London Film Festival 2011: Week Two Round-Up

George Clooney made another of what feels like (and may well be) annual visits to the festival, this time with The Ides of March. He’s here as a director and co-writer (with a semi-cameo as Governor Mike Morris) and returning to his favourite genre – the political drama. Though Clooney’s performance has received all-round positive feedback, it’s Ryan Gosling creating the most buzz, even if he wasn’t there for the film’s London premiere. Lotus Eaters also made its festival appearance, focusing on the young and beautiful in Britain’s social elite. Filmed in black and white and with an indie soundtrack, it was perhaps the festival’s hipster!movie with substance. Dexter Fletcher was another actor stepping into the directorial role, giving a Masterclass with Director of Photography George Richmond on their film Wild Bill.

George was back again, this time acting in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. With the smaller (but equally important) scope of family drama, the film had already been well-received before arriving at the festival, especially with the popularity of Payne’s film Sideways. Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago might have approached similar material, albeit in the Scilly Isles instead of Hawaii, but with the film’s big names it is perhaps more anticipated. Miranda July also did the triple as writer/director/star of The Future, a mediation on growing up and the moment of adulthood, with some clever focus on internet dependency – not to mention a cat narrating and bending time and space. The Fact vs. Fiction event also saw documentary makers like Marc Evans, Kevin MacDonald, Asif Kapadia, and Carole Morley form a panel to discuss the relationships between the two in their work.

Two Years At Sea formed the experimental element of Day Ten; directed by artist Ben Rivers and telling the story of Jake, a hermitesque man living in the wilds of Scotland, it was filmed on purposefully grungy monochrome 16mm film. Adapted from Alain Marécaux book on his arrest for suspected paedophilia, Vincent Garenq brought French film Guilty to the festival, and apartheid South Africa formed the complex setting for coming-of-age drama Otelo Burning. Alexander Payne spent the day discussing his career to date, from Citizen Ruth in 1996 to The Descendants, and the characters that shaped his films.

The second weekend of the festival brought several high profile films – Wuthering Heights, Trishna, and Madonna’s much looked forward to W.E (although perhaps not for the right reasons). In the continuing trend of redefining classic novels, Andrea Arnold has been praised for making Emily Brontë’s characters feel fresh and new, as Cary Fukunaga did with her sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. Although Kaya Scodelario and James Howson have been applauded for their performances, its Shannon Beer and Soloman Glave as the young Cathy and Heathcliff that have been receiving all the attention. Michael Winterbottom showed off Trishna, going even further in the reinvention of classics – the adaptation of Tess of the d’Ubervilles has been transposed to modern India, with Freida Pinto in the eponymous role. Continuing a historical theme, Madonna premiered her attempt at feature film directing with W.E., a rumination on the life of Wallis Simpson. For all the acting talent on show (Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish), Madonna has been garnering so much of a mixed response that its impossible to find a definite answer.

Another big name had its London premiere of the festival’s thirteenth day; A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s vision of the early days of psychoanalysis, saw Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley on the red carpet, as well as the return of Michael Fassbender. Although publicity so far seems to have ignored the fact that Knightley’s character Sabina Spielrein was a psychoanalyst in her own right, buzz from the festival suggest she is the strongest of the three leads, and the films deals with naturally complex issues. Russian film Faust was also on show, proving one of the most popular films with seemingly universal praise for this, the final part in Aleksandr Sokurov’s tetralogy of stories. The London Calling Shorts also arrived, a joint effort between Film London and the LFF to showcase short films from talented homegrown filmmakers, and documentary Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film was doing exactly what it said on the tin.

Anonymous was at the forefront of day fourteen, bringing Rhys Ifans and Joely Richardson onto the red carpet. A fictional counterpart to the Shakespearean authorship debate, Roland Emmerich’s film explores the idea that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford was the real mind behind Shakespeare’s work. Opinions of the film have been very widely, from contempt at the portrayal of an English cultural icon as a witless actor to praise for the twisting of historical events. 70s-set Hunky Dory, starring Minnie Driver, also tackled Shakespeare, mixing a 1976 school production of The Tempest with contemporary music in a film that focuses more on the people than the play, and the soundtrack is impressive enough to draw an audience alone. Seasonally appropriate, classical haunted-house story The Awakening also premiered with lead Rebecca Hall in attendance. The London Film Festival Awards 2011 were also held, with Best Film going to Lynne Ramsey’s We Need To Talk About Kevin.

The 55th BFI London Film Festival ended with its closing gala, an adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea. Star of the Terrence Davies film, actor Tom Hiddleston was in attendance at the film’s London premiere, though his co-star Rachel Weisz was not. Along with director Davies, names like Jim Broadbent and Terry Gilliam also walked the carpet. Anne-Marie Duff, Gillian Anderson and Edith Bowman were some of the jurors present in the last days of the festival, and Edgar Wright, David Cronenberg, Sket actress Kate Foster-Barnes, and Sam Taylor-Wood and Aaron Johnson also appeared.