Behind the throbbing crowds of the red carpet and prestigious Gala screenings that dominate the media coverage of the London Film Festival, there are also a host of premiers for other pictures. Some worthy of your attention, others not.
Sometimes it can be easy to forget amidst the scale of such a large festival, the sheer breadth of talent that jostles amongst the other 100-odd titles burdened without any immediate hype. These independent films largely operate on the fringes of the industry, many of which are destined to tour the festival circuit and never find international distribution, but occasionally there are a couple of breakout hits that stand out from the pack and are worthwhile catching if you have the opportunity.
One such film is Young Girls in Black; an intimate French drama which centres on two schoolgirls who form a suicide pact as they attempt to take control of the intense alienation that they feel amongst their peers. While the plot may sound trying, the material is handled sensitively and what develops is an engaging study on the complexities of teenage depression. The director, Jean Paul Civeyrac, retains a patient approach, that never sensationalises their debilitating conditions and the film is complimented by the intense performances of its two young actresses.
Also in French, but shifting location to Quebec comes Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires), a playful menage-a-trois drama that winningly portrays the emotional pendulum of first love. Francis and Marie are two chain smoking twenty-somethings who both fall for the same enigmatic stranger (a handsome Niels Schneider, seemingly cast to resemblance Louis Garrel).
Often drawing humour out of the competitiveness of their predicament, Heartbeats exists in an achingly cool world of fluid sexuality and is filmed with considerable style by indie wunderkid Xavier Dolan. It will no doubt slot right next to The Dreamers and Unmade Beds in every hipster’s DVD collection in a couple of years, whilst director Xavier Dolan, amazingly only 21 years of age and here acknowledged with six separate credits, announces himself as a talent to watch.
Of course, not all promising filmmakers consistently produce reliable material and Borderline Films, the subversive production company based in New York has chosen to follow up Afterschool, their celebrated Hanake-esque take on high school ennui with the unbelievably pretentious Two Gates of Sleep. Set somewhere deep in Middle America, Alistair Banks Griffin has constructed a painstakingly slow meditation on mortality that regales us with the trek of two fraternal woodcutters (David Call, and one time Thunderbird, Brady Corbet) who defy the law to fulfil their mother’s wishes of an upstream burial. What follows are endless hikes through the forest that are just as tedious for the audience to watch as they are for the two brothers to slog their way through. With little dialogue for the actors to work off, I spent the majority of the 79 minute running time counting Brady Corbet’s range of grunts.
There are films with a slow pace, and then there’s Womb, a solemn adult fairytale that somehow manages to pulverise a sensational premise, involving incest and cloning, into humourless bore. With a stilted central performance by Eva Green as a mother who gives birth to the clone of her dead boyfriend (an under-used Matt Smith), it aims to be poetic and atmospheric, but fails quite spectacularly and the inevitable Oedipal conclusion was met with a chorus of unintentional laughter amongst the festival crowd. Birth covered similar material with considerably more skill.
Heartbeats has recently been acquired by Network Releasing and will be in cinemas sometime in 2011. Young Girls in Black, Two Gates of Sleep and Womb are still awaiting UK distribution.