Monday, November 01, 2021

Genre highlights at BFI London Film Festival 2021

Most of the conversations (and the longest queues) at the London Film Festival tend to be centred around the high-profile gala screenings, whether they’re the big studio pictures gearing up for the Oscar race or arthouse fare on the festival circuit, but there are plenty of smaller films worth talking about if you delve deeper into the programme. This year’s festival opened with Jeymes Samuel’s The Harder They Fall, a boldly revisionist take on the western, and one that set the tone for a series of films that tried to look at familiar genres in a fresh way.

Sometimes these films can look extremely familiar at first glance. The screenplay for Inexorable could easily have been the template for a glossy ‘Nanny from Hell’ Hollywood thriller in the mid-90s. Instead, the Belgian director Fabrice du Welz takes the film in a different direction. Shooting on Super 16mm, he has made something that feels grainy, rough and intimate, despite the palatial surroundings of this family’s country retreat. The hangdog Benoît Poelvoorde is Marcel, a writer who has failed to deliver a second novel in the twenty years since his hit debut Inexorable, and Mélanie Doutey is his wife and editor Jeanne, who is also the daughter of his late publisher. “I feel like a usurper” Marcel admits after moving his things into his former father-in-law’s office, but the real usurper is walking up the driveway in the shape of Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi).

This is a classic interloper plot, with a stranger arriving to expose the fissures in a family that apparently has it all. Du Welz doesn’t make any attempt to disguise how unhinged Gloria is – she gives herself a black eye to expedite the family’s sympathy and acceptance – but the true reason for her fixation on Marcel, whose novel she has memorised, remains under wraps until the end. It perhaps stretches credulity that Marcel and Jeanne would be so trusting and immediately hand childcare responsibilities over to Gloria, but Du Welz and his actors make these characters real people with raw, complicated emotions, and when we reach the inevitable bloody finale, it feels messy and tragic for all concerned rather than exciting or cathartic. Inexorable may be a film uninterested in sticking rigidly to the Hollywood playbook, but Du Welz does acknowledge his influences, giving special thanks to John M. Stahl and Gene Tierney in the end credits.