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.

Listen Up Philip – LFF Review

Listen Up Philip

Listen Up Philip starts with a detailed voiceover courtesy of Eric Bogosian; a voiceover that details the precise actions, inner thoughts and intentions of the main character; voiceover that possesses the deep tone of the opening vocals at the start of (500) Days of Summer but at a faster pace. This voiceover does not relent and for the first few minutes I grew convinced that the entire film would be told by a narrator but thankfully after these first few minutes the narration stopped only to reappear at random intervals throughout the film. What this voiceover added was an almost literary like level of detail about the inner working of a character’s head; the very detail that often makes books tricky to adapt into films. Why might a film want to add literary levels of detail? Because the lead character is an author or course.

Jason Schwartzman plays the titular role of Philip, a newly successful author whose sense of self-accomplishment has reached a level that has made him emotionally distant from his photographer girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) and generally an insufferable prick. Schwartzman has played an unlikeable author before in the TV series Bored to Death but with Philip he is taking the idea to an extreme and plays a person who is rude to everyone he meets and so naturally becomes more attractive to the women in his life. As part of his success-driven mid-life crisis Philip strikes up a friendship with an equally acerbic older author, and personal hero, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Ike enjoys the presence of a young adoring author and so invites Philip to stay at his country retreat. From here Philip spends 108 minutes of film behaving appallingly and ruining his life. The details of which I advise you to see the film to find out.

Listen Up Philip 2

Listen Up Philip is a curious beast and avoids any sense of predictability or formulaic ststorytelling. There is no real structure to the film as Philip just meanders along being irritating to a variety of people in a variety of circumstances in an incredibly enjoyable way. The fact that Schwartzman has played this character, or someone very like it, before means that he is well suited to the role of self aggrandising protagonist. There are few people I could watch being this unpleasant for this long but thankfully Jason Schwartzman is one of them. What was also pleasing about the film is that it often lets focus wander away from Philip. Initially I was concerned that Moss had been given an unforgiving girlfriend role but soon enough she had her own narrative, and her own narration, as we saw how she lived life whilst Philip was away. The film widens its scope, stretches its running time, and risks trying its audience’s patience by fleshing out the lives of a few supporting characters. While a little unfocused I think that without this the saturation of the caustic character of Philip would become too much to bear.

Writer and director Alex Ross Perry has given the film a very tactile autumnal aesthetic. There is a golden glow to most of the scenes and an abundance of beards, jumpers, and jazz. I have said before about films, that I felt as though I could reach out and feel the texture of the film. Listen Up Philip is all about people rubbing each other up the wrong way and the screen is filled with itchy looking fabrics and faces that help compliment this irritable feel. The voiceover can occasionally become a little heavy handed but I can only assume that this is the way it would feel to read one of Philip’s novels. The rest of the film, though a little long, is an enjoyable character study that shows how a modest amount of success can be someone’s undoing and if nothing else looks lovely. I quite liked it.

Listen Up Philip is in UK cinemas from today.

BFI LFF 2014

Hysteria – Trailer

Bear with me, this isn’t your typical period drama. There’s sauciness aplenty in this historical film about two doctors inventing a cure for hysteria in women.

Hard to believe but there genuinely was a time when women were diagnosed with hysteria when irritable, the only cure to be manually… relieved by a doctor, taking a very hands-on approach. In Hysteria two doctors, Hugh Dancy and Jonathan Pryce, invent a mechanical cure for the disease, and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert Everett, Sheridan Smith and the flawless Felicity Jones round off the cast. Have a look at the trailer below, it looks like good clean fun.