 Hours is moderately gripping stuff and it benefits greatly from both its genuinely stirring climax, and from Franco's outstanding performance, with his charismatic and emotionally charged display maintaining a sense of focus that Boyle sometimes lacks.


Well, that didn't last long. My appreciation for Gregg Araki, built up through his films Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face, slowly drained away as I watched his latest film. Kaboom is partially about pretty young people fucking, and it's partially about a cult that wants to bring about the end of the world. On the whole, I found it pretty tiresome. I won't deny that there are a couple of amusing moments here and there, and the actors are effective enough, with Juno Temple (despite a wavering accent) and Roxane Mesquida (as a sex-mad lesbian witch) standing out, but the film's strained attempt at wackiness never really takes flight. Araki's direction is too sluggish for the film to develop the kind of crazy energy Kaboom really needs, and instead it just plays out as a load of tedious random incidents. It's repetitive, empty and really rather annoying, and a disappointing step backwards for a filmmaker who was just starting to grow on me.

Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo)

What better way to end a film festival than with an insane tale of murder, sex and butchery in Japan's tropical fish industry? Sion Sono's Cold Fish is apparently based on a true story, although how much of this is drawn from reality and how much was invented by Sono's sick imagination is open to debate. Mitsuru Kukikoshi stars as Shamoto, a timid owner of a small fish shop who has a chance encounter with Murata (Denden), the proprietor of a tropical fish megastore that completely overshadows Shamoto's family-run business. Murata offers to help Shamoto, giving his rebellious teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) a job as one of his scantily clad assistants, but soon he is involving the bewildered Shamoto in murders, and forcing him to assist in the very gruesome dismemberment and disposal of body parts. Cold Fish is the blackest of comedies, and Sono's twisted sense of humour is vital as it prevents the film from simply becoming a nihilistic wallow in human depravity, which it frequently threatens to do so. Sono doesn't hold back from exploring his characters' darkest sexual and rage-filled impulses, but his film remains weirdly compelling, thanks in part to the outstanding ensemble work. Cold Fish builds to an outrageous, blood-soaked finale that has to be seen to be believed, with Sono displaying no pity for these characters as they slowly destroy themselves.

Final Festival Thoughts

So, that was my London Film Festival 2010, and it was a great couple of weeks. The standard was generally high; from the 61 films I saw there were very few out-and-out stinkers, and I ended up with no walkouts and only one case of falling asleep during a screening. However, despite seeing more films than in any previous year, I was disappointed that I didn't get to see everything I would have liked. I'm not too worried about some of the bigger pictures, like The King's Speech and Biutiful because I know I'll have plenty of opportunities to catch those before they get released, but it was frustrating to hear friends and fellow filmgoers rave about 13 Assassins, Blue Valentine, A Somewhat Gentle Man, Taipei Exchanges or Cold Weather, and not know when (or if) these films will receive distribution. It's so hard to predict these days what festival films will receive a proper cinema release; in fact, I remember thinking that Balibo, one of my favourite films from the 2009 LFF, was a dead cert for a wide release, and yet it still hasn't seen the light of day.

Those disappointments aside, the 2010 LFF was a major success. I met some great people and saw some great films, and it's just such a pleasure to spend a couple of weeks watching an eclectic range of cinema surrounded by people who share your passion. Searching for common themes among the films I saw, there's no question that this was a particularly strong year for documentary filmmaking, whether they are straightforward documentaries or films that daringly experiment with the form. Otherwise, the most interesting trait I noticed in the films I watched was that many of them dealt with themes of loneliness or alienation, or of communities somehow cut off from the world at large: Meek's Cutoff, Adrienn Pál, Archipelago, Aurora and Of Gods and Men could all fit this loose description. Also, it was great to see so many filmmakers I admire stepping up their game with bold, ambitious films and, in some cases, producing the best work of their career. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Kelly Reichardt, Olivier Assayas, Mike Leigh, Jerzy Skolimowski, Cristi Puiu and Peter Mullan all left the festival with their already considerable reputations enhanced.

And that's about it. Below you can read my final take on the best and worst of the 2010 London Film Festival. Roll on LFF 2011!

The Best of the Fest
1 - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2 - Meek's Cutoff
3 - Waste Land
4 - Essential Killing
5 - Carlos
6 - Tabloid
7 - Another Year
8 - Dear Doctor
9 - Poetry
10 - Adrienn Pál

The Next Best: The Arbor, Archipelago, Aurora, Boxing Gym, Catfish, Hunting and Sons, The Kids Are All Right, Neds, Of Gods and Men, The Tillman Story.

The Worst
1 - Brighton Rock
2 - Blessed Events
3 - West is West
4 - The Nine Muses
5 - Howl
6 - Film socialisme
7 - Miral
8 - Southern District
9 - Kaboom
10 - The Taqwacores

Saturday, October 30, 2010

LFF 2010 - The Penultimate Round-Up

The Tillman Story

Like his last film My Kid Could Paint That, Amir Bar-Lev's The Tillman Story is a documentary about truth and deceit, but this time the deception is on a far greater scale. Pat Tillman was a celebrated football player who gave up his lucrative career to sign up for the Army and serve in Afghanistan, where he was killed in 2004. Initially, the Tillman family and the media were told that he had been killed by enemy fire in an ambush, and he was posthumously honoured with the Silver Star and Purple Heart, but the reality was that Pat Tillman had been killed by friendly fire, a fact that was quickly swept under the carpet. The US government used the death of Pat Tillman as propaganda, and The Tillman Story follows the tireless efforts of Pat's family – particularly his determined mother – to set the record straight, and Bar-Lev's skilfully structured storytelling exposes the cover-up while also painting a moving portrait of a decent, honest family standing up against the government that has betrayed them. The film is compelling, shocking and infuriating; a damning indictment of the government and a mass media that is complicit with their lies. As a piece of filmmaking, The Tillman Story is a significant improvement over Bar-Lev's last film, piecing together the various strands of the story with intelligence and clarity, and its climactic scenes – that show us a group of four-star generals squirming and weaselling their way off the hook – are utterly enraging.

A Brighter Summer Day (Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian, 1991)

The BFI's archive section in the LFF programme is not just for revivals of classics from cinema's earliest decades, as this restoration of a 90's masterwork proves. Edward Yang's four-hour drama A Brighter Summer Day has rarely been seen in its complete form since its original release in 1991, and its long-neglected print required significant work before being presented at the festival, but watching it in its entirety really is a wonderful experience. Set in the early 1960's, the film tells the story of Taiwanese teens searching for an identity by joining street gangs, and Yang sets this narrative against the backdrop of a country coming to terms with a politically uncertain future. He paces A Brighter Summer Day perfectly over the course of his epic running time, gently guiding the film forward through a series of events which gradually accumulate in emotional power without ever seeming forced. There are fine performances throughout from the young cast, with Zhen Zhang giving a confident turn in the lead role and Wang Qizan stealing many scenes as Elvis fan Cat, and the violence that these characters become embroiled in occurs suddenly, being all the more effective for the director's understatement. With Yang's careful compositions and outstanding use of lighting, A Brighter Summer Day is a pleasure to watch, and not a single scene seems extraneous as the director flawlessly unifies the personal, historical and political elements of his film with the elegance of a master storyteller.

The First Grader

This is conventional, tick-the-boxes filmmaking and you can predict its narrative arc from frame one, but The First Grader is a solid crowd-pleaser nonetheless. It's based on the true story of Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo), an 84 year-old who turned up at a local school one day when the new Kenyan government announced free education for all. Undeterred by the teachers' insistence that the offer is aimed only at children, Maruge stubbornly turns up at the school gates every day, dressed in uniform and clutching his pad and pencil, until sympathetic teacher Jane Obinchu (Naomie Harris) final relents and allows him to join her class. What follows is a fairly standard tale of inspirational uplift and the desire for education, but director Justin Chadwick also includes some surprisingly dark and violent scenes from Maruge's freedom fighter past, which are jarring against the generally upbeat images of happy African kids running around in slow motion. The First Grader certainly looks smart thanks to Rob Hardy's strong cinematography, but the film is really grounded by its two leads. Naomie Harris gives a sensitive and appealing performance, while Oliver Litondo brings a rheumy-eyed dignity to the role of this unlikely hero.


Is there something in the water in Greece? For the second year running, that country has provided one of the LFF's oddest films. Attenberg is very similar in style and tone to Dogtooth, and there are connections between the two films, as Athina Rachel Tsangari produced Giorgios Lanthimos' brilliant movie, and Lanthimos himself shows up here in a key role. The film also reminded me of Celine and Julie Go Boating, with its focus on two childlike young women cocooned in their own little world. Marina (the amazing Ariane Labed) lives with her dying father and after watching recordings of Sir David Attenborough's documentaries together (the title is a mispronunciation of his name) they like to impersonate animals; at other times, she and her only friend Bella (Evangelia Randou) practise their increasingly outlandish silly walks up and down the garden path. There is a risk that all of this might come off as weirdness for the sake of weirdness, and the major failing of Attenberg is that, unlike Dogtooth, it never gives us a context for its characters' strange behaviour. The film therefore seems to lack a sense of purpose, and only towards the end, as Marina comes to terms with her father's passing, does it feel like Tsangari is trying to give this strange movie some sort of focus. Having said that, every sequence in Attenberg is fascinating to watch, with the performers attacking their roles with relish and the director's use of her actors' bodies being particularly impressive. It might not add up to much in retrospect, but Attenberg is certainly an absorbingly strange piece of filmmaking.

Adrienn Pál

Lonely, obese and stuck in a deadening job on a hospital's terminal ward, all it takes is a name from the past to stir Piroska (Éva Gábor) out of her inaction. When a patient appears on her ward with the name Adrienn Pál, Piroska is reminded of her childhood friend, whom she lost contact with abruptly twenty years ago. Piroska remembers them as being inseparable as children, but as she speaks to fellow classmates and teachers in a bid to track her companion down, conflicting accounts emerge, and we begin to suspect that Piroska has idealised this relationship as a way of escaping the dreariness of her real life. Adrienn Pál is an odd kind of detective story, with director Ágnès Kocsis following her protagonist as she clumps around in her wooden shoes, and the outstanding camerawork gives us a kind of visual representation of the character's inner journey. Kocsis plays around with repetitive rhythms, such as Piroska sitting in front of her bank of monitors, taking a corpse down to the morgue, or idly munching on a slice of cake, and her film is often mordantly funny. There's a terrific running gag in the way diegetic music is utilised, and many scenes are small masterclasses in staging and execution. If I wanted to pick holes in Adrienn Pál I might say that it's a little too long for the story it tells, but this is such an accomplished piece of work, and Gábor's quietly affecting performance is so impressive, it feels churlish to criticise.

Life, Above All

Life, Above All is a powerful but flawed study of an African family torn apart by AIDS as well as a wider examination of the ignorance that many Africans still have when it comes to dealing with the disease. Despite being slight in stature, Khomotso Manyaka gives a commanding performance as Chanda, the young girl who has to hold together a family already reeling at the start of the film from the death of her infant sister. As both her mother and alcoholic father succumb to the disease, Chanda's family begins to be viewed with suspicion by the rest of the community, particularly as she remains close friends with Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane), a child prostitute. Director Oliver Schmitz is tough enough to address these issues in a clear-eyed fashion, but he also has a weakness for melodrama, and Life, Above All's storytelling sometimes comes off as preachy and unlikely. The film's strengths lie in its excellent cinematography and its very strong performances, with Harriet Lenabe bringing some welcome fire and conviction to her role as Chanda's no-nonsense neighbour. Life, Above All is a commendable and quite touching attempt to address a serious issue in an accessible manner, but it's let down by its climax, which feels a little easy and weak.


Sofia Coppola's latest wallow in ennui and alienation caused some controversy when it picked up the top prize at this year's Venice Film Festival, and now I've seen Somewhere, it's easy to see why its victory provoked complaints. The film is empty and aimless, and not even up to the level of the director's own Lost in Translation, which is broadly resembles. As the movie star drifting through hotel rooms and having sex with models every night (the poor guy!), Stephen Dorff gives a faintly monotonous performance, and it's left to Elle Fanning, as his 11 year-old daughter, to bring some natural vitality to the picture. She has been foisted on him by her mother to take care of until she leaves for summer camp, and while they have fun in each other's company, the relationship between the pair doesn't really develop in any interesting way. The film just floats along with a few nice scenes and a few flat ones; Coppola is capable of capturing the odd graceful moment, but she's just as likely to leave a scene hanging with no discernible purpose or direction, and in Somewhere her success rate is about 50/50. Even the film's better moments weren't strong enough to leave a lasting impression on me, and this vapid film started to escape my memory almost as soon as the credits rolled. One thing did stick with me, however, and that's the film's ending, which is laughable.

Friday, October 29, 2010

LFF 2010 - The Seventh Round-Up


Although it might initially appear to be yet another unremarkable tale of disillusioned youths and gang violence, Peter Mullan's portrait of Glasgow's 'Non Educated Delinquents' is distinguished by Mullan's typically forthright direction and some interesting storytelling decisions. Mullan's protagonist is John McGill (impressive newcomer Conor McCarron) a youngster who dreams of escaping his troubled background through education, but who gradually finds himself being sucked back into the violent world inhabited by his older brother. Mullan makes some interesting points about class prejudice and the failings of the education system letting John down; he is humiliated in school when his intelligence and desire to learn is perceived as a superiority complex, and he is treated with barely concealed disdain by the snobbish mother of a classmate. As a filmmaker, Mullan can be blunt and unsubtle, but he can also be wonderfully daring and imaginative, and Neds develops in some extremely unexpected ways, with surreal fantasy sequences being incorporated into the authentic depiction of 70's Glasgow. This is a tough film – Mullan doesn't hold back on the violence, and I found one sequence deeply chilling – but it is also a complex, compassionate and resonant one, and it closes with one of the most remarkable final shots of the year.


As I watched Miral, I felt that there's a multitude of great stories to be told about this period of history, but this really isn't one of them. Even Julian Schnabel seems unsure about the tale he is telling, as he tries to pick his way through fifty years of Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The title character, played by a horribly miscast Freida Pinto, doesn't even appear in the film for much of its first half, as Schnabel labours over the backstory, first introducing us to Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass), who established a school for Palestinian orphans. This is an interesting story in itself, but Miral then shifts the focus to Nadia (Yasmine Al Massri), a runaway who ends up in jail, before fellow prisoner Fatima (Ruba Blal) picks up the narrative baton. Finally, attention turns again to Nadia, who it transpires is Miral's mother, but by this point in the film I was struggling to retain any interest. After the unexpected success of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Schnabel's old faults return to haunt his filmmaking here, and Miral is hobbled by a ponderous, preachy tone, distracting cameos (Willem Dafoe and Vanessa Redgrave add nothing to the film) and a flashy visual style that fails to cohere with the material. One or two scenes work, and one taut scene in which an act of terrorism is set against a scene from Polanski's Repulsion feels like it has been lifted from another, better film, but generally it just drags aimlessly. Miral's cause is not helped by that fact that Freida Pinto, when she finally does turn up, fails to show the depth and conviction required to give her frustratingly passive character some weight.

Dark Love (L'amore buio)

This is a fascinating, provocative story – and, according to the director, a true one – but it's badly fumbled in the execution. Antonio Capuano's film explores the fallout from a gang rape, with imprisoned teen Ciro (Gabriele Agrio) being the only member of the gang who feels guilty enough to confess. While inside a juvenile jail, Ciro can't stop thinking about the victim Irene (Irene de Angelis), who is slowly trying to piece her life back together, and he begins writing her letters as Capuano cuts back and forth between their stories, to observe the way they both respond to the event that has defined them. Unfortunately, his approach seems at odds with the subject matter, particularly in the flashy visuals and stylised cinematography that is often evident in Ciro's story. His handling of Irene's half of the picture is more sombre, but it feels too vague and lacking in insight, and the film as a whole is oddly passionless, which is both unexpected and disappointing. The only scene in Dark Love that really had any impact for me was a late, silent exchange of glances between Irene and her mother, and I could have done with more moments like that.

The Great White Silence (1924)

One of the undoubted highlights of last year's LFF was the archive gala screening of Underground, and this year the archive gala has again provided a very special festival experience. The Great White Silence is a documentary first produced in 1924 by Herbert Ponting, who travelled with Captain Scott on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition as the team's official photographer. The footage he returned with is extraordinary, particularly in this sensational restoration, and one can only wonder what audiences eighty years ago must have made of the penguins, seals, killer whales and alien landscapes that Ponting's camera captured. He was a daring cameraman – at one point hanging over the side of the ship to view the prow cutting through ice – but he was also a wonderful storyteller, and in The Great White Silence he has fashioned a compelling narrative. The film skilfully details the challenge faced by the expedition and finds time for amusing asides, before the tone darkens as Scott and his men trudge slowly towards their death. At its LFF gala, The Great White Silence was presented along with a new score by Simon Fisher Turner, whose haunting music – incorporating vocal work, sound effects and an effective use of silence – creates an eerily effective soundtrack. This is both a marvellous film and an invaluable historical document, and it will be released in cinemas and on DVD by the BFI next year.

Nothing's All Bad (Smukke mennesker)

Sex and loneliness are the driving factors behind the stories told in Nothing's All Bad, a bleakly funny Danish film that weaves together the lives of four disparate characters. The tone is set in the film's prologue, with a meeting between an emotional man and a prostitute provoking uncomfortable laughter, and more often than not, director Mikkel Munch-Fals successfully walks the very fine line between offending and amusing. He is greatly assisted by four excellent performances: Sebastian Jessen as a young hustler; Bodil Jørgensen as a lonely widow; Mille Lehfeldt as a young woman recovering from a mastectomy; and Henrik Prip as a man struggling to control his sexual perversions. The way in which Nothing's All Bad forms links between these characters and draws them together can often feel contrived and unconvincing, but almost every scene is superbly staged and performed, and the director creates numerous powerful moments. Nothing's All Bad did make me despair at times with its grim view of humanity – particularly of its male characters, almost all of whom are driven by sex alone – but the film also made me laugh a lot, and its clever, awkward ending is actually quite sweet.

Black Swan

In Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky's exploration of how women can't realise their artistic potential until they get laid – the director expresses his lead character's paranoia and duality by constantly surrounding her with mirrors. That should give you an idea of the kind of subtlety on display here, but while Black Swan is often a profoundly silly film, and one that had me laughing incredulously at times, it's also a vivid and recklessly enjoyable one, and there's certainly something admirable in Aronofsky's go-for-broke approach. At the very least, there's a great performance to behold here, with Natalie Portman giving the display of a lifetime as ballet dancer Nina, who has to unleash her darker side to play both the White Swan and the Black Swan in impresario Thomas Leroy's (Vincent Cassel) production of Swan Lake. As she does so, she is plagued by doubts, viewing sexy newcomer Lilly (Mila Kunis) as a threat and wilting under the pressure of her harridan mother (Barbara Hershey). For a while, Black Swan is gripping and hysterical, but at a certain point it just becomes hysterical and impossible to take seriously. Aronofsky serves up some striking visuals and there's an amusingly unhinged cameo from Winona Ryder (as a past-her-best star), but he's too obvious and clumsy a filmmaker to fully exploit the film's psychologically tortured aspect. Black Swan is certainly a ballsy and trashily entertaining picture, but it ultimately ends up feeling like a cluttered mash-up of The Red Shoes, Suspiria and Mulholland Drive, without ever being half as good as any of them.

Poetry (Shi)

Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine still hasn't received distribution after premiering at the London Film Festival in 2007, so let's hope his beautiful new film receives the attention it deserves. Poetry tells the story of 66 year-old Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee) who is suffering the early stages of Alzheimer's. In an attempt to keep her mind active, she signs up for a poetry course, and her teacher encourages her to start examining the world around her – an apple, water, a tree – to truly see these objects in a way she never has before. While this main narrative is unfolding, a secondary story emerges about Mija's sullen, uncommunicative grandson who was guilty of a terrible crime, and Poetry continually sets its central character's search for beauty against the dark ugliness of everyday life. Lee's storytelling is elegant and subtle, with the film playing out at a measured pace that allows room for intriguing minor characters, like the policeman who tells dirty jokes at poetry recitals, or the elderly stroke victim that Mija cares for. Yoon's central performance as the curious, wistful Mija is wonderful, subtly portraying her struggle to come to terms with her grandson's actions and the new sense of understanding she achieves through her poetry course. Lee handles the film's complicated emotions with skill and gracefully draws his various narrative strands together for an exquisite and deeply moving climax. Will Poetry be the first of Lee Chang-dong's films to receive a UK cinematic release? I certainly hope so.

Film socialisme

Watching the latest Jean-Luc Godard film felt like an act of duty rather than an experience I was actively looking forward to, and as expected, the time I spent with Film socialisme gave me very little pleasure. I'm not sure what exactly Godard is trying to say here, or if in fact he has any real interest in communicating with his audience; the dialogue in the film only comes with minimalist subtitles that the director describes as "Navajo English." These texts boil the spoken language down to a handful of key words – "watch no tell time," "nocrime noblood" – and it quickly becomes clear that there's little point in trying to follow the film via this method. Instead, I focused on Film socialisme's images, which is where Godard occasionally shines. The HD photography used in the film's opening section, which takes place on a cruise ship, is vibrant and beautiful, and I found something to enjoy in this section even if I didn't understand who these people were or what their purpose was. The middle section, which takes place at a gas station that houses a llama, is very dull indeed, as is the final collage of sound and image, at which point I was frequently checking my watch. While I'm sure Godard has plenty to say about the Middle East or copyright infringement, the manner of his filmmaking made it impossible for me to connect with his ideas, and I often felt frustrated with the arrogant disdain that he appears to be displaying towards his audience. What we've got here is a failure to communicate, but I still feel I must protest at the news that the film will be available with full English subtitles when it is released in the UK next year. Whatever you think of Film socialisme, it is what it is, and this decision does seem to undermine the picture's unique nature. I wonder what Godard's view is on that?

Route Irish

After revealing an unexpected whimsical side in Looking for Eric, Ken Loach's Route Irish feels like a more natural fit for the director, as he uses the template of a thriller to examine the human cost of the war in Iraq. Mark Womack gives a strong central performance as Fergus, a security contractor whose best friend Frankie (John Bishop) has just been killed in Baghdad. According to the authorities, Frankie was just "In the wrong place at the wrong time," but Fergus smells a rat and begins an investigation that exposes deception and a cover-up, which eventually puts his own life in danger. While it's good to see a film considering the innocent Iraqis caught up in the crossfire, there's an uncomfortable disconnect between the polemical points that Loach wants to make and the structure of Paul Laverty's screenplay. At his best, Loach is still capable of orchestrating powerful and realistic sequences, and he pulls off a couple of memorable scenes here (a shootout in Iraq, a horrible torture scene), but Laverty's script often feels generic in its construction, particularly towards the end of the film. Likewise, the relationship between Fergus and Frankie's widow Rachel (Andrea Lowe) feels forced and poorly defined, the bigwigs in sharp suits are too obvious as the villains of the piece, and many scenes simply end with people shouting at each other. I still think Loach is a filmmaker capable of greatness and a rare veteran director who has retained his passion and integrity, but I'd like to see him working with other scriptwriters to see if they can provide him with the kind of complex, substantial material he deserves.

Brighton Rock (Surprise Film)

Rowan Joffe will tell you that his Brighton Rock is not a remake of the classic 1947 adaptation, but a new interpretation of the novel. However, it's not easy to forget the Boulting brothers' great version while watching this dismal misfire, particularly when the final scene so closely apes the original, which strikes me as a tacit admission that it couldn't be bettered. Otherwise, Joffe gets just about everything wrong, starting with the casting of Sam Riley as teenage gangster Pinkie. Adopting a silly, scratchy voice for the part, Riley never comes close to suggesting the malevolence or calculation that this character requires, and his inert central performance is a handicap the film can't overcome. Surrounding Riley, the performances from Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis are merely adequate, while Andrea Riseborough struggles gamely to give Rose some personality. Joffe seems determined to impose his own directorial personality on the material as well, but his overheated style and gimmicky shots come off as self-conscious, while the dreadful, overbearing score crashes away constantly, and the decision to update the story to the 1960's seems pointless. Nothing coheres, and the film just plods forward with a complete lack of tension and menace. A few months ago, I watched the original film when the BFI screened it on a nitrate print, and it is so much darker, sharper and – dare I say it – so much more modern than this lacklustre and completely disposable picture.

Monday, October 25, 2010

LFF 2010 - The Sixth Round-Up


Before his debut film screened, director Philip Koch introduced Picco by telling the audience that it had been inspired by both real-life events and Alan Clark's Scum, and the comparison to that 1979 film is apt. This study of a young prisoner's experience in a German borstal is a brutal affair, and one that eventually steps over the mark. At first, I appreciated a lot in Koch's depiction of life inside, particularly the way he detailed the pecking order among prisoners, with every man finding someone weaker than them on which to prey, and in the early stages at least, the director smartly focuses as much on psychological and emotional abuse as he does on physical abuse. One of the most powerful scenes in the film involves a prisoner being held down while his letters from home are burned in front of him. The film primarily focuses on four youths sharing a single cell, and the performance from Constantin von Jascheroff, as the newcomer who has to learn the tricks for survival and find the right allies, is impressive. However, Koch eventually loses control of his film when three of the inmates decide to finish off the weakest of the group, and this long final section is dragged out to an unendurable length. It is sickening and cruel, and Koch ultimately fails to justify this unedifying spectacle, which leaves the film feeling like a purposeless wallow in sadism. Koch's formalism is impressive and Picco really is a well-made film, but to what end?

Young Girls in Black (Des filles en noir)

The subject of teenage suicide is handled with skill and sensitivity in Jean-Paul Civeyrac's Young Girls in Black. It opens with Noémie's (Elise Lhomeau) first suicide attempt, which she survives, but one year later she is still feeling unhappy and isolated. Her only friend is Priscilla (Léa Tissier) who shares her bleak outlook on life – particularly when she finds her boyfriend has been cheating on her – and together the pair skulk around gloomily together, clad ominously in black. When Noémie impetuously announces during a class project that they intend to make a suicide pact, the girls initially shrug it off as a joke, but the seed has been planted, and the rest of the film details their tentative and uncertain movement towards this grand final gesture. Civeyrac's intimate style draws us into the world of these characters, intensifying the emotions they feel and making us empathise with them. Lhomeau and Tissier are compelling performers, and the director makes great use of their sullen screen presence, with both actors bringing complexity and authenticity to their parts. Throughout the film, Civeyrac treats his thorny subject matter with frankness and intelligence, and he builds to a genuinely shocking moment halfway through, before closing in a fashion that is both ambiguous and affecting.

Happy Few

Aside from one outlandish sex scene involving bags of flour, which feels like it was intended as the movie's signature set-piece and thus feels rather forced, Happy Few is a fairly low-key affair – perhaps a little too low-key for its own good. Antony Cordier's film focuses on two happy, middle-class couples (Marina Foïs and Roschdy Zem/ Élodie Bouchez and Nicolas Duvauchelle)who begin the film as friends, but whose relationships with one another becomes complicated when the idea of wife-swapping is raised. At first, everything is rosy, with the couples happily laying down ground rules and enjoying sex with another while remaining committed to their spouse, and Cordier handles these scenes in a fashion that is both witty and erotic. It's all too easy to see where this is going, though. The emotional entanglements and petty jealousies that eventually puncture the hedonistic fun are predictable, even though the actors (particularly Foïs and the ever-excellent Bouchez) try to give them as much weight as possible. The life slowly drains out of the picture, and we get the sense that there simply isn't enough dramatic meat here for a satisfying feature, which leads to some awkward and unconvincing filler sequences, like the silly business of the characters relaying ambient sounds to each other down the telephone. It's a shame, because Happy Few began as if it was going to develop into a significantly more interesting film than it eventually became.

West is West

West is West is hardly a sequel that the British public was clamouring for, but here it is nonetheless. In 1999, culture-clash comedy East is East became a surprise hit, and it was a moderately charming and amusing feature, but West is West has little charm or wit, and few ideas. The focus in the early stages of the film is on teenager Sajid (Aqib Khan) who, as the product of a mixed-race marriage, is catnip for the school bullies. He spends his time playing truant and shoplifting, and in a bid to straighten him out, his stern father George (Om Puri) decides to take the reluctant youth to Pakistan for the first time so he can learn about his roots. After some early tension, Sajid makes friends with a local boy (Raj Bhansali) and is educated by a wise elder (Nadim Sawalha), so while his issues are being simplistically resolved, the film switches its attention to George's travails, as he has to deal with both his first wife (Ila Arun) and his English wife (Linda Bassett). West is West unfolds in a tiresomely monotonous funny/sad/funny/sad fashion, with the ceaseless and often unbearable score attempting to prod the required emotions from us throughout. Puri, Arum and Bassett try to derive some feeling from their triangular conflict, but it's generally pretty broad, unconvincing and uninteresting, and director Andy DeEmmony's TV background is evident in the film's bland visual sense. This is the stuff of sitcom, not cinema.

The Princess of Montpensier (La princesse de Montpensier)

The Princess of Montpensier is a resolutely old-fashioned piece of filmmaking, but there's nothing wrong with that. Bertrand Tavernier's new film is set in 16th century France and features a group of male characters who are all besotted by the titular princess (Mélanie Thierry). As religious war rages in the background, her husband (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), his confidante (Lambert Wilson) and the passionate rogue she truly loves (Gaspard Ulliel) all fall under this beauty's spell and eye each other suspiciously, with Tavernier keeping the plot ticking over and developing the tension nicely. The film is handsomely shot by Bruno de Keyzer, who is responsible for some wonderful lighting, and Tavernier's direction is lively, with some effective battle scenes and a couple of enjoyably swashbuckling swordfights. The performances are strong too, with Lambert Wilson's subtle performance being particularly impressive, but perhaps only the female lead falls short. She has a striking look, but she lacks presence and never really brings the sense of vitality to her character that the film is really looking for. The Princess of Montpensier could also be accused of lacking the passionate thrust one might expect, but while it admittedly never really got my pulse racing, I though it was a very enjoyable affair, and one that made light work of its lengthy running time.

Boxing Gym

This is the purest form of documentary filmmaking imaginable. Boxing Gym has no narration, no music, no interviews, no voiceover and no onscreen captions. Frederick Wiseman just sets up his camera in Lord's boxing Gym and watches life happen in front of it. We see people hammering away at punching bags, sparring for a couple of rounds in the ring, and standing around discussing training techniques or chatting about their lives. Proprietor Richard Lord ensures the atmosphere is convivial and welcoming, with one regular telling another that anyone showing up with an ego or an attitude would be quickly shown the door, and his gym has serious fighters training alongside children, middle-aged men and new mothers looking to lose a few post-pregnancy pounds. As well as capturing the gym's sense of community, Wiseman also spends a lot of time observing the repetitive work that goes into honing a fighter's speed and strength, and these sequences give Boxing Gym a strangely compelling sense of rhythm. The film is over an hour shorter than Wiseman's previous work La Danse, and it feels exactly right in terms of length and scale, with Wiseman taking us outside the gym towards the end to follow Lord and a group of trainers on a run around a parking lot, before closing his film with some lovely final shots.

Our Life (La nostra vita)

In Our Life's early scenes, director Daniele Luchetti allows us to spend a lot of time with Claudio (Elio Germano), his wife Elena (Isabella Ragonese) and their two children, so when tragedy strikes this family, it hits like a hammer blow. The film then follows Claudio, a very likable, working-class character, as he tries to make a better life for his children but gets himself in all sorts of trouble as a result. Similarly, it sometimes feels like Luchetti is taking on too much as he tries to blend multiple narrative layers with stabs at social commentary and melodramatic sequences, but in the end, he just about gets away with it. Much of the film's success is down to Germano, whose performance as a decent guy in over his head is charismatic, witty and emotionally charged, and he keeps us riveted as the sometimes rickety plotting creaks around him. Luchetti is guilty of some rather obvious contrivances as he places obstacles in Claudio's path and then strains to clear up the mess – with a climax that feels too easy – but it's hard to argue with the effectiveness of Our Life when it keeps you interested and invested in the lead character's fate for its entire running time. It's a pretty standard family drama, but it works.


What can I tell you about Catfish? To get the most from this very weird documentary (if that is indeed what it is) I'd advise you to read as little as possible about it beforehand, so its surprising revelations and bizarre twists retain their full dramatic effect. That's how I approached Catfish, and during the course of the film I was gripped, amused, frustrated, confounded and ultimately moved, before being left with plenty of nagging questions as the final credits rolled. The film has been directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, who began filming their Ariel's brother Nev when he struck up an internet correspondence with 8 year-old Abby and her family. Abby is an extremely talented artist who started making money from painting Nev's photographs, and Catfish initially seems like it is about to enter into My Kid Could Paint That territory, but it quickly gets much weirder than that. After Nev has become friends (over the phone and via Facebook) with Abby's mum Angela and her beautiful older sister Megan (with whom he strikes up a flirtatious relationship) the three friends start to smell a rat and investigate this family a little further, finally revealing an astonishing truth. That's about all I can say without spoiling Catfish's gobsmacking climax, and there's a lot of entertainment to be had in watching Nev, Henry and Ariel pull apart the story they've been sold as they try to discover who exactly Abby, Angela and Megan are. There's something too neat about the way some of these events occur, which led me to believe that Catfish was something of a hoax, but by the end of the film I didn't really know what to think. If Catfish is a hoax then it's a truly remarkable one, and if it's all true then it becomes an even more amazing and troubling piece of work. Either way, it deserves to be seen and discussed.

LFF Notes

I'm massively behind on my LFF updates as we move into the final week, but hopefully I'll have everything covered by the coming weekend. My next review round-up will include films both good (Neds, Poetry), bad (Miral, Film socialisme) and truly bloody awful (Brighton Rock – the indescribably disappointing surprise film choice), while my final few days at the festival should include screenings of Essential Killing, Attenberg, 127 Hours and Cold Fish.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"I really wanted to activate the audience" - An interview with Ruben Östlund

After developing his style through skiing movies and documentaries, Swedish director Ruben Östlund made his feature debut in 2004 with The Guitar Mongoloid and immediately established himself as a filmmaker who enjoys unsettling and provoking his audience. His new film Involuntary deals with the pressures of conformity and the challenges faced by those brave enough to go against the flow, with the director exploring these themes through five separate stories. His dark humour and exacting formal style might make Involuntary uncomfortable viewing, but it's also a compelling and fascinating film, and I met Ruben Östlund recently to talk about it.

Were the five stories in Involuntary inspired by things that had happened to you or incidents that you had heard about?

Almost all of them were things that I myself had experienced or someone close to me. The teacher is based on my mother, who actually did this experiment on the students at her school, and she was also a person who had trouble not saying what her beliefs were, which ended up having consequences for her.

So it was your mother's experience that inspired you to think about the difficulty of people voicing their true opinions and the pressures of crowd situations?

Yes, in a way. For me, Involuntary is a dramatic film about group behaviour, and I really wanted to highlight something that is very fundamental about being a human being. We are herd animals, so I wanted to show different situations where we act in a certain way because we are afraid of losing face in front of each other. That's why the film takes place in five different kinds of groups, one is with 13 year-old girls and one is in a 60 year-old's birthday party. I guess this is something we have to deal with our whole lives.

I did read one article that suggested you were specifically commenting on aspects of Swedish society, but do you see it as more universal than that?

I really think it's universal. I think some people don't want to be connected to this kind of behaviour, so a Frenchman might say it is very Nordic, or they might think it applies to Great Britain or Canada and so on, but I don't think so. I think it is a typical human behaviour.

It must be interesting for you to get reactions from audiences at the different festivals around the world.

Yeah, but I think a lot of the reactions are connected to the aesthetic of the film. For example, when we were screening it in LA, the audience was very confused and didn't understand it at all, but I think that had to do with the way the film is made. I really wanted to activate the audience and I really wanted to make a film where they have to think all the time to get the film. So often in cinema you know exactly what to think of the characters - this is the good one, this one is evil - and you are so secure in the audience. I really wanted people to be insecure and I wanted them to decide themselves who is doing the right thing and so on.

Did you settle very quickly on these five stories or were you thinking about other incidents that could have been a part of the movie?

There were some stories that are not in the movie now. I made a short film about a peer group on a bridge, when one of the youngsters says he is going to jump from the bridge to show he is brave. It is called Autobiographical Scene 6882 and it's on YouTube if you want to see it.

That's a catchy title.

[laughs] Yeah, I know. From the beginning that was something that was supposed to be in the movie, but it had quite a lot of success as a short movie so we decided to lift it out. In the beginning, I was also very inspired by an event that took place in Sweden during the 1800's. It was an engineer called Andreas, and he died when he tried to fly a hot air balloon to the North Pole. The whole crew died, and you can read in his diary in the days before lift-off that he didn't believe in this project at all. He was totally convinced that it was going to be a catastrophe, but he was so afraid of losing face socially he stepped into the balloon, and this highlights the theme of the movie for me. We are so afraid of losing face we are willing to risk our own lives.

Often when I see films with multiple stories they end up crossing paths and I was glad you resisted that temptation.

Mostly when it happens in movies it's just a little bit silly, I think. The structure of the film becomes so obvious, and you can see that when they were writing the film they were thinking, "OK, so how will I get this character over here?" [laughs] The reason there are five stories is to highlight a variety of behaviour, and if I could have highlighted it a better way with only one story I would have done so, but I needed five different groups to cover it.

The thing I found interesting in the schoolteacher story was the fact that this woman did have the courage to stand up against the crowd, but then she became the outcast for her actions.

I think this is something that is very important with the film. The solution is not to say, "You should stand up for your beliefs" because if you do so then of course it will have consequences. Perhaps you can't be part of that group that you belonged to in the same way as you did before. I think the film is very humorous, but my goal was to make it humorous and tragic at the same time, so one second you should laugh and the next second you should feel horrified. One example of those scenes is with the teacher, when she says, "Please look at me when we talk. There are three of us around this table, you have to look at me as well." This is something I heard my mother say when I was ten years old and we were having dinner with the neighbours. I can still remember her saying that.

You mentioned that the aesthetics of the film may be difficult for some viewers to handle, and I wanted to ask about your shooting style, with your use of fixed angles and the way you cut off parts of the characters and the images. Can you talk about how you developed that style?

One reason is to activate the audience, of course, because if something is happening off screen you have to create pictures yourself. Also, it's a way to step away from the psychological aspect. I was interested in the situation the characters were in and they way they act in certain situations, so I wanted the bodies to represent human beings not the specific characters. Maybe that's why I decided to cut the heads off.

Your use of distance is also important in that respect. Some scenes are uncomfortably close while others are shot from very far away.

I think I really wanted to take away emotions. If you are looking at something very tragic like this you don't get so emotionally involved, so you can look at it in a different way, in a more behaviouristic way.

How did you work with your actors to get very natural performances from them? A lot of them are non-actors, is that right?

A lot of them are dancers, actually. All of the main characters are on stage on one way or another, and one of them is actually a famous actor in Sweden and she plays the public view of herself. What I think is most important is that the actor should feel comfortable in front of the camera and they should have the opportunity to make errors. There will be no catastrophe if they make ten takes doing the wrong thing. The main goal is to make them feel as comfortable as possible, and that's when you can start to do the takes that are really good, I think.

The one real actress you have is Maria Lundqvist, playing a version of herself. How easy was it to persuade her to take on this role?

She really liked the script and the idea of the coach incident, and because she is seen in Sweden as a very humanistic person who stands up for her beliefs, a person with strong morals, I thought it was extra interesting to put her in a situation where she is acting in this cowardly way. There is a 12 year-old boy who gets the blame for her breaking something, and perhaps you don't see it in the movie but the boy had Down's syndrome, so I wanted the public view of her to go in a total opposite way.

The funny thing about that coach trip is that it begins with such a stupid, trivial incident, and then it turns into this epic confrontation.

Yeah, exactly, and this is actually something that happened to a friend of mine. He was in the French Alps, and when he was on the toilet in the coach he accidentally pulled the curtain so it broke. He tried to put it up but he didn't manage, so he actually left it there and went back to his seat. A little further on the bus stopped and they got something to eat, but when they got back into the bus the driver was really angry, and even though he didn't say it, he was aiming it at a group of youngsters at the back of the bus. What I was really interested in there is that you have a couple of seconds to say "Sorry, it was me" but if you miss that chance it just gets harder and harder to confess.

You began as a documentary filmmaker. Do you feel that background has helped you as you moved into fiction filmmaking?

I think so. I think just watching existence through a camera makes you very focused on how we behave and what this very naturalistic way of acting looks like. My first feature film was called The Guitar Mongoloid and I didn't want the audience to know if they were looking at a fiction or something that was just filmed on the other side of the street. So I think it just makes you more aware of how people act, and you become more aware of all of the details.

I was reading about our production company Plattform Produktion, and I'd just like to finish by asking you about the ideas behind some of the films you're developing. It seems you're focusing on first-time filmmakers and very experimental projects.

When I made my first film The Guitar Mongoloid, critics in Sweden said it was not a real film, and they were using the word 'film' in a totally wrong way. That's because we have so many expectations of what film should be, that when it doesn't look like that we suddenly think, "Whoa, what's this?" Today, when the most powerful moving images are on the internet, we really wanted to create a production company that kind of compared to those images rather than the cinema world. We want to take this way of looking at moving images and take it into cinemas, so that's one of the things we're trying to achieve.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review - Involuntary (De ofrivilliga)

Involuntary is a film that tells multiple stories, but they are all united by a common theme. Director Ruben Östlund wants to use his film to explore peer pressure, the complex nature of group dynamics, and the difficulties involved in taking a stand when all of those around you are looking the other way. It's an unsettling film that depicts its characters – or, to be more accurate, subjects – as timid herd animals too scared of rocking the boat to take decisive actions. The scenarios Östlund has dreamed up involve people of various ages and social groups, all of whom struggle similarly with awkward situations, and the director follows them in a detached, clinical manner, observing them as they face the consequences of their inaction.

The director throws us off balance right from the start with his disorienting camerawork. One minute he places his camera at floor level, only showing us the feet of people arriving at a party, and then he frames a shot with characters half-obscured by a doorway or standing just out of the frame. He sometimes places us in uncomfortably close proximity to the action, but other times he'll keep us at arm's length, and when an accident befalls Villmar (Villmar Björkman) in the first of his five narrative strands, it occurs in darkness and at a distance that leaves us straining to see what exactly has happened. It's an aesthetic that lies somewhere between Roy Andersson and Michael Haneke, and every scene unfolds in a single take in front of Östlund's fixed camera, with the director displaying an effective sense of composition and some excellent timing as he lingers on moments of embarrassed silence.

I was glad that he also resisted the temptation to overlap his disparate narrative strands, instead letting them each stand alone and cutting between them, although some are inevitably weaker than others. I was never particularly taken with the story I outlined above, in which a man injured at his birthday party refuses treatment and insists that the party should carry on as normal. The other segment I failed to really connect with involved a group of male friends on a weekend away whose drunken horseplay eventually segues into some unwarranted sexual advances. I'm not sure why these two stories felt weaker than the rest, but they both seemed to lack the dramatic pull of the other three.

The other three do compensate for that failing, though, and Östlund produces some terrific, intense individual sequences. A scene in which flirty schoolgirls Linnea and Sara (Linnea Cart-Lamy and Sara Eriksson) playfully tease a man on the train reminded me of Haneke's Code Unknown, and Östlund develops a queasy tension in scenes like this, as we wait to see how his characters will react to the provocations afflicting them. Most of the actors in Involuntary are making their screen debuts in this film, and the director draws uniformly strong and natural performances from them, while the only big name in his cast list boldly plays an unflattering version of herself. As an actress trying to remain as anonymous as possible on a coach trip, Maria Lundqvist takes a key role in perhaps Involuntary's funniest section. What begins as a minor infraction on the coach – the damaging of a curtain rail in the toilet – quickly escalates into a ludicrous stand-off between the driver and his passengers, with the former refusing to budge until the guilty party owns up. Here, Östlund makes the point that someone guilty of a crime often has a very small window of opportunity in which to confess with minimal embarrassment, and if they miss that then every passing minute makes things worse.

The key scene in Involuntary occurs near the start, in my favourite of the film's five stories, when a teacher (Cecilia Milocco) conducts an experiment on her class to display the effect of peer pressure. She forces one child to give a blatantly wrong answer simply by getting all of her classmates to disagree with her when she initially gives the right one, but Östlund isn't simply extolling the virtues of standing firm in your beliefs against outside influences. He complicates matters in the same narrative strand later, when that teacher does speak out against what she sees as a terrible injustice, and unexpectedly finds herself cast as the villain by her colleagues as a result. The director's handling of Involuntary remains impassive and objective, refusing to take sides of make judgements against any of his characters. It often seems impossible for these poor souls to extricate themselves from the socially awkward knots that
Östlund has bound them in, but it certainly is fascinating to watch them try.

Read my interview with Ruben Östlund here.