So, here goes it: Part 2 of my three-part rundown of my 2017 London Film Festival experience. Part 1 is available here.
Call Me By Your Name
Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, the film takes place over a long, warm summer in northern Italy circa 1983. Like every summer, seventeen-year-old Elio (the curly-haired, broodingly handsome Timothée Chalamet) gives up his bedroom to his parent’s house guest. However, the “usurper” – as Elio refers to him – is far from the stuffy academic he might expect. Instead Oliver (Armie Hammer; never better) is clearly everything Elio wants to be: strapping, blonde, handsome; self-assured verging on impetuous. He’s Jewish, too, like Elio, but, unlike Elio, wears a Star of David.
Elio’s quiet admiration quickly develops into fascination – a mutual fascination, we learn – and sly, almost surreptitious flirtation leads on in time to love. Call Me By Your Name captures the delicacy, the uncertainty and obsession, of that first summer fling; made all the sweeter by being if not quite forbidden then perhaps ill-advised. Elio’s parents seem to suspect the entanglement: his mother (Amira Cassar), at least, smiles knowingly, permissively even, though his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) may be too occupied with various projects.
From the mottled blue-green of the household pool to the pale cerulean of the lake from which Elio’s father is drawing up an ancient statues – idealised, if somewhat fractured, male figures – the highest compliment I can pay to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s presentation of water is by referring to its far more turbulent depiction in Dunkirk. In this, the film, adapted primarily by James Ivory, is reminiscent of a Patricia Highsmith adaptation, insofar as it deals with a talented, prepossessing young man and his hidden feelings, set amid the sunshine and waters of the Mediterranean. There’s shame there, too, in Elio’s exploration of his sexuality, and sex; both sensual and, in one crucial moment, oddly discreet. Director Luca Guadagino’s panning camera lets us drink it all in.
With a sequel reportedly on the cards for 2020, Call Me By Your Name could prove a worthy companion piece to Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy. What more can we ask for than that?
With The Party, writer-director Sally Potter has served up an acerbic, sharply observed black comedy. Shot in black and white, and confined to the downstairs floor of a north London townhouse, the film is a deeply middle-class look at the ideologies and self-delusion that define our lives.
Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) is a do-it-all “modern woman” – wife, hostess, shadow minister for health – who’s throwing a soiree to celebrate her new position. Her husband Bill (a gaunt, bearded Timothy Spall), however, seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown; slumped in the living room, glass of wine in hand, listening endlessly to records.
And then the guests arrive: the harsh, hypercritical April (Patricia Clarkson) and her improbable boyfriend, the gentle, spiritualistic Gottfried (Bruno Ganz; looking more and more like an elderly turtle), whom she abuses endlessly for his platitudes, however sincerely offered; the newly pregnant Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and her patronising older partner Martha (Cherry Jones), whom otherwise seem to be content in their relationship; and, last to arrive, coked-up financier Thomas (a sweaty-faced Cillian Murphy).
When Bill, by turns both listless and sly, reveals a secret of his own, the party, already fraught, spirals into hysteria and recriminations, as the guests snipe at each other’s convictions; all while desperately clinging to their own convictions – or else displaying a willingness to abandon them in the face of existential crisis. Even the champagne seems to have been weaponised. The only one not taking pot-shots – indeed, the only one without particular convictions – is Thomas. He actually has a gun.
At just 71 minutes long, The Party feels like a one-act, state-of-the-nation play; touching on topics like parliamentary democracy and the national health service. It can even, for those more politically inclined among you, be read as a grand judgement on the state of liberalism in Europe. This finds its purest manifestation in Thomas’ Janet; a brittle smile plastered across her face, even as the pressure threatens to reveal the broken edges that exist just below the surface. The characters are largely unlikable and their interplay is often excruciating.
Because of its brevity and Britishness, it would make a perfect fit for the BBC over Christmas; somewhat delayed counter-programming to last year’s Ethel & Ernest (which also premiered at the London Film Festival). Whether you’re able to catch it in the cinema or have to wait, theoretically, till it arrives on iPlayer, The Party is not to be missed.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
DCEU. DISC. BDSM.
DCEU refers, of course, to the DC Extended Universe, DC’s own cinematic universe, which recently added Wonder Woman to its movie roster. The most widely-regarded of their offerings to date, after the sub-Malickian self-seriousness of Man of Steel – which I confess to having really quite enjoyed at the time – and the turgid nonsense that was Batman V Superman – don’t get me started – audiences and critics alike were probably just glad to find themselves watching something with an earnest sense of fun.
This sense of fun carries through to Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Angela Robinson’s biopic of the Wonder Woman creator and the two extraordinary women who inspired her creation.
DISC stands for Dominance Inducement Submission Compliance, the behavioural traits that the eponymous psychologist, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans; as always darkly handsome, rugged and compelling), believed were key to human interaction and happiness. Working at Tufts University with his brilliant but exasperating wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall; keen-eyed and heart-breaking), the pair first encounter Olive Byrne (The Neon Demon’s Bella Heathcote; now in a more naïve version of the Elle Fanning role), a fresh-faced, timid young student who quickly gets caught up in their studies into human sexuality.
R&D into the first lie detector leads to extracurricular pulse-quickening when William, Elizabeth, and Olive become embroiled in a liberating ménage à trois. The key tenet of Moulton’s theory, which involves submission to a loving authority, finds a practical outlet when he uncovers a community devoted to the third acronym: BDSM.
It’s this place Moulton squarely between his contrasting paramours, Elizabeth – slender, brunette, dominant, and the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s alter-ego Diana Prince – and Olive – full-figured, blonde, submissive, and the inspiration for Wonder Woman herself. Wonder Woman’s iconic appearance is revealed to us, as to William, haloed in reverential light – albeit with more of a basis in fetish-wear than one might have expected.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman comic are suffused with the iconography of kink; as illustrated in an eye-opening montage. At a period in history when Superman was punching out Hitler, Wonder Woman was tying up henchmen (and women) with her Lasso of Truth and spanking them into submission. While the film shows an enlightened attitude to this, and the trio’s polyamorous lifestyle, it’s not surprising that censorship advocate Josette Frank (a tightly wound Connie Britton) might express concerns.
The film manages to express the fluidity of sexual attraction, as well as the shame and consequences that can result, while never losing its mainstream appeal. Given this, its final act is disappointingly conventional in wrapping up proceedings – much, in fact, like the unassociated Wonder Woman film. Art imitates life, they say, and life, sometimes, it seems, reciprocates.
Journeyman(3.5 / 5)
Paddy Considine’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2011 directorial debut, Tyrannosaur, Journeyman is not as immediately bleak as the film that preceded it.1 That’s not to say it’s pulling any punches.
Considine stars, too, as Matty Burton, a champion boxer who lives with his wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker) and new-born baby in a big modern house somewhere in the suburbs of Yorkshire. Matty is determined to keep the world title, which he only possesses by default. To do so, he has to take on André (Anthony Welsh) AKA The Future, an unbeaten up-and-comer who trash talks over Matty’s elegy to his trainer father; cockily promising that their fight is going to be a “life changer” – as indeed it is.
It’s not until Matty’s at home, however, exhausted but content, that the consequences of the fight catch up with him. Collapsing, suddenly, with a traumatic brain injury, both Matty and Emma’s lives change in an instant. When Matty returns home, he’s no longer the cheery guy with everybody in his corner. Instead he’s confused, incapable; childlike even. He barely knows his wife and can’t remember the name of his daughter, Mia. Indeed, Matty Burton, as his family and friends knew him, seems to be MIA himself. Rather than a conventional “boxing film” – it could as easily be a warehouse accident that results in Matty’s injury. Journeyman is, instead, a character study of two people trying to cope with an ongoing tragedy as one of them struggles to come back to himself.
Slow in movement, slurred and faltering in speech, Considine manages to wordlessly convey Matty’s incomprehension of his situation; aggravated by faint recollections of the man he was and occasionally, terrifying, erupting into frustrated violence. One scene in particular, involving the helpless Mia, carries with it a monumental weight of dread.
Whittaker, meanwhile, is perfect as the wife and mother standing by the man she married; even as she becomes increasingly aware of the threat he poses. Photos and home videos serve as constant reminders of the breach between the Matty that was and the Matty that is; including, as they do, people both who are either absent – like Matty’s father – or else have absented themselves from his life; like his friends (played by Paul Popplewell and Tony Pitts).
As with the boxing match, Journeyman isn’t about the single knockout blow, but about time and effort: the effort of eroding away and of building back up. In this, the film earns every moment of optimism; though its lack of shock value may, ironically, make it a harder sell, dramatically speaking, than Tyrannosaur.
Journeyman isn’t a triumphalist celebration of physical supremacy a la Bleed For This, but a deeply humanist drama that dares to hope that what we’ve lost might be recoverable; if only in some recognisable form, some day. It’s a journeyman production, but a remarkably honourable one at that.
The Shape of Water and Brawl in Cell Block 99