LFF 2016 reviews: Ethel & Ernest, Snowden, A Quiet Passion
Ivan Radford | On 15, Oct 2016
From Netflix’s Black Mirror and Amazon’s originals to MUBI’s Cannes acquisitions and Dogwoof’s live-streaming premiere of Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, the 2016 London Film Festival is embracing VOD like never before. We head to Leicester Square to check out some of the films and TV shows on offer.
Edward Snowden. The name conjures up memories of news headlines, lingering fears of how much governments around the world can see of your online activity, and all manner of ethical questions. Regardless of your viewpoint, there’s no denying that Snowden’s decision to turn whistleblower on the NSA’s surveillance was a crucial moment in our modern history. It’s only natural, then, that he should join the list of 21st century figures to be immortalised by cinema.
Oliver Stone’s dramatisation of what happened in the build-up and aftermath of his leak is largely restrained, when it comes to both visuals and political leanings – but that works mostly in the film’s favour. Rather than get sidetracked with a polemic, the director presents events without over-sensationalising them, tweaking details for dramatic effect but not detracting from their importance.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent in the lead, his vocal accuracy helping him to look surprisingly convincing as the hacker. He plays well against Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend, Lindsay, who conveys the emotional cost of the man’s transformation into someone jaded with the system, who decides to take a stand – a familiar protagonist for Stone fans. Their performances, alongside Nic Cage and Rhys Ifans as father-like intelligence officials, help things to trundle along at a gripping pace, supported by a Craig Armstrong score that (intentionally?) references the hymn tune Jerusalem.
The result is more efficient than remarkable, emerging as a less powerful companion piece to Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ documentary, which premiered in the UK on VOD. But that in itself is revealing. What 20 years ago would have been a cliched, paranoid cyber-thriller now feels like a filmed list of sober facts – a sign of how much the world has changed. Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of that.
Screenings: Sat 15 Oct 18.00 / Sun 16 Oct 11.30
Ethel & Ernest
The name Raymond Briggs needs no introduction. What about his parents, Ethel & Ernest? In a way, they don’t either – as this animation adapted from his picture book of the same name proves, they’re like many British couples. Rather than tell the story of some dramatic divorce or bitter custody battle, Ethel & Ernest portrays 40 odd years of a happy, stable marriage. It’s uncomplicated, effective and completely charming.
Screenings: Sat 15 Oct 15.15 / Sun 16 Oct 18.00
For more information on the film’s UK release, visit www.ethelandernestthemovie.com
A Quiet Passion
Poetry is something that you don’t see on screen all that much. And when you do, there’s often the question of how to present it. A Quiet Passion does away with any indecision and simply dives right in, with Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) reading out her own verse, often over the top of images that literally match what she’s saying. It sounds like an obvious approach, but that’s at the core of what director Terence Davies achieves with A Quiet Passion: he brings out the heart behind Dickinson’s writing, slowly sketching out a portrait of growing bitterness, increasing isolation and tragic illness.
Davies does so with a surprisingly light touch, skipping from her youth at a strict Christian school to her outspoken coming-of-age in her equally religious family. Witty conversations with her friend, Miss Buffam, are laugh-out-loud funny, as they criticise society, art, life and other people – an afternoon tea with the local vicar is hilariously awkward. Cynthia Nixon, meanwhile, is remarkable in the lead, moving from that cheerful, lively lady to a frustrated recluse with heartbreaking immediacy. It’s a chamber drama that uses every inch of its interior setting to find new emotional depths. Poetry has rarely seemed so natural.