LFF 2019 Day 6 – Official Secrets | An Easy Girl | I am (Not) a Monster

Day 6 was a mixed bag at the festival until I was pulled out of my cinematic malaise by Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian, director of I am (Not) a Monster. She greeted delegates at the screening of her documentary and presented each of us with a double vinyl imprint of the film. Explaining that she was trying alternative ways to get people to turn up and see independent films, and new ways to distribute them, I lost all the cynicism that had built up in me earlier in the day.

Onto some cynicism…

Official Secrets

Keira Knightley stars in the true story of Katharine Gun; a former GCHQ operative who leaked a classified memo about the USA’s attempt at manipulating a UN vote on whether a war with Iraq would be legal. Gun acted in the hopes that she would prevent a war and instead opened her and her husband up to the threat of imprisonment and deportation. And as for stopping the war…

Official Secrets is a great education into why Tony B-Liar is considered a war criminal (by some) and why Ellen DeGeneres chatting to George W. Bush is such a sensitive topic this week. The film lays out the role of GCHQ, the way the war with Iraq was launched, and all manner of political details that I was ignorant of at the time. A documentary could have delivered the same info but people are more likely to listen if Keira Knightley is doing the talking.

Sadly the film is little more than educational. Everything else about the film is purely functional. The dialogue efficiently delivers exposition with every line but without any flavour or personality. Alongside Knightley is a plethora of Britain’s finest; Matt Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Rhys Ifans, and Matthew Goode amongst others all turn up briefly to play their part but for all the big names there are no characters.

Official Secrets is a solid drama retelling some of our recent history with clarity. For cinematic artistry you might want to look elsewhere.

An Easy Girl

Naïma (Mina Farid) is a 16 year-old growing up in Cannes. Her summer was supposed to be spent working in the kitchen at a nearby hotel and helping her BFF prepare for an audition but that all goes out the window when her cousin arrives in town. Sofia (Zahia Dehar) is a revelation for Naïma; she is confident, free from worry about the opinion of others, and rarely seen in an outfit that is opaque.

After catching the eye of a yacht owner (Nuno Lopes) and his right-hand man (Benoît Magimel) both woman and girl are indulged with fine dining and boating excursions. The cost of their luxurious lifestyle is paid for at night by Sofia while Naïma watches on in adolescent awe.

Nobody in An Easy Girl reacts with surprise to this mutually beneficial arrangement. The supporting cast are more likely to roll their eyes than widen them at the sight of young Sofia descending to the lower deck of the yacht with an impatient older man following behind her. What makes this subject matter a bold choice for a film is that one of the world’s best known film festivals takes place at Cannes and is infamous for having a secondary industry in “yachting”. Give that a Google.

Add to this the fact that actress Zahia Dehar brings along her own Google-worthy underage prostitution scandal and An Easy Girl becomes a document of a world that exists in parallel to our own.

Naïma is the heart of the film and our eyes in the world. At a point in her life where she is trying to determine her future she is tempted to embrace the potentially glamorous lifestlyle of the cousin she idolises. Meanwhile the mundane life she has briefly left behind lies waiting patiently for her back on shore.

With sharp dialogue and sun drenched visuals writer-director invites you to look upon Sofia and decide for yourself, is she “an object or a work of art?”.

I am (Not) a Monster

After being ambushed by director and central figure Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian at the start of the screening we were then treated to 90 minutes of her ambushing various figures around the world. Ben Hayoun-Stépanian is a woman on a mission. She wants to speak to experts about her philosophical hero Hannah Arendt and find the origin of knowledge so that she can pack it in her suitcase and take it back to her students at the tuition free college The University of the Underground.

The resulting documentary is made up of a broad cast of characters all extolling what they believe knowledge to be, where it comes from, and what it is worth. She meets figures including the Lord mayor of Sheffield, a member of Pussy Riot, Noam Chomsky, and a Japanese robotics expert. Each bring their own eccentricities and perspective on the world and can’t help but be swept up in the human whirlwind running the show.

I am (Not) a Monster is a celebration of the active pursuit of knowledge, of debate and discussion, and is a madcap journey around the world in the company of a passionate modern-day Socrates.

I knew very little of Hannah Arendt going into this film and if I am honest I am none the wiser. What I did get from the documentary was an exhilarating time spent with smart thinkers who offered up their philosophies to be accepted or denied.

A bracing documentary about the origins of knowledge.

Grand Central – DVD Review

Grand Central

Gary (Tahar Rahim) is a young man looking for a job, somewhere to sleep, and people to connect with. With no qualifications to his name Gary starts working at a nuclear power plant and living with his fellow workers. By day he is risking being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation but by night he finally has a community to share his time with. His colleagues may be rough around the edges but they are good company and you need to be able to rely on one another when working in such a dangerous environment. Before starting his new job Gary is introduced to the symptoms of radiation poisoning by his co-worker Karole (Léa Seydoux) who jokingly gives him a passionate kiss while her boyfriend Toni (Denis Ménochet) watches and laughs.

It would seem that Gary has finally found everything he is looking for but that wouldn’t make a satisfying drama now would it? After one particularly sexually charged car ride Gary finds himself flung into a passionate affair with Karole. What started as a one-off develops into something a little more as Gary falls deeper and deeper in love with his friend’s girlfriend. As the intensity of his passion rises so does his recklessness as Gary ignores protocols at the power plant that ensure his safety but might separate him from the object of his desire. It is unclear what will be Gary’s ultimate downfall; his dangerous job or his dangerous love life.

Grand Central 1

Director Rebecca Zlotowski has created a film of simmering tension and an atmosphere in which the audience is constantly unsure of when the house of cards will come tumbling down. In the harsh industrial setting of the power plant Gary and his coworkers are covered from head to toe as any exposed skin increases the danger of radiation. When Gary and Karole are together they are completely exposed but in the fields where their affair takes place everything feels completely safe. Back at camp the two lovers are clothed but vulnerable; in danger should their indiscretion be discovered. Only when the pair are alone together can the audience relax as any other time death and discovery are a misstep away. Their love for one another is simple, primal, and somehow naive and innocent. In amongst tall grass and away from the dangers elsewhere Gary and Karole can be themselves and feel safe with one another. A relationship forged in passion turns tender and all the more intimate.

Seydoux and Rahim are a superb pair. Both give layered performances that allow them to behave foolishly without losing sympathy. Seydoux are Karole gives a particularly conflicted performance as a woman in love with one man but in lust with another while Rahim plays Gary as a man driven almost mad by desire. Grand Central as a result is a tense and sexy drama about how quickly one can become infected by love for another and how decisions made in the height of passion may not always serve you well. At times a little over the top and humourless Grand Central is nonetheless incredibly watchable and a great display of modern French filmmaking.

Grand Central is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 10th November 2014.