LFF 2020 film review: One Night in Miami, Ammonite, The Human Voice
Ivan Radford | On 19, Oct 2020
We catch up with a trio of titles that played at the 2020 London Film Festival, including Amazon Studios’ latest acquistion. For more on how the festival works, click here.
One Night in Miami
There are directorial debuts, and there are directorial debuts. Regina King’s is the latter, as she brings Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same night to the screen. The film is as simple as it is beautifully layered, telling the imagined story of what happened after Cassius Clay won his world heavyweight title in 1964. The 22-year-old boxer (a brilliantly confident Eli Goree) spends the night with his friends, Malcolm X (a wonderfully pensive Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (an intense but amusing Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke (an unrecognisable Leslie Odom Jr). It frames the four men as they all face decisions about the direction their lives will take. For Jim, it’s whether to move from sports into acting. For Cassius, it’s whether to join the Nation of Islam, just as Malcolm is working out his own relationship with the movement – and challenging Sam to join the cause of changing society through his chart-topping music. That idea of acknowledging the responsibility they each face in opening up the civil rights conversation is one that Kemp’s script peels apart thoughtfully, and each member of the impeccable cast brings the weight of shouldering their individual roles, experiences and backlashes to the screen. It’s a stunningly well rounded ensemble piece, one that King films with both a convincing intimacy and a visual prowess that belies its stage origins. The result is a deep, thought-provoking meditation on public and political influence, one that finds tearful catharsis and uplifting hope in Sam Cooke’s songwriting, joy in friendship and the strength found in camaraderie and electrifying challenge in the reminder that we all have a part to play in making the world a better, more equal place. A profound, masterful debut.
One Night in Miami will be released on 15th January 2021 on Amazon Prime Video.
Francis Lee follows up God’s Own Country with this tender, quiet portrait of palaeontologist Mary Anning. A key figure in the 19th-century fossil scene, she’s a geological pioneer – albeit one who, because she was a woman, was always on the fringes of the scientific community and never given due credit. Kate Winslet plays her with a wonderful openness and a simultaneously guarded, spiky edge – both of which are sent into a spiral by the arrival of Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) in Lyme Regis. What ensues is a burgeoning romance, but one that’s as unspoken and repressed as the women have learned to be thanks to society’s expectations and pressures. Lee and DoP Stéphane Fontaine frame their story through the lens of the natural world, the lush visuals accompanied by a beautifully stylised use of sound, from roaring seas to moths trapped under glasses. But while Winslet and Ronan’s chemistry is palpable, the story is told as slowly and restrained as possible, which can leave the whole thing feeling a tad too distant, and the characters’ own conversations (or lack thereof) feeling unnaturally muted. A climax leads you wanting more science to go with the sensual, sensitive (and fictionalised) tale. There’s treasure here, but it requires a lot of digging – at times, perhaps too much.
The Human Voice
It’s always a perilous prospect when an acclaimed European filmmaker makes their English-language debut, but Pedro Almodóvar’s gorgeous short film soon overcomes any nerves with a sheer outpouring of style. The 30-minute drama makes up for any shortcomings with extravagance, as we follow an unnamed women facing the prospect of being left isolated in a brightly coloured apartment. Reimagining Jean Cocteau’s play for the current state of the world, we follow the woman as she talks to her lover, who is leaving her, over the phone – a conversation that takes place, naturally, via AirPods, so it almost looks as if she’s venting at herself. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, she cycles through every stage of post-relationship grief, from begging and desperation to acceptance and anger. Delivered with biting wit and scathing intensity by Tilda Swinton, the result burns through the half-hour runtime with a short, sharp dose of melodrama, one that plays with theatricality, nods to the filmmaker’s past work (Alberto Iglesias’ superb, heightened score borrows bits from his previous Almodóvar soundtracks) and ultimately brings the house down. Here’s hoping a feature-length project from Pedro and Tilda is on the way soon.
The Human Voice will be released in UK cinemas on 7th November, with a Q&A featuring Almodóvar and Swinton.