But what's the story?

30 Oct 2012  |  James Whitmore 

James Whitmore, managing director at Postar, visits the London film festival and weighs up technical delivery versus story telling

The London film festival is over for another year. Shorter this time, only eleven days and with a new programme director. What does it tell us about the new films that will be unleashed over the next few months?

I only saw 13 movies so it is perhaps unwise to draw general conclusions. If pressed I'd say that the technical aspects - direction, design, acting and so on - were uniformly high but there is work to do in the script department.

Original storytelling was, well, not very original and one sensed that if filmmakers have something new and vital to articulate, they were either failing or not being given the chance.

The overall prize winner was Rust and Bone. Marion Cotillard has her legs decorously severed by a killer whale and falls for a bareknuckle fighter. Once you get to the delirious melodrama of the final ten minutes you are past caring about how believable all this might be.

The engaging performance of the lead actors swallows and transports you through the absurdities. Superior well-crafted tosh. I loved it.

The latest attempt at Great Expectations is hugely disappointing. This isn't entirely down to the casting of what looked like a callow émigré from a boy band as the romantic lead but it hardly helped.

Two films examined celebrity culture. In Helter Skelter from Japan we have a plump call girl transformed into a supermodel by dint of illegal and dangerous plastic surgery. How long can she sustain her fame before the secrets of her past catch up with her? I don't think even the director cared as most of the attention was devoted to the admittedly arresting camerawork.

Reality, from Italy, tells of a Neapolitan fishmonger who is swept away by the visit of the 'Big Brother' casting bandwagon to his locale. His head turned, he sheds the trappings of his life in the expectation of being selected to appear on the show. Funny, affecting and sad, this is worth a look.

Mainstream America presents two very strong crowd pleasers. End of Watch follows two LAPD patrolmen as they drive their squad car round the seedier side of town. There is a fabulous Latino baddie who appears to communicate solely by expletive; varying volume pitch and tone to create meaning. Fun to try at home. The movie is at its best when it concentrates on the relationship between the two cops.

Argo is based on a true story about the Iran hostage crisis of some 30 plus years ago. It mixes humour with tension to good effect.

Another true story is Lore. At the very end of WW2, a group of children are compelled to cross Germany to reach the comparative safety of their aunt. Along the way, they are exposed to the true horrors created by Nazis, including their parents.

To varying degrees and at differing speeds, the kids try to come to terms with that legacy and the possibility of a future. Wonderfully shot, your enjoyment level will rest on how you relate to the characters of the children.

The Summit is a drama documentary about an appalling incident on K2 when 11 climbers lost their lives in a single day. With tragedy affecting so many, it is a challenge to identify and relate to each individual.

This is not helped by the fragmented structure and the film would merit from a judicious re-edit to create a more linear narrative. That said, the reconstructions are brilliantly realised - you experience the fear and hopelessness of the situation. Not for the faint hearted.

Crossfire Hurricane documents the purple period of the Rolling Stones, ending in the seventies when they ceased being a band and opted to hit the road as a money-making circus. You get lots of unseen footage and new comment from the band members. None of it is as illuminating as Keith Richard's autobiography. You can probably wait for this one to be shown on TV or DVD.

Ginger and Rosa is a disappointing British drama about the relationship between two teenage girls at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. There is so much to say about this period and yet nothing was more than half said. You sense that the production desperately needed a bit more cash.

Frankenweeenie is already on release. A thin plot but so beautiful to look at it. An aesthetic pleasure. In the House is an engaging French farce about a teacher and his increasingly errant star pupil. Dark, slightly disturbing and very funny.

The best film by far was The Sessions. A man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung and is now approaching his 40th birthday wishes to lose his virginity. He is put in touch with a sex surrogate and...

Touching and hysterically funny, it is the sort of film that can only be understood by seeing it. And you must. Amazingly, it purports to be true.

It is perhaps coincidence that for my sample of films, the most compelling stories were those based on actual events. It did however set me thinking. When was the last time I saw something that had a genuinely original, compelling narrative?.

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