Plenty of interesting fare to focus on at London Film Festival, says Alistair Harkness
This year’s London Film Festival has been a good one for interesting genre fare with none better than Green Room (* * * *). US indie director Jeremy Saulnier’s first film since breaking through with his self-funded anti-revenge movie Blue Ruin two years ago, it’s another spin on familiar material – in this case a siege movie – given a blistering makeover by well-thought-out plot, fully realised characters, a thorough understanding of the world in which it’s set and gnarly and uncompromising approach to the violence running through the film.
Revolving around a hardcore punk band who ill-advisedly accept a paying gig at a club that turns out to be a backwoods headquarters for a White Supremacist group, the film’s relentless tension kicks into gear when the band (led by Anton Yelchin) witness a crime and find themselves locked in the titular green room as the club’s ruthlessly pragmatic owner – a menacing Patrick Stewart – sets about covering his employees’ tracks. What follows gets really brutal really fast as both sides respond to the situation with the frantic sloppiness of desperate people in a horrifying situation that keeps spinning further out of their control.
That’s also a theme in one of the festival’s most innovative genre films. In Victoria (* * *), a young Spanish woman (Laia Costa) living in Berlin café finds her life irrevocably changed after meeting a group of guys at the end of a hedonistic night out clubbing. At first it’s all blessed-out fun, particularly as Victoria connects with Sonne (Frederick Lau). But when Sonne’s ex-con friend is called upon to repay a favour to a gangster acquaintance, she finds herself roped into an early morning heist as a getaway driver.
It sounds preposterous on paper, but it’s not on screen thanks to director Sebastian Schipper’s decision to let the action unfold in a plausibly naturalistic way in real time using a single continuous take. And we’re not talking the fake one-take of Birdman either: Shipper shot the film in one two-hour-plus go – so what you see on film is what was captured on the day. Even better, the technique doesn’t call attention to itself; it just amplifies the urgency of the situation by keeping the actors fully in the moment.
Beyond the use of an eponymous title, Carol (* * * * *) might not appear to have much in common with Victoria, but scratch beneath the surface of Todd Haynes’ ultra classy love story about a shop assistant (Rooney Mara) who falls for a married woman (Cate Blanchett) in 1950s New York and there’s crime movie element to his approach to the story.
That’s perhaps unsurprising given it’s based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith and period attitudes to homosexuality made those involved in same-sex relationships feel persecuted as a matter of course. But even beyond the sexual orientation aspect of the story, the film’s power derives from the way it conveys how falling deeply in love can feel like a criminal act, the irrational-seeming machinations oddly similar. That also helps the film transcend the stuffiness of its awards season compatriots. This is simply brilliant filmmaking with a quietly subversive edge.