LFF 2019 Day 5 – Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Heart | The Two Popes

For Day 5 of the festival I visited the 1760s, returned to South Korea, and then spend two hours in the company of two popes. I also wound up sat next to Mike Leigh for the third film which wasn’t distracting at all… I am pleased to report that he has excellent cinema etiquette; no whispers, phone light, or loud snacks from the master of British cinema.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

It is 1760 and Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is summoned to a small island near France to paint the portrait of Lady Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) so that it might be sent to her future husband in Milan. The only catch is that Héloïse does not approve of her upcoming nuptials so Marianne must act as a companion and paint her subject in secret.

Set over the span of just two weeks Portrait of a Lady on Fire follows the hesitant and secretive friendship between the two women as they evolve from subject and painter to something much closer. Amazingly for a period drama (any drama?) this is a film with nearly exclusive female cast that not only passes the Bechdel Test but spectacularly fails the Reverse Bechdel Test on all counts.

The absence of men allows the film to explore the muse and artist relationship with the fresh perspective of the female gaze. The film revels in female beauty without ever feeling exploitative, saving me some hand-wringing. It also allows for period details unique to female-only environments; eye opening aspects of day to day life are hinted at that I would never have even bothered to wonder about.

At its heart is a simple story; that of two women’s tentative steps towards one another. It is told through two stunning central performances and with shots of extreme beauty both in composition and subtext.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a gorgeous, romantic experience filled with beautiful imagery and aching longing.


Jeong Ga-young is the most exciting voice in South Korean cinema right now. Without the hype, or budget, of Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho she is carving a niche that sits alongside, and possibly in response to, the more intimate works of Hong Sang-soo. I was lucky to see her previous film Hit the Night at last year’s London Korean Film Festival and Heart acts a great companion piece and continuation of her body of work.

As in her previous film Jeong has placed herself at the center of this film. She plays a version of herself; a young director who has an affair with a married man and then plots to make a film inspired by their realtionship. The fourth wall is never directly broken but the Jeong’s character happily explains the motivation for making the film to a prospective actor within the film itself. Heart is not just a narrative film, but director Q&A and dramatised behind-the-scenes feature to boot.

Jeong is a filmmaker who is comfortable to play with the form. Heart plays with metaphor, genre tropes, and the basic expectations of a film. It is smart, witty, and sexy. This version of South Korean life is rarely captured on screen. Nothing is sanitised or glamorised and Jeong is not afraid to show herself in an unflattering light.

As someone who is a Hong Sang-soo fanatic, I am excited to finally hear the woman’s side to the story.

The Two Popes

If I were to be dismissive I could describe The Two Popes as nothing more than two men pontificating about the Catholic church for two hours. But I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong…

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce play Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis respectively. The latter has travelled to the Vatican to hand in his resignation as Cardinal. Unfortunately the sitting Pope refuses to even discuss his resignation and instead they spend days debating issues of the church, exploring Francis’ controversial past, and drinking a healthy dose of red wine. The results of these talks are spoiled in the films own title and via a cursory Google of either of the lead characters.

Hopkins and Pryce brilliantly capture the character of their familiar roles. Both ably tackling numerous languages and ornate costumes as they portray two famous men of God. While the film is majority dialogue-driven the magnetism of the leads does not let the experience get stale. The more lively their conversation the more lively the camera gets as legendary director Fernando Meirelles goes to great pains to bring energy to endless scenes of two old men talking.

Overall I enjoyed The Two Popes and learned something in the bargain.That said, it isn’t a film I will ever watch again and will be impressed if I remember it next week. Let’s see how well it does when it lands on Netflix at the end of the year.

Thor: The Dark World – Film Review

Thor The Dark World

I may or may not have fallen asleep the only time I attempted to watch Marvel’s Thor on DVD but based on my enjoyment of the sequel I will put this down to my own lack of sleep rather than blame the film. I have however seen (Marvel[‘s]) (The) Avengers (Assemble) so wasn’t completely without backstory as I went into Thor: The Dark World this week. What you need to know before the film begins is that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is from the kingdom of Asgard, has a massive magical hammer, and is in love with an Earth-born scientist called Jane Foster (Natalie Portman in red wellies). Thor’s father is Odin (Anthony Hopkins) king of Asgard and his evil adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in prison for doing all manner of naughty things to New York.

In Thor: The Dark World Jane is looking for an AWOL Thor and in doing so comes across some evil magic goo that threatens her life and draws the unwanted attention of dark elf (seriously) Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who has plans to use the goo to destroy the universe because what else is an evil guy going to do? With his true love’s life under threat Thor takes Jane back to Asgard and is forced to team up with Loki against Odin’s wishes to save absolutely everyone in the Universe. Cue lots of fighting in the fantastical world of Asgard and also on Earth… in Greenwich of all places.

Thor The Dark World - Tom Hiddleston

While the film opens with a slightly exposition-heavy sequence, and takes itself a little too seriously when focussing on just the Asgardians in Asgard, as the plot moves on and we get to see more of Foster’s team and the irrepressible Loki things become much more fun and far less serious. Yes, the core of the film is about a dark elf trying to destroy the universe but the various set pieces and dramatic moments are nicely punctuated with moments of comedy provided by Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, and good old Chris O’Dowd. For a film that looks more like a fantasy adventure than a superhero film to have such a great sense of humour is a real relief and had it been a little more poe-faced I doubt it would have been watchable, certainly not enjoyable.

The other pleasant surprise that Thor: The Dark World presents is that none of the film takes place in America. With the Avengers franchise being such an American product it was nice to see a film in the series that alternated between Asgard and London without ever feeling the urge to cross the Atlantic. It is rare to see the climactic scene of a major Hollywood release take place in Greenwich and seeing Thor utilise some of London’s trademarks will provide plenty of amusement (and confuse anyone with a basic knowledge of the London Underground).

As much as Thor: The Dark World want to impress you with its stunning visuals, world-ending plot, and explosive action it takes very seriously the task of entertaining its audience. I am not a diehard fan of Marvel’s output and if we’re honest with each other (and I hope we are) I was dreading the screening a little bit. I need not have feared as the result was a delightfully silly and resolutely epic film that goes to show what a piece of pure entertainment should look like.

Thor: The Dark World is on general release in the UK from 30th October 2013.

Hitchcock – Film Review


Over Christmas the BBC decided to celebrate the great Alfred Hitchcock by screening some of his films, including the wonderful Rebecca, and co-producing drama The Girl which portrayed Hitchcock as an abusive sex pest as he directed Tippy Hedren in The Birds. The Girl was a fantastic piece of drama with Toby Jones giving a deep performance as Hitchcock and the film taking a strong, if not necessarily accurate, stance on the type of man Hitchcock was.

Now in cinemas we have Hitchcock which takes place just before The Girl as Hitch (“hold the cock”) tackles his new production of Psycho against the advice of everyone but his long-suffering wife Alma (Helen Mirren). In contrast to the sinister tone of the BBC’s effort Hitchcock has a more jovial atmosphere. Anthony Hopkins plays Hitch with his tongue in his cheek and seems to be aiming more for caricature than for character. The film opens with Hopkins addressing the camera in the style of Hitchcock and this nicely sets the audiences expectations for the rest of the film.

Hitchcock 2

While the main plot is concerned with the less than smooth production of Psycho the more interesting story at play here is the relationship between Alma and Alfred, something that was far from the spotlight in The Girl. As Hitchcock becomes engrossed in his new film, and new muse Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson giving her best performance in a good few years), Alma cheats on him in the worst way possible; by helping to adapt a script for another man. Mirren and Hopkins make for a great dysfunctional couple; much as they may fight there’s an underlying love that breaks through. In a film with little authenticity it offers a glimpse of genuine tenderness.

Where Hitchcock goes slightly astray is in its fantasy sequences involving Ed Gein, the psycho who inspired the novel Psycho which inspired the film Psycho (which later inspired the Gus Van Sant remake Psycho). While the rest of the film is one loose bikini away from becoming Carry On Hitchcock these brief interludes are closer to Carrie than Carry On. Hitchcock dreams about talking to Gein and even starts fantasising about using the psycho as a psychotherapist. The scenes are jarring and have no real impact on the rest of the film so are a bizarre inclusion.

Hitchcock 3

Hitchcock does not fare well from direct comparison with The Girl lacking as it does the dramatic weight, distinct message, and flawless acting of the latter. A direct comparison isn’t exactly helpful though as they are two different beast. The characters involved may share names but they do not share personalities and neither do the films; one is most certainly a drama and the other more of a comedy. The two films can contradict each other and still co-exist.

For my money Hitchcock is just as valid as The Girl; it is less enthralling but makes up for it in entertainment value.

Hitchcock/Hopkins Face/Off

Following in the recent footsteps of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and… erm… Joseph Gordon-Levitt as kinda-sort-of Bruce Willis, People have our first look at Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock. You can barely recognise him under all those chins.

Hopkins will be playing Hitchcock in the film Hitchcock which follows the making of the classic Hitchcockian Hitchcock thriller Psycho as made more obvious in the original (slightly clunky) title of Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho.

Hitchcock also stars the poor man’s Judi Dench Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Colette and James D’Arcy. D’Arcy has a name that sounds familiar until you realise the only time you’ve seen him was in Secret Diary of a Call Girl falling in love with an escort so maybe he’s not the one you were thinking of after all.

Hitchcock started filming last week and will be in cinemas when it’s bloody well ready.