The 60th London Film Festival included 248 features from 74 countries. Tom Bangay offers up three of his favourite dishes, best served cold…
Nobody provokes quite like Paul Verhoeven. Well, except Lars von Trier, who’s busy filming a POV-serial killer movie, because of course he is. Despite turning 78 this year, Verhoeven, director of Robocop, Total Recall and Showgirls, is showing no signs of mellowing in his late seventies. This, his latest, wildly transgressive film, was selected for the official competition at the festival (eventually won by Certain Women). The titular Elle is Michele (Isabelle Huppert), a rather cold, ruthless and successful boss at a videogame company. The film opens with her home invasion rape by a masked assailant, from her cat’s point of view. Things just get stranger from there: Michele composes herself after the brutal assault and pretty much gets on with her life as if nothing happened, quietly trying to work out who amongst the men in her life is responsible. Far from being a boiler-plate rape revenge thriller, every time the film confronts what would in anyone else’s hands be a genre trope, Michele just swerves in the opposite direction.
Traumatic events from Michele’s childhood are unfurled sparingly, revealing the film to be running in two directions at the same time: at the surface, a confounding inversion of the rape revenge thriller, but beneath that, a serious exploration of the long-term consequences of victimhood, not just for Michele but for her son too. Reactions to the film from other writers I spoke to split fairly neatly on gender lines – the sexual violence (repeatedly visited) was too much for some, and understandably so; the brutal opening scene is replayed from different starting points and could seem gratuitous. But ultimately I’ve never seen a film quite like it; although it superficially resembles many films I’ve seen before, the storytelling and central performance were utterly gripping and endlessly surprising. It’s difficult to imagine anyone except Verhoeven and Huppert (who is absolutely mesmerising) pulling this off – but for me, they did.
Elle opens in cinemas in the UK on Friday 11th November 2016.
Game of Thrones bingo kicked up a gear for this film, also in official competition, which featured Jon Snow and the lady Melisandre, opposite her real-life husband, Guy Pearce. Dakota Fanning plays Liz, a quiet young mother hiding out in a small town, when a vengeful Reverend (Guy Pearce) tracks her down to punish her for alleged past crimes. The film (from director Martin Koolhoven) plays out in four out-of-order chapters called Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution, each telling the story of a portion of Liz’s life and her conflict with the unnamed Reverend. Pearce is pure menace, a less cartoonish and more, well, biblical version of his villain in John Hillcoat’s Lawless.
Brimstone burns fairly slowly, but the moments of violence are unflinching and brutal. At 148 minutes, this is a long and punishing watch; for comparison, the superb Bone Tomahawk shook me up more, but took a lot longer to get there. Brimstone gets heavy fast, and keeps its foot on your throat for most of the running time. It’s made more than bearable by the absolutely committed performances of Fanning and Pearce; the latter has a horribly threatening Dutch lilt to his character’s accent, and a real indestructible air to him as his heavy boots pace on wooden floors. The supporting cast is led by Kit Harington, Carice van Houten and Paul Anderson (whose career is skyrocketing after breaking out in Peaky Blinders) – all of them excellent. The score by Junkie XL is a highlight, making a tense experience even more oppressive; but if you can handle the drama, this is a gripping tale, robustly delivered by an accomplished cast.
Brimstone does not have a UK release date currently.
For a while Alice Lowe was familiar if not hugely famous, popping up in British comedy on film and TV, notably Hot Fuzz and cult classic Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Sightseers brought her to the masses, relatively speaking, as the less enthused half of a road-tripping, serial killing couple in Ben Wheatley’s jet-black comedy. Prevenge is cut from the same kind of cloth, and it marks Lowe’s directorial debut – she also writes and stars as Ruth: pregnant, bereaved, psychotic. Ruth’s unborn child speaks to her – impolitely – and urges her to take revenge on those she holds responsible for her father’s death. The supporting cast of hapless victims is glorious: Dan Renton Skinner (High Rise), Kayvan Novak (Four Lions), Tom Davis (Free FIre), and yes, Thrones bingo fans, Aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan).
Some of her quarry need to be seduced; some need to accept private business meetings; some need to be charmed into inviting Ruth into their homes. Happily this lets Lowe show off her considerable comic and dramatic range – the seduction of DJ Dan (Tom Davis) in particular is marvellous. It’s not all played for laughs though; Ruth’s fear and confusion in the face of a hostile takeover of her own body, by an entity she herself is growing, is probably beyond the wit of male writer/directors and takes some serious dramatic chops to pull off. Stab-happy Ruth only shows her vulnerability when chatting to her breezy NHS maternity specialist (Jo Hartley) about the looming birth, at which point ‘baby’ will take over her life. Those switches in tone aren’t easy but Lowe navigates them confidently. The propulsive electronic score from Toydrum is absolutely superb too. Prevenge received an instant and sustained ovation from critics when it finished at the festival, and promises great things to come from its writer, director and star.
Prevenge opened in cinemas in the UK on 1st September 2016.