LFF 2014: The New(ish) Voices

A round-up of the best new(ish) voices at LFF, meaning filmmakers with only a few films or less under their belt who brought striking new works to the festival

Feature by Philip Concannon | Jamie Dunn | Ian Mantgani | Josh Slater-Williams | 21 Nov 2014
  • The Falling

GIRLHOOD (CÉLINE SCIAMMA)

The inaccurate English retitling of Céline Sciamma’s Bande de filles has led some to draw comparisons with Boyhood, but where Richard Linklater’s film was a generalised account of growing up, Girlhood is much more complex and specific in its exploration of race, gender and class. Each of Sciamma’s films have concerned young women struggling to find their identity, and Girlhood focuses on a black teenager from the Parisian suburbs, who reinvents herself and finds both friendship and trouble when she is inducted into a girl gang.

This may be a less perfectly formed picture than Sciamma’s Tomboy but it’s also a more ambitious one and it is the director’s most visually accomplished work to date, with sharp images and a potent use of colour throughout. But the film’s biggest strength lies in Sciamma’s magic touch with young actresses: the cast of first-timers giving uniformly excellent performances, with Karidja Touré and Assa Sylla in particular showing a real star quality. [PC]

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Junkies, dealers, swindlers, pimps and chancers, all shimmering in the dark night. As Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez did with their decidedly masculine Sin City, so writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour has captured Los Angeles on gorgeous black-and-white video to create the fictional Persian town of Bad City, for what she describes as “the first Iranian vampire western.” And as a gunslinger would rain justice down in those Wild West narratives we’ve seen countless times before, so the moral arbiter here is the female bloodsucker.

As disparate as its influences are the emotions Amirpour’s languid, moody, topsy-turvy piece inspire: it’s righteous, shocking, terrifying, iconic, funny, twistedly romantic and refreshingly unpredictable. [IM]

ELLIE LUMME (IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY)

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky is one of America’s finest film critics, and Ellie Lumme, his narrative debut as a screenwriter-director, displays considerable talent with the art form he normally writes about. The crowd-funding campaign for this short feature (it barely runs 42 minutes) posited it as “a ghost story without a ghost,” and that’s certainly an apt description for a film that morphs from what begins like a more familiar, contemporary meet-cute between two pessimists into a disquieting depiction of an early twenty-something woman being haunted by an older male acquaintance whose romantic intentions she rejects.

Allison Torem and Stephen Cone are great as the leads, but Ellie Lumme’s most striking feature is its aesthetics – especially given its micro-budget – with Vishnevetsky using Fassbinder-like brightened colours to accentuate his precise framing, and honed-in sound (e.g. excluding background chatter from a party scene) to create a kind of distorted realism. It’s not a horror film by any stretch, or even a thriller, but it certainly spooks. [JS-W]

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

Andrew (Miles Teller) likes to drum. Fletcher (JK Simmons), conductor of Andrew’s music school’s elite jazz band, likes to treat his students like drums, and beats them into submission.

Simmons is a joy as the foul-mouth pedagogue who delivers skin-scolding putdowns to anyone who dares to be any less than perfect, but writer-director Damien Chazelle’s most daring move is to make Andrew similarly psychopathic. Superficially he’s an underdog trying to make it against the odds, but heroes shouldn’t be this conceited. Rocky just wanted to go the distance; this jerk thinks he’s the next Charlie Parker, and isn’t shy about telling people.

Perversely, it feels like we’re meant to root for this sadomasochistic pair. This might have proved problematic if it wasn’t for the movie’s propulsion. At times its savage montages of Andrew’s literal blood, sweat and tears as he drums resembles an Eisenstein picture, and its rhythms are infectious. It’s only when the screen fades to black and you catch your breath that you realise you’ve been cheering on two individuals losing their minds to the music. [JD]

THE FALLING (CAROL MORLEY)

Carol Morley’s woozy, eerie 1969-set girls’ school mystery was one of the most divisive films of the festival – hailed as a masterpiece by a few, walked out on by many. After establishing a dreamy, nakedly emotional, sexualised and menstrual milieu, the film segues into tragedy and then charts a strange fainting epidemic that takes over the pupils and some of the teachers. Borrowing freely from Nicolas Roeg (and produced by his son Luc), as well as making reference to pagan folklore, The Falling invites us to wonder whether something supernatural is afoot or the mass-blackouts are merely a psychosomatic rebellion. 

Without spoiling anything, we can say that the film promises to resolve much but moves on to other themes, and we found it evocative but unsatisfactory. Still, Morley offers much to ponder, and it may be that this is a work that plays better with age – in hindsight, perhaps it can be appreciated for all that it puts on the table rather than for what it answers. [IM] 

LFF ran 8-19 October

http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff