LFF 2019 Day 3 – Luce | The House of Us | Babyteeth

Day 3 and I decided I couldn’t stomach the queue for Jojo Rabbit so took a less mainstream route. The result was a look at racism in liberal America, childhood in South Korea, and a heady mix of disease and love in Australia. Each film explored family ties; be they biological, adopted, or found.

Luce

Tim Roth and Naomi Watts are a white liberal hand-wringing couple who adopted a former child soldier (Kelvin Harrison Jr) and worked hard to rehabilitate them into the ideal young American complete with a new name that they can actually pronounce. At his high school Luce is the star athlete, star pupil, and all round shining star. So far so good.

The one character Luce doesn’t get on with is his English teacher played by Olivia Spencer. She holds Luce up as an example to other black students while at the same time questioning whether he really is perfect as he seems. Could there be something more complicated behind his perfect smile?

The film tricks us into second guessing which of Luce or his teacher is the good guy as their perspectives start to diverge. The real message of the film is ultimately spelt out to us; to be accepted in a predominantly white society a black student has to take on the role of either saint or monster with no space in-between.

Kelvin Harrison Jr holds the film together as the code switching Luce. His expression can always be read two ways and he calmly guides us through plot contrivances so we don’t worry too much about the workings.

A restrained thriller which only loses its grip towards its conclusion, Luce is an enjoyable and smart look at middle-class America that wears its theatrical roots on its sleeves. Its not the subtlest film but gets its point across.

The House of Us

All Hana wants is for her family to sit down and enjoy a meal together or, better yet, go one a weekend trip to the beach. Instead her parents work hard all day and argue all evening while her older brother avoids any group family interaction as best he can. While plotting a way to reunite her family Hana befriends two younger girls. The girls are also lacking in family department; their parents live and work at a distant resort and have left the pair at home to show potential tenants their flat.

Hana now has two missions to complete; she must keep her parents together and help stop the girls from losing their home.

The House of Us relies on three stellar performances by the young trio Na-yeon Kim, Sia Kim, and Ye-lim Joo. Despite their age and inexperience, or perhaps because of it, they perform with no artifice or pretension. The film feels incredibly authentic as we watch the three form their own tiny family unit and pursue their missions with gusto. Despite much of the adult drama happening off screen we get a sense of dramatic irony; knowing how futile their efforts will be but buying into it in the moment.

Writer-director Ga-eun Yoon seems set to be the Korean Kore-eda. She brings to life the intimate world of childhood that we all used to inhabit. Somehow she has made a film about family strife without resorting to histrionics or indulging in kitchen sink misery. All the while taking us down to the children’s level and coaxing some amazing performances out of pre-teens.

An uplifting story of families falling apart and children living their lives regardless.

Babyteeth

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) lives in a beautiful mid-century modern house with devoted, messy parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn). On her way home one day she meets and immediate falls for the troubled Toby (Toby Wallace). Her parents grit their teeth and try to tolerate the new addition to their lives because Milla is suffering from an unnamed disease of unspecific severity. And so follows almost two hours of complex characters bumping off each other as they try to navigate their lives as individuals and as a family.

The plot to Babyteeth is unfocused and has a habit of meandering. Plot points and characters pile up along the way and many are left unresolved. But for some reason none of this mattered to me. I love this film. I love its knowing chapter titles and random diversions. I love the way each character feels unique, real, and lived in. And I absolutely love that house.

First time feature director Shannon Murphy has created a world so authentic that I can’t help but follow along with whatever the film throws at me. Throughout the film I found myself laughing out loud, wiping away tears, and at one point I got the good film tingle all down my spine.

What else can I say? Superb.

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