Much like no two people at an all-you-can-eat buffet have the same meal, no two festival attendees leave with the same haul of movie memories. For this writer, the pleasure of attending this year’s BFI London Film Festival without a pre-assigned review load was the pleasure of discovering stories about female characters who couldn’t be contained by convention. How thrillingly apt, then, for it to be announced at the closing ceremony that Tricia Tuttle – acting artistic director and possessor of exciting, boundary-pushing tastes – would become the festival’s permanent director. Could this herald further territorial advances for wild women? Time will tell. For now, look out for these five tales of women in action.
1. Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor)
Set in ’90s Chile in the rural summer paradise under the Andes, Too Late to Die Young pulls off the rare feat of capturing the natural ebb and flow of community life while isolating certain characters within that melee. Delightful vignettes, such as a tiny child dancing to Michael Jackson, are offset by the weightier coming-of-age of Sofía. Indifferent to the adoring looks of her peer Lucas, Sofía deals with a broken home-life by pursuing a selfish older lover and the independence she misguidedly believes will follow. Demian Hernández channels a striking mix of loneliness and wilfulness to embody this Sinead O’Connor-and-smoking-in-the-bath-loving teen who ends up stricken by disappointment. Slated for UK release in 2019.
2. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
This is a type of female character study that we rarely see: one of a woman whose defining asset is a talent, rather than charm or appearance. As Lee Israel, a former toast-of-New York author who turns to forging literary letters in hard times, Melissa McCarthy leans into an acidity so corrosive that her pariah status is entirely believable. Although Lee is in the sympathetic position of needing to earn a buck in this cold, hard world, the way she treats others makes her an ambiguous figure. By stripping her of that saccharine quality ‘likability’ director Marielle Heller forces audiences to reckon with knee-jerk morality around who merits social survival. Slated for UK release 1 February, 2019.
3. Madeline’s Madeline
Could there be a wilder calling card than Helena Howard’s debut as Madeline, a teenager channeling an unspecified mental illness into performance art? If Josephine Decker’s third feature sounds meta, that’s because it is. The eerie sense that spins out across 93 minutes of immersive and chaotic sound and vision is that we’ve fallen into the abyss of an unhinged psyche, yet there is satisfaction to be found in such a bold vision of how it feels to be out of control. Props also to Miranda July for playing a mother who slips between victimhood and oppressiveness due to being unable to regulate her own emotional spectrum. Slated for UK release early in 2019.
4. Daughter of Mine
All hail Alba Rohrwacher, sister to Italian director Alice (whose Lazzaro Felice graced the Cannes and LFF line-ups this year). Star of Laura Bispuri’s previous flick (the brilliant transgender character and culture study Sworn Virgin), here Rohrwacher plays what might be lightly termed an “unfit mother”. Her Angelica is a promiscuous lush, who swings between tenderness and terribleness. Rohrwacher is magnetic and utterly beyond the call of responsible living. She is camped out in the push and pull of impulsive, instant-gratification-driven behaviour. Because she lives in the moment her displays of love are seduction itself.
5. A Private War
What drives war reporters to put their lives on the line as a vocation? Matthew Heineman chronicles the years leading up to the American-born journalist Marie Colvin’s death in 2012 from an explosive in Homs, Syria using Marie Brenner’s 2012 Vanity Fair article as a springboard. With Rosamund Pike in the lead, the film makes an earnest fist of trying to explore the psychology of a woman compelled to tell stories of foreign wars even as her PTSD worsened, and after she lost an eye. There are no pat summaries here, just a frayed and fascinating portrait of a woman for whom peaceful civilian life held no appeal.
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