London Film Festival 2011: Week One Round-Up

The festival opened this year with 360. The cast list is appropriately lengthy for an ensemble piece and includes Anthony Hopkins (Sir), Rachel Weisz and Jude Law, as well as actors from large and small corners across Europe. The film was directed by Fernando Meireilles, who was last seen at the LFF with The Constant Gardener. Touted as one interlocking story about love, reviews were mixed, with Catherine Shoard of the Guardian giving it one star and calling it a “creaky, cliche-ridden ensemble drama.”

50/50, Like Crazy, Volcano and Terraferma all had their premieres. 50/50 is proving to be one of the festival’s most well-favoured films so far. Written by Will Reiser, it details the story of a healthy-living young man who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, one which he has a 50% chance of surviving. You can guess about the other 50%. It straddles a quasi-self-referential line – Will Reiser did indeed survive cancer, and his best friend is Seth Rogen, who plays – wait for it – the best friend. Like Crazy has also been well-recieved, particularly the performances of leads Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones.

The premiere of Shame has certainly been anticipated, and not just for Michael Fassbender in the altogether. Unlike 360, this film seems to have lived up to its hype, both in Fassbender’s performance as sex-saturated Brandon and Carey Mulligan as his equally messed-up sister, Sissy. Director Steve McQueen, on his second venture, seems to have solidified his reputation as a rising star. The controversial “documentary” Sarah Palin: You Betcha! also premiered, although the lady herself was not in attendance. London breathed a sigh of relief.

The weekend gave us Corilanus, Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It is his first directing job, and like Kenneth Branagh before him he chose to focus on the works of the bard.  Unlike Branagh, he transposes into a modern day warzone, and the effect seems to have been successful so far. Dreams of a Life, the documentary/drama about the life of a woman who was found dead in her flat three years after the fact, also screened, with discussion from filmmaker Carole Morley and the lead Zawe Ashton, who is creating a well-deserved buzz all of her own.

We Need To Talk About Kevin has made it to the number one spot of many LFF previews as The Film To See at this year’s festival. Tilda Swinton’s performance has been showered in adjectives like “defining” and Ezra Miller’s turn as Kevin has been unanimously declared “unnerving.” But excellent, of course. It seems to be on everyone’s To Recommend list. Snowtown, Restless City, Where Do We Go Now? and Las Acacias  also screened, and Barry Ackroyd, the cinematographer on Coriolanus (his previous work includes The Hurt Locker, United 93 and most of Ken Loach’s back catalogue) also provided a masterclass.

Day seven saw a reduction in the rolling out of “big” films, or at least films with huge buzz or big names attached to them in the English-speaking world – it was a day for foreign and indie movies. French film The Artist, set in the silent period of cinema between 1927 and 1931, is (in 2011) fairly high concept for being both silent and in black and white. Lead actor Jean Dujardin won the film an award at Cannes, managing Best Actor. Strawberry Fields provided an injection of British cinema into the proceedings with its setting in the Kent countryside, and odd-couple indie movies were represented by The Dish and the Spoon.