LFF 2018 Day 5 – A Family Tour | Vox Lux | Destroyer

I’m five days into the festival now and starting to hit my groove; the films get better and I’m slowly forgetting what life was like before the festival began.

A Family Tour

Director Ying Liang is in exile from mainland China having run foul of the Chinese government. With A Family Tour Liang brings us the story of a director (Gong Zhe) in exile from mainland China having run foul of the Chinese government. The film is set in Taiwan where the director, her husband, and young son are attending a film festival while meeting up with her mother who is ostensibly on a package tour from China.

The family’s trip to Taiwan is carefully stage-managed, with the director’s mother taking part in a sightseeing bus tour while her banished family members follow along in taxis while pretending to be family friends who happen to live nearby. Liang directs the film with a gentle pace, his love of long shots clearly a staple of his work as he has a taxi driver criticise the fictional director’s work for the very same trait. Through the family’s interactions we learn of the difficulties inherent in speaking out in China. The directors critical work has not only forced her to relocate but has a lasting effect on those she left behind. And as she prepares for her latest semi-autobiographical film we see the deep emotional effect creating art from her life has on her.

While at times testing the audiences patience A Family Tour is a moving film with a serious message to share. Go see the film the Chinese government would rather you’d never heard of.

A Family Tour screens at the festival on 15th, and 16th October.

Vox Lux

In a film narrated with a wry gravel by Willem Defoe we see the career of a pop diva flicker into life after a near death experience. Celeste (Raffey Cassidy & Natalie Portman) is Lady Gaga, Sia, and Taylor Swift rolled into one glittering star. We first meet Celeste at school where a tragedy thrusts her into the spotlight, in which she performs a song with her sister (Stacey Martin) and enters the nationas hearts. From this small level of fame she is plucked by a manager (Jude Law) and when we next meet her in 2017 she is a household name preparing for her comeback tour.

Vox Lux presents us with the musical artist as deity narrative with its tongue firmly in cheek. This is the darkest of comedies and opens with, what I imagine will be, controversial scenes and from there holds celebrity to the light so we can see right through it. In the film’s first half Cassidy gives us the fledgling version of Celeste. She is nervous and unsure of herself but is gradually finding her inner confidence. By the time Celeste has morphed into Portman we have a strutting, quaffed, and sequined nightmare to deal with.

A film that walks with a swagger and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Can you tell I loved it?

Vox Lux screens at the festival on 15th, and 16th October.

Destroyer

“Nicole Kidman as you’ve never seen here before!”, is precisely what this film wants us to say about it. But do you know what? Destroyer does show us Nicole Kidman as we’ve never seen her before so… well done them. Kidman stars as Erin Bell, a deeply troubled detective who is forced to confront a past trauma when an old adversary reappears on the scene. Bell is a broken woman; a non-functioning alcoholic, failed mother, and a shell of a human being. As she hunts down her nemesis she revisits members of a gang she once infiltrated and we see glimpses of the past that created the ghoul we see before us.

Kidman is at her best playing both the nervous novice cop and the hard-boiled, and well pickled, detective she becomes. Director Karyn Kusama, fresh from impressing with The Invitation, has created a crime classic with a worn-in authenticity and gripping scenes of both explosive violence and quiet reflection.

There are a few silly moments and clunky lines of dialogue but I would happily put Destroyer alongside Hell or High Water as crime dramas I will happily watch a decade from now.

Destroyer screens at the festival on 14th, 15th, and 20th October before being released in the UK on 25th January 2019.

LFF Day 9 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer | The Lovers | The Florida Project | On the Beach at Night Alone

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Two years ago Yorgos Lanthimos made his English language film debut with The Lobster and cemented his place in the hearts of diehard cinephiles. Now he is back, and reunited with Colin Farrell, in a similarly disjointed story of revenge and morality.

Farrell plays a surgeon who has befriended the son (Barry Keoghan) of a deceased former patient. Farrell’s surgeon has a perfect life with his wife (Nicole Kidman) and two children but the introduction of Keoghan into their lives brings with it a sinister game and drastic consequences.

In any other director’s hands the plot of the film would be a run of the mill thriller but Lanthimos would never be so boring. As with The Lobster all dialogue is delivered in an emotionless deadpan that is increasingly at odds with the events as they unfold. The result is an incredibly creepy and deeply unsettling atmosphere in which I genuinely didn’t know what would happen next. The low energy delivery from Farrell makes any moments of emotional outburst all the more explosive and adds to the overall sense of dread that permeates the film.

As strange a film as you have come to expect from Lanthimos but with a more focussed plot than a lot of his previous work.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer screens at the festival on 13th and 15th October and in UK cinemas from 3rd November 2017.

The Lovers

Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star as a couple whose marriage has run its course. Both have been having long-term affairs (with Aidan Gillen and Melora Walters respectively) and have separately chosen the impending visit of their son as the moment to leave one another. As the big day grows closer the illicit relationships start to feel more and more like hard work and, after an unplanned evening in with a bottle of wine, old sparks start to fly again for the couple.

Winger and Letts beautifully realise a relationship well past its sell by date and then the shock and excitement as the pair start to fall for each other again. The script by writer-director Azazel Jacobs is very clever and beautifully executes flirtation via subtext as the married couple somehow end up seducing one another through their lies about their whereabouts. It’s not often you witness a conversation with at least three layers of understanding to unpick.

There is a lot to love about The Lovers. Don’t underestimate this film, it has a few surprises up its sleeve and one beautiful cover song by Tracey Letts.

The Lovers screens at the festival on 13th, 14th, and 15th October.


Sean Baker blasted into the collective consciousness with his 2015 iPhone-shot debut Tangerine and now follows it up with a more traditionally shot drama surrounding the occupants of a rundown motel in Florida. The motel is named after Cinderella’s castle but the lives of the inhabitants are far from fairytales.

The focus of The Florida Project is six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberley Prince) and her painfully young mother (Bria Vinaite). On the surface Moonee has a terrible upbringing; living in poverty with a mother who has to hustle each week to pay rent on a cramped motel room. Moonee is often left to her own devices and has adventures during the day with whatever local kids she can convince to come with her. In reality Moonee is incredibly loved; her mother showers her with attention and tries to bring joy to her life and the motel’s manager (Willem Dafoe) keeps a watchful eye over the pair too.

Both young inexperienced actresses give bold performances in a film that meanders through one summer in their character’s lives. Authenticity is the key to a film like this and The Florida Project positively oozes it, or rather it aggressively spits authenticity in your face.

Funny, uplifting, and heartbreaking.

The Florida Project screens at the festival on 13th and 14th October and opens in UK cinemas on 10th November.

On the Beach at Night Alone

Hong Sang-soo has an incredible rate of work with at least one new film coming out each year. Hong reunites with his now frequent collaborator, and controversial real life love interest, Kim Minhee in a story of the aftermath of a love affair. On the Beach at Night Alone is the story of what happens after the credits have rolled on a typical love story.

Kim plays a woman recovering from a relationship with a married film director, a relationship that oddly mirrors her own with Hong. When reviewing Right Now, Wrong Then two years ago I listed the Hong Sang-soo tropes and while his traditional visual style is present this film is firmly focussed on its female lead and not on a bumbling romantic male.

I don’t Hong has ever been so on the side of the female in his film. Here we spend all our time we Kim, we see her struggling to connect to people, and it is her that embarrasses herself while drunk; a role usually left to a man in a Hong Sang-soo film.

On the Beach at Night Alone feels deeply personal and offers a very intimate portrait of a young woman with a broken heart. Long may the Kim and Hong collaboration continue.

On the Beach at Night Alone screens at the festival on 15th October.