LFF 2008: Day 16

Slumdog Millionaire poster

Today is the final day of this year’s London Film Festival and earlier this morning I saw Slumdog Millionaire, which is tonight’s closing film.

Directed by Danny Boyle, it is the story of a streetkid from Mumbai who goes on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I spoke to Danny last year and he told me a bit about the story, which you can listen to here:


Adapted by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) from the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, it recently received a lot of buzz and critical acclaim at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

What’s interesting is that the narrative plays a little like The Usual Suspects, as we learn how the central character Jamal (Dev Patel) came to be on the game show.  

It then flashes back to periods of his life growing up as a kid from the slums (or ‘slumdog’ as some less than charitable characters in the film put it) and his desire to find the true love of his life (Frieda Pinto).

Boyle and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle don’t shy away from the poverty of the slums in the film and some might be a bit taken aback by some of the darker scenes (one early sequence had the woman next to me squirming), but at the same time there is a tremendous energy and humanity to the story.

India of the last 20 years is portrayed with a harsh sense of realism but what’s nice is that the characters and their story counterbalance this with an emotional warmth that is not only very affecting but mercifully free of easy sentiment.

Whilst the flashback structure takes a little while to really click, once the film gets going it really pays dividends, especially as it builds towards a gripping climax.

Another clever touch is the realistic portrayal of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire show, complete with the right music and graphics which are expertly woven into the film and play a key part in how the story unfolds.

The cheesy tension of the TV show somehow has a new life here, with added meaning on the tense pauses and multiple choice questions.      

It is one of those films that is a little tricky to write about as I think audiences will enjoy it more if they go in to it not knowing too much. 

But this could be a genuine hit amongst a wide cross section of people – it cleverly mixes serious social commentary with a classical tale of lost love and the warm ripple of applause I heard at the end (rare for a press screening) indicates that it will have excellent  word of mouth.

It will be interesting to see how it does in India as it stars two big Bollywood stars (Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan) in key roles and may do some serious business over there. 

Credit must also to Tessa Ross at Film Four for acquiring the rights and getting Boyle and Beaufoy on board as the non-UK setting and story appears to have given both of them a creative shot in the arm.

I remember seeing Juno last year at the London Film Festival and thinking it would do very well. After showing at Telluride and being released by Fox Searchlight (perhaps the savviest studio at working the awards season) it went on to be a huge success.

Similarly, Slumdog Millionaire also premiered to rave reviews at Telluride before being acquired by Fox Searchlight – they’ll release it in the US in a couple of weeks whilst Pathe will be distributing it in the UK. 

It might not do the same kind of business as Juno but this looks set for similar buzz, which is richly deserved as it is one of the most uplifting films to come out this year.

Slumdog Millionaire opens in the US on November 14th and in the UK on Friday 23rd January 2008

Official site for the London Film Festival
Official US site for Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight
/Film with more photos from the film
Listen to our full interview with Danny Boyle from April 2007 about Sunshine

Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 10

BFI Southbank

Today was more of a quiet day in which I finally caught up with a film that had been eluding me for about a week. 

It is a French drama called The Class which I was meant to see last Saturday when it had a press screening before it had it’s gala screening in the evening. 

But it didn’t happen as I was pretty tired after the Quantum of Solace screening on the Friday night.

Anyway, one of the handy things about the Delegate Centre at the BFI Southbank is that journalists can catch up with films on screener discs, which you watch on nice, widescreen monitors.

It is a little bit like a library and although I always prefer watching films on the big screen, with so much going on it can prove a very handy way of catching up with films you would otherwise miss out on.

Anyway, the film itself is the deceptively simple tale of a French teacher (François Bégaudeau) at a state school in Paris.

The actual French title is Entre Les Murs, which translates as ‘Between the walls’ which is apt as the film never (apart from one shot at the beginning) strays outside the confines of the school.

It is adapted from the 2006 novel of the same name by Bégaudeau, which in turn was based on his own real life experiences teaching in a Paris school.

Directed by Laurent Cantet it scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes earlier this year and is a rich and deeply satisfying film.

Not only does it scrupulously avoid the cliches that can dog films set inside schools but it manages to offer a plausible snapshot of modern French society by focusing tightly on a class of pupils and the people that teach them.

Although it is shot in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2:35, the camera hangs tight on each character and never really gives us a look at the French city landscape.

Although this might sound claustrophobic, it makes the lessons and world inside of the school (the staff room, the corridors, the playground) all come alive.

The performances are uniformly excellent – especially from Bégaudeau and a very special cast of non-professional teenagers – but the film also has a tremendous sense of humanity to it without ever slipping into cheap sentiment.

This is one of those rare films that touches the heart whilst engaging the brain – a gem that I would urge anyone to go and see when it gets released in the UK.

>  The Class at the IMDb
BBC News report on the win at Cannes in May

Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 9

Today was another busy day in which I spoke to a couple of directors with films showing at the Festival and saw another film in the evening.

A combination of a cold that simply will not go away and a sore neck (I somehow managed to strain it a couple of days ago) has made walking around town and even watching films a little painful. 

But despite all this, it was an interesting day and the two directors were behind two excellent films with intriguing subjects.

In the morning I went up to a members club in Soho where I met up with Mark Hartley, the director of Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about the wave of Australian exploitation cinema that flourished in the 1970s.

He was a very funny and engaging guy to talk to and made light of the numerous noises that plagued the drawing room we spoke in.

Not only was there the ubiquitous police sirens that routinely plague Soho, but at one point there was a knocking on the walls and door so persistent that I though Jack Nicholson was going to burst in with an axe.

His film is a real gem – a very energetic and engaging documentary that I think will get a great response at the festival and generate good word of mouth.

It features a lot of hilarious footage from some films of the time – some of them which beggar belief – but also makes some interesting points about Aussie culture as well.

At lunch time I went to one of my favourite bars in town to flick through the day’s papers, especially The Times which (as you might expect) was full of W. coverage.

You can listen to the full interview with Mark here.

Cover of The Times

The newspaper is the sponsor of the festival and last night’s premiere was also The Times gala screening (each big premiere at the festival has it’s own sponsor). 

I liked the film although some of the people I have spoken to about it have been decidedly mixed in their reaction.

Part of the problem is that Bush has been in everyone’s face for the last 8 years and I think there is a certain amount of fatigue over the 43rd US president.

That said, it is interesting to note that since the US primaries began in January he has effectively been a ghost figure overshadowed by the extraordinary presidential campaign.

In fact, I wonder if in future Oliver Stone would be tempted to make a film about these primaries as they have been filled with great characters, had a gripping narrative and also revealed much about America as a country.

Maybe the problem the film has had in the US is that it can’t cover the almost unbelievably dramatic real events of the last year, including the current financial meltdown – surely the final nail in the coffin of the Bush era.

Despite all this I thought W. was a brave piece of film-making.

Although it would have been easy to take cheap shots at Bush it explored his life through the lens of the build up to Iraq in a way that was both thoughtful and engaging.

It charted at number four in the US box office last week (it appears more people were interested in seeing a talking dog) but I suspect it will do better in foreign territories.

One of the massive advantages of bar I was in was that it has free and easy wifi, which is surprisingly difficult to find in London.


No horrible BT OpenZone login nonsense or failed connections, just a popup window saying you’re online. Perfect.

This is part of the reason I frequent this place so much and use it as my de facto office in town. Other establishments please note.

I edited and uploaded my Mark Hartley interview on to my laptop before heading off down to a hotel in central London where a lot of the interviews for the festival are taking place.

For some of the bigger films a PR company or the distributor will arrange a press junket where different media outlets go along and chat with the cast and/or director for an allotted period of time.

For some of the smaller films at the festival with a smaller PR budget the filmmakers hook up with journalists a designated spot at the bar of the hotel.

It’s a bit like speed dating as you pick who you want to talk to and then move on to the next table.

In the afternoon though I met up with the director Ari Folman who is the man behind Waltz With Bashir, one of the key gala screenings at this year’s festival.

The film is really quite something, a startling animated documentary dealing with Ari’s own struggle to remember his experiences as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon during September 1982.

He was a very interesting man to speak to, not only because he directed the film but because it is actually about his own experiences.

I asked him a bunch of questions about the style of the film and how he realised them on screen and also about how the film was received in Israel.

Despite the fact that the film deals with some shocking subject matter – culminating in the Sabra and Shatila massacre which saw thousands of Palistinean refugees slaughtered by Lebanese miltitia whilst Israeli troops turned a blind eye – he told me that the reception has been very good.    

The film is really quite unique in that it combines many disparate elements – history, politics, animation, music, interviews and the documentary form – to brilliant effect.

I hope it gets a wider audience than just the arthouse circuit as the timely anti-war themes are  complemented beautifully by the groundbreaking animation.

Later in the evening I went to a screening of The Baader Meinhoff Complex which details the terrorist movement that gripped West Germany in the late 60s and 1970s.

It focuses on the Red Army Faction, the left-wing militant group formed by radicalised children of the Nazi generation, who fought an international terrorist campaign opposing American imperialism and the German establishment throughout the 1970s.

At two and a half hours long it is a farily gruelling story, but given the current political and social turmoil of the present decade it makes for interesting viewing to say the least.

I should be speaking with some of the cast and crew on Monday, so I’ll write more about it then, but it screens at the festival on Sunday and Tuesday.

> Interview: Mark Hartley on Not Quite Hollywood
Ari Folman at the IMDb
The Baader Meinhoff Complex at the LFF site

London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 8

 W. press screening

Today was the day of the European premiere of W., the new Oliver Stone film about President George W. Bush.

It screened as the Times Gala at the Odeon Leicester Square, The (London) Times of course being the sponsor of the London film festival.

I went to the press show in the morning and although I had some doubts going in, must confess I really rather liked it.

I’ll post a longer review in a separate post, but one of the most interesting aspects was the reaction of other people who saw it too. 

One person I spoke to afterwards said they were upset Stone didn’t ‘nail Bush’ (quite an image that) and another expressed his surprise that he didn’t know what Stone thought of Bush (?!). 

I suspect it will be a film divides viewers, but not necessarily along the lines one might suspect. 

Added to all this, I had the surreal experience of David Frost sitting right near me just a few minutes before the film started.

In the same cinema just over a week ago I saw a film about him and President Nixon and now I was sitting near him before a film about President Bush.

W. kicked off what was a really busy day in which I also saw Che, The Class and The Wrestler

So by the end of it all I was really, really tired.

> W. at the IMDb
> Reviews of W. at Metacritic
> Find out more about George W. Bush at Wikipedia

Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2008: Day 6

This morning I went to the press screening of Waltz With Bashir which is showing at the Centrepiece Gala on Friday.

It deals with the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and the memory of the Israeli soldiers involved in the invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. 

Directed by Ari Folman, it examines his own experiences on that mission and the struggle to remember what happened when he interviews various army colleagues from the time.

The strange title is taken from a scene with one of Folman’s interviewees, who remembers taking a machine gun and dancing an ‘insane waltz’ amid enemy fire, with posters of Bashir Gemayel lining the walls behind him.

Gemayel was the Lebanese president who whose assassination helped trigger the massacre.  

The most unusual and startling aspect of the film is that it is animated, an unconventional approach for what is essentially a documentary.

Although very different in theme and tone to Creature Comforts it appears to adopt the same device in which real conversations are animated and stylised. 

A hugely ambitious film, it took four years to complete and is and international co-production between IsraelGermany and France.

Back in May it premiered to huge acclaim at Cannes and was one of the front runners to win the Palme d’Or

Much of that praise is richly deserved because this is an arresting and highly original film.

It deserves particular credit for taking a highly politicised and contentious event and yet somehow makes a wider point about the futility of war whose relevance is not just confined to the cauldron of the Middle East.

Another aspect which makes this story so intrguing is that the Israeli troops were not guilty of the massacre itself but of standing by and letting Lebanese miltia murder Palestinian refugees. 

It is the memory of, or rather the inability to remember, this event that lies at the core of the story. Has Folman unconsciously blocked out the memory? Does guilt cloud any rational perspective? 

The raw power of the source material is enhanced by some extraordinary imagery, with a remarkable and inventive use of colour for certain sections, especially those involving the sea.

Added to this is Folman’s narration which has an almost hypnotic effect when set alongside the visuals, almost as if the audience is experiencing a dream whilst watching the film itself. 

The film won 6 Israeli Film Academy awards (including Best Picture) and looks likely to be a strong contender for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.

It might seem like a strange film to make about such a serious subject but it’s surreal approach only makes the horrors of war seem all too real. 

This is the trailer:


Waltz With Bashir screens at the festival on Friday and opens in the UK on Friday 21st November

> Official site
> Waltz With Bashir at the IMDb
> Reviews of the film from Cannes back in May