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American Women's Club of Hamburg

The London Film Festival 2013

The London Film Festival October 9-20, 2013
Reported by Christine Riney
The 57th London Film Festival offered 234 feature films and 134 short films, as well as a lineup of over 150 directors and 110 stars including, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet. The LFF is primarily focused on British Talent in the film industry, however the showcased films were from 57 countries around the world. The 11 programme sections are titled to encourage discovery of Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic, Family, Experimenta and Treasures. In other words something for any and everyone. This is the UK’s largest public film event and the films were shown in 14 London venues as well as a number of big screens across the UK. Tickets for weekday screenings prior to 17:00 are £9.00, concessions £6.50, weekend and after 17:00 either £12.50 or £16.00, and for the Gala or Official Competition tickets cost £20.00, £26.00 or £32.00. There are plenty of tickets to go around and last-minute availability updates are sent via email. I had the good fortune to attend this glitzy event for the first time, as a regular member of the viewing public. Even though my time was short, as I had only four days out of the 12 days of the festival to explore all the London Film Festival had to offer, I did manage an interesting selection that provided me with a thirst for an expanded programme next year.

Upon arrival in London my first film was the Opening Night Film and European Premier of Captain Phillips. I was completely unprepared before I arrived in London and I thought I might see a film about Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne’s ex-husband. Although I was unsure of where that story line might lead, it was opening night and I was potentially going to stroll the red carpet with a royal or two, so I was looking forward to the experience. You can image my pleasure when the light bulb was illuminated and I found myself walking down the long red carpet, in Leicester Square, with Tom Hanks. Ok, maybe not ‘with’ but at least within the same time frame, as Tom Hanks appeared moments after I entered the Odeon Theatre. As a true fan, I cannot name a film in which Tom Hanks has acted that I did not like; this film did not disappoint. Captain Phillips is filmed on the high seas with fast-paced action and human characters that kept me firmly enthralled from beginning to end. Tom Hanks’ depiction of this ordinary guy who faced extraordinary peril is waiting for an Oscar nomination. Both the British director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks deserved the appreciation shown by the audience. This film has something for everyone, high intensity, human interest, and superb acting.

The very next evening was another red carpet affair, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The appearance of Sandra Bullock minus the enigmatic George Clooney did give me a moment’s pause, however, Sandra is the star of this film. I felt propelled through space along with the film’s characters right from the start. The only way to watch this big visual film is on a big screen making sure space can swallow you along with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock).

My third film of the festival Starred Up - for which the screenwriter Jonathan Asser received the award for Best British newcomer honoring new and emerging film talent  - was no less intense than the two blockbusters. The title sets the story line as starred up is British penal jargon for the promotion of a juvenile offender to adult status. Eric (Jack O’Connell) is a 19-year-old, very feral, very angry young man who is transferred to an adult prison where he finds Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), his estranged father, also locked up. Eric also finds a volunteer therapist and fellow inmates in his anger management group that provide a sense of belonging that this young man has never experienced. To actually have people who care and look out for Eric leaves him with options that might not involve a lifetime behind bars or at the very least a quiet existence behind them. Ben Mendelsohn’s depiction of a dangerous, psychopath father with paternal protective instincts is as scary as it is believable. The link between father and son’s violently aggressive behaviour does leave you to wonder the nature vs nurture theory, since we find out that they have not seen each other for many years.  This film has the benefit of authenticity due to both the screenwriter’s, Jonathan Asser’s, first hand experience of working with violent criminals in Wandsworth prison and the hard-to-understand prison slang. At the Q&A I realised I was not the only one wishing for subtitles or whispering “what did he say” at times during the film.

The fourth and my final film was a French film, 11.6, based on the true story of the robbery of 11.6 million euros. In 2009 armored car driver Tony Musulin, daringly and without violence or weapons stole 11.6 million euros from the armored car he was driving. This understated thriller provides insight into a quiet, methodical man who has had enough of being taken advantage of by his penny pinching employers.   François Cluzet’s (Intouchables) portrayal of Musulin as a gruff but trustworthy man strikes a genuine note leaving us understanding why Musulin was the toast of the town when he made off with all that cash. Given the nature of the crime it is easy to relate to and perhaps a great resignation fantasy - a final stick it to ‘the man’. Tony Musulin turned himself in as well as giving up the location of the all but 2.5 million euros. With Musulin’s release earlier this year perhaps we will have a further ending to this story.

All four of the films I watched were sold out and had either the actor, director or writer in attendance for Q&A after the film. Watching films is one thing but actual understanding of the motives, situations and human side of the stories we are engaging in takes the experience to another level. Suffice to say I am a London Film Festival convert; next year I already added the Hamburg FilmFest to my diary and as soon as dates are announced for the London Film Festival, I will add them, too.

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