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FILM: October 2010

Those who are lucky enough to be able to be in London in October will find the 54th BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL taking place. From 13 - 28 the festival will screen a total of 197 features, 112 shorts, including 11 World, 23 International and 33 European premieres, many presented by cast members and filmmakers, alongside a stellar line-up of special events. Opening the festival is Mark Romanek's NEVER LET ME GO, a haunting story of love and loss, starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, whilst Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS, which tells the true story of climber Aron Railston's (James Franco) ordeal closes the 2010 festival. Amongst the other gems are: KING'S SPEECH, with Colin Firth as King George V, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter; Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN, a psychological thriller set in the world of the New York City ballet, with Natalie Portman; Mike Leigh's ANOTHER YEAR, an intimate film of family, friendship and ageing, starring Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville. You might also wish to catch THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a couple using artificial insemination and Cannes Palme D'Or winner, UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, an unusual Thai film with supernatural elements. Other highlights include THE FIRST GRADER in which an 84 year old Kenyan finally starts school, and AFRICA UNITED features a group of youngsters who trek across Africa to reach the World Cup.

For those more mainstream inclined we can find the lovely George Clooney in THE AMERICAN, a thriller by Anton Corbijn (expanding his range after Control). Jean-Luc Godard continues to challenge cinemagoers with FILM SOCIALISME; ROBINSON IN RUINS marks Patrick Keiller's long awaited return, and is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave. Other highlights include the UK's THE ARBOR, in which Clio Barnard explores the legacy of writer Andrea Dunbar (whose works include Rita, Sue and Bob Too); Hannah Rothschild shadowed her subject for a crucial year in MANDELSON: THE REAL PM? and FIRE IN BABYLON celebrates the golden age of West Indian cricket. Kim Longinotto focuses on India in PINK SARIS. EVEN THE RAIN, directed by Icíar Bollaín, written by long term Ken Loach collaborator Paul Laverty, and starring Gael Garcia Bernal is a film about Christopher Columbus. LEMMY, is the definitive portrait of the legendary Motorhead singer and ultimate rock god; and LEAP YEAR, the Mexico City set feature won director Michael Rowe the Camera D'Or at Cannes. THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE, a BFI Archive restoration, is this year's Archive Gala, featuring a live performance of a new score by Simon Fisher Turner. London is captured in three short films restored by the BFI in BOW BELLS AND WATERLOO SUNSETS. There are also free events based around panel discussions with filmmakers. You can find more information and book now via the website http://www.bfi.org.uk/iff or phone 020 7928 3232.

Gemma Arterton & Luke Evans.

Before then you should enjoy the film based on Posy Simmonds' graphic novel, TAMARA DREWE (cert. 15 1hr.41mins.), which in turn, is inspired by Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Tamara (in a well-delineated performance by Gemma Arterton) returns to her quiet Dorset home having become a well-known columnist, with her nose remodelled. She has an effect on the lives of three men - rock-star, Ben (a tongue in the cheek tour-de-force by Dominic Cooper), 50-year-old Nicholas, a crime writer running a writers' retreat managed by his wife, Beth and Andy, the steady rural lad who was Tamara's teenage boyfriend. Most of the characters are easily recognisable from Posy's drawings but some are enhanced by the actors. Roger Allam as Nicholas and Tamsin Greig as his cuckolded wife, Beth are both excellent. While director Stephen Frears has many laugh out loud moments, we also note the underlying sadness and the desolation of many lives as wealthy townsfolk take over their village.

If you enjoyed the film of Calendar Girls, you will certainly get a great deal of pleasure from this film. In any case, make sure you don't miss MADE IN DAGENHAM (cert. 15 1hr.57mins.), directed by Nigel Cole. This is the story of how a small group of women taking industrial action led directly to equal pay legislation. In 1968, 187 sewing machinists working in appalling over-heated conditions at the Ford factory in Dagenham with water dripping through the ceiling (while the men had an air-conditioned plant in which to labour), get notice that their jobs have been re-graded from semi to unskilled. Rita (Sally Hawkins) leads the group in a strike for 24 hours backed by their union representative Albert (Bob Hoskins). When the Union backs the Management bosses, the women take full industrial action. At first they are backed by the male workers, but when shortage of the parts that the women produce leads to layoffs, they are angry. Rita persuades them of their just cause and also encourages the Minister, Barbara Castle to support them in the face of antagonism from the rest of the Labour Government because of threats of loss of business by the multi-billion Ford Company. Older people will remember many of the details of the events and for all of us there is much to enjoy in this amusing but also inspiring tale of a group of women fighting for sexual equality in the workplace.

Julia Roberts

You need to be a real Julia Roberts fan to appreciate Eat Pray Love (cert PG 140mina.), directed by Ryan Murphy, which is so long and covers three main locations that it is almost like seeing three films in one. Roberts plays the writer, Elizabeth Gilbert (on whose book, published in 2006, the film is based) who realises that her marriage and the life she shares with husband Stephen (Billy Crudup) are not what she wants.

She leaves him and has an affair with a young actor, David (James Franco) who brings passion into her life but she knows that it is not a lasting relationship and yearns for a more spiritual element. Although her best friend Delia (Viola Davis) tries to persuade her to stay in New York, Liz decides to set off for a year’s sabbatical visiting places on the way to Bali to renew acquaintance with a medicine man she met there six months before. He promised she would travel and return. She goes to Italy first and spends some months in Rome enjoying the food and friendship of local people, who show her the sights of Rome and Naples. Next she travels to India where she meets and meditates at an Ashram assisted by Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins). He helps her to regain her spiritual inner self and she is ready to move on to the last stage of her journey. Liz becomes friendly with the Brazilian, Felipe (Javier Bardem) who lives in Bali. As she opens herself to love, Elizabeth realises that perhaps she has at last discovered her true self.

The photography is lovely and shots of Rome and India bring not only the views to our eyes but we also get a feeling of the smells and heat of the countries. It is difficult for the males in this film to make a meaningful impression as Roberts dominates every scene. Bardem, however, makes his presence felt, and shows a rugged, very masculine character. There is an interesting cameo from Sophie Thompson, who plays a visitor staying at the Ashram in India. She has great difficulty in undertaking a period of silence. Roberts looks gorgeous and her watermelon smile fills the screen…frequently. She is not called upon to use great acting skills, but undertakes her part competently. The story is very much about Elizabeth’s emotional journey and her best-selling book has obviously struck a chord for many. There is a time in most people’s lives when one gets a feeling that there is something more out there that is missing in our lives. Most of us would like the opportunity to travel (a lot less than a year would suit many of us) but very few would have the unlimited financial resources that appear to be available to Liz. It seems surprising that the film is based on real life as much of the dialogue is cliché ridden. The film is wall to wall Julia Roberts. If you enjoy her, you will enjoy the film.


THEATRE TIP

It is amazing how the tiny GATE THEATRE has managed to put on such a great production as AN OTHER WOMAN (until 2 October). This short play shows how the life of a young woman changes as she meets someone and after a few dates finds herself his mistress. Natalie Abrahami directs this play using four actresses who each , at some point, take the part of the other woman, merely transferring a beige trench coat from one to the other, and also narrate the tale, which is based on Lorre Moore’s short story, How to be An Other Woman. It is good to see Faye Castelow (who recently had a major role in the National Theatre’s After the Dance) in a more experimental production. The well-choreographed movement helps to make this a real little gem in Notting Hill.

Simon Russell Beale and Jonathan Groff in Deathtrap. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

It was good to hear the audience screaming and then laughing throughout Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP (Noel Coward booking until 22 January). Of course, it is really difficult to outline the plot of this comedy thriller without giving away the numerous twists. It begins with Sidney Bruhl (Simon Russell Beale), a thriller writer who finds himself broke.

When he and his wife receive a draft of his former student, Clifford Anderson’s first play, they are most envious. When Clifford (Jonathan Groff) arrives with the only copy, Sidney’s thoughts turn to more drastic methods of ownership of the play.

Although Russell Beale is the obvious star, Groff is a genuine find, who hits the West End like a breath of fresh air. His lively characterisation of the talented young writer imbues the play with fire. A less flamboyant performance is given by Claire Skinner as Sidney’s nervous wife but there is a certain amount of over-acting by Estelle Parsons (yes, she of Bonnie and Clyde) as the Scandinavian psychic who lives next door, and “sees” the future, and the past.

The two men are well-contrasted. Russell Beale gives a real tour de force as the writer who fears that his student has got the magic touch which he seems to have lost. He is full of energy and bounds around the stage; and yet his emotions are sensitively shown and he is one of our fine British actors who are able to act from the tips of their fingers right through to their eyes. He delivers lines with just the right frisson of irony to touch the audience’s laughter button. “I could get the Gold Medal for falling asleep in any position,” Sidney remarks. The set is excellent – Sidney’s wooden beamed study in at his house in Connecticut, with an array of ancient and modern weapons on the walls. For a fine example of good writing and fine acting, hurry along to see this production.

One way of getting entertainment in the mid-18th century was to visit the lunatic asylum and make fun of the inmates. This does not sound very jolly but Nell Leyshon has fashioned a play with music, dance and song to illustrate what went on. The well-researched BEDLAM (Globe Theatre until 1 October) gives a picture of how the inmates of an asylum were treated in this era. As usual at the Globe the production involves the audience, particularly the groundlings standing in the front. Although it sometimes seems embarrassing to laugh at the antics on stage, the play is presented to show the “lunatics” in a sympathetic light and in the story of the traditionalist chief physician, the somewhat corrupt Dr Carew and his opponent the more humane Dr Maynard, we have the beginnings of consideration of a new way to treat those deemed insane. Director, Jessica Swale, has reproduced the atmosphere of the Bethlem (here depicted as Bedlam) asylum in this well-staged production of the first play written by a woman to be performed at the Globe.

It is hard to imagine a better performer in the part than Michael Gambon in KRAPP’S LAST TAPE (Duchess Theatre until 20 November)

Samuel Beckett’s play shows Krapp remembering his past birthdays as he prepares to record a message on to his tape recorder for his 69th birthday. The play lasts 55 minutes, with the first 20 minutes in complete silence as the dishevelled, shabbily dressed Krapp is revealed slumped on a chair with his head in his hands on the desk in front of him.

Gradually he seems to come to life and walks around eating and discarding bits of bananas. It is Krapp’s custom to record his view of the past year on each of his birthdays and to listen to random passages from a tape recorded on a past occasion. He consults a large ledger and chooses his 39th birthday and after setting up his tape recorder and finding the right spool of tape (he repeats the word ‘spool,’ drawing out the vowels and enjoying its sound), the audience and Krapp listen to the tape. Moving like a much older man, Krapp listens and we learn, as he re-lives the moments, a little of his past life. At one point he gets angry and pushes the tapes off the desk. In a fine Irish accent, younger and clearer on the tape, Gambon’s Krapp speaks lyrically of the women in his past. There is Bianca, with whom he once lived, and “a girl in a shabby green coat on a railway-station platform.” The writing is wonderfully evocative as Krapp remembers lovemaking and his failure as a writer in the past (only 17 copies of his book were sold, most at trade price!) Finally, when it comes to recording his present birthday piece, Krapp finds he has, “Nothing to say.”

Adding to the economic use of words is the sparseness of the set. We see Krapp’s desk with a single light above it and an area where Krapp keeps his tapes at the back of the darkness surrounding the desk. Gambon flirts with the light, sometimes playing a kind of peek-a-boo and at other times hiding his eyes completely or, as at the end, letting the light just pick out his eyes. Gambon gives a magnificent portrayal of a man at the end of his life. He shows remembrance, love, loss and regret in few words or movement, conveying all through the emotions in his face and his wonderful voice.

Carlie Newman

   
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