LFF 2018 film reviews: Dovlatov, In Fabric, The White Crow, The Favourite
Ivan Radford | On 18, Oct 2018
From Netflix’s Outlaw King, Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to Amazon’s Life Itself and Suspiria, the big VOD players are all rolling into town for the London Film Festival this October. We head to Leicester Square to round up the highlights from this year’s event:
Let it never be said that Netflix takes the easy route when building its library of original films: after it won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, the streaming giant snapped up the UK rights to Dovlatov, a biopic about the Jewish-Armenian poet Sergei Dovlatov. Never published in Russia until just before his death, he spent his life in poverty and in a constant state of rejection, being passed from editorial offices to publishers’ parties, failing to make anyone happy; his journalist articles are too bitter or ironic to get the official seal of approval, and only end up alienating those around him. The result isn’t exactly a cheerful watch, and at just over two hours, the pacing is a challenge for those who don’t enjoy nods to, and conversations about, Pushkin, Steinbeck and Hemingway. But Milan Maric’s lead performance is compellingly charismatic, with his hangdog, Hollywood-friendly look of smirking melancholy, and he’s well served by director Aleksey German Jr., who captures 1970s Russia with a stunning eye; shots of Dovlatov’s silhouette against the snowy, dreamlike streets of Leningrad are a gorgeous snapshot of an under-appreciated artist just before he fled to live in the USA.
Dovlatov will be released by Netflix UK on 26th October 2018.
There are weird films, and there are weird films. And then there’s In Fabric, Peter Strickland’s bizarre oddity that combines horror, comedy and haute couture to cast a bewildering and bewitching spell.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste stars as bank clerk Sheila, who spends her days smiling politely at customers and her nights worrying about her distant son, dating a sadomasochistic smug older woman (played with relish by an unrecognisable Gwendoline Christie). And so she decides to mix things up by putting an ad in the local lonely hearts column – and, just to make sure she’s ready to start dating, splashes some cash on a dress in the sales as Dentley & Soper’s Trusted Department Store.
The catch? It’s a demon of a dress, literally, and Sheila finds her life haunted by its crimson red fabric, as things around her begin to dismantle, disturb and die. Spooky clothing? It sounds laughable, but Strickland leans into the warped humour, dialling up the strangeness at every opportunity – the shop staff alone are a hysterical delight, from their truly disconcerting TV ads to their flowery sales talk, peppered with incomprehensible metaphors. And just you wait until you see what they do with the mannequins.
The cast savour the disconcerting comedy, with Steve Oram and Julian Barratt even popping up for a laugh-out-loud dose of politeness in the face of perversity. But it’s Strickland’s show, and the Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio director once again pushes boundaries to conjure up a throwback erotic thriller that finds its own unique style.
In Fabric will be released in UK cinemas by Curzon Artificial Eye at an unconfirmed future date.
The White Crow
Ralph Fiennes’ third directorial effort, after Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman, once again dives into the divide between the public and the private – this time, in the Soviet Union, as we jump back to the 1960s to chart the life of Rudolf Nureyev, a ballet prodigy who wanted to defect from his home country. Scripted by David Hare, the drama struggles to build a flow, as it leaps inelegantly from past to present: in the one, we see the teenage dancer training hard under the watchful eye of Pushkin (Ralph Fiennes) and the more intimate eye of his wife; and in the other, we see him in Paris with the Kirov Ballet, discovering the thrill and glamour of other culture outside of the Iron Curtain.
The result takes away the emotional impact of his initial college romance, as well as interrupts Adèle Exarchopoulos’ enjoyable screentime as his friend, Clara Saint. But there’s no denying the fun of simply watching Rudi in action, with Oleg Ivenko delivering a magnetic lead turn as the dancer, at once annoyingly arrogant, admirably talented and inspiringly defiant. Fiennes shoots him on 16mm, evoking the period with a gorgeous atmosphere that taps into the seductive charm of Paris – and, while he provides strong support as the repressed and oppressive Pushkin, he gamely steps aside to let Oleg hog the spotlight. It climaxes with a splendid sequence inside an airport, as Nureyev’s choice between East and West comes to a head – you just wish that events leading up to it had that same flow and logic.
The White Crow will be released in UK cinemas by StudioCanal at an unconfirmed future date.
Yorgos Lanthimos isn’t a director you’d exactly call fun: The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are funny, yes, but they’re entertaining in a way that’s gruelling, intense and awkward to watch. The Favourite, though, sees him unleash his lighter side, balancing his twisted brand of humour with a rollicking silliness that is side-splitting, endlessly surprising and – yes – fun.
The scene is the 18th century. England is at war with France. Parliament can’t agree whether to battle further for victory or surrender and save both money and lives. The one pulling the strings behind the throne? Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the best friend of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). But that delicate (im)balance of power is upset when Sarah’s cousin, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives at court, and, after falling from respectable status to become a servant girl, she swiftly starts climbing the social ranks.
The result is spiteful hate-hate relationship between Sarah and Abigail, as they try to outdo each other to win the Queen’s affection – and watching it unfold is glorious, full of quotable insults, nasty pranks and deliciously sycophantic deceit. Stone and Weisz are hilarious in their ruthless cruelty, but it’s Colman who steals the show, bringing an unexpected note of poignant tragedy to her not-completely-with-it monarch, struggling to stay on top of her own kingdom, let alone her own opinion. Throughout, Lanthimos presents everything with a knack for physical slapstick (watch out for farcical turns from Nicholas Hoult and Mark Gatiss), an appreciation of extravagant costume and set design, and a dizzying bag of camera lenses that give everything a disoriented air. Racing from one-liner to one-liner, this is a costume drama that fizzes and bubbles with energy. If you liked Love and Friendship, you’ll adore this.
The Favourite will be released in UK cinemas by 20th Century Fox on 1st January 2019.