LFF Preview Roundup

theinformantAhead of the London Film Festival's opening night tomorrow, here's a round-up of some highlights from Suchandrika Chakrabarti.

The LFF's press screenings begin before the festival begins, and carry on during it, with the previews of the big gala films, like the opening night's Fantastic Mr Fox (gosh, they do love a bit of Wes Anderson) and the George Clooney-starring The Men Who Stare at Goats, are saved for the morning of the screening. So you'll have to wait just a little bit longer for those.

In the meantime, you can read on for reviews of the latest Matt Damon movie and the mockumentary stylings of Michael "George Michael Bluth" Cera...

The Girl on the Train


Split into two sections, 'Context' and 'Consequence', this French film starring Catherine Deneuve and Emilie Dequenne (from the Dardenne brothers' Rosetta) is about a 20-something girl, Jeanne, who finds love, loses it horribly and then reacts in a way that is damaging for those around her. In a frequently-noted environment of anti-semitic feeling, Jeanne fabricates an incident which has far-reaching consequences for those around her. At one point described as "blanche comme neige," Jeanne goes on to prove herself to be much more complex - perhaps even damaged - than that, and is ultimately somewhat unknowable to her family and the viewer alike.

Dequenne and Deneuve are convincing as mother and daughter, propelled into an unusual level of intimacy after Jeanne's father's death in war in Afghanistan when she was 5. Structured in a way that shows us Jeanne before it shows us her misdemeanour, The Girl on the Train prods us into judgement, based on the evidence we see, but with mercy.

The Informant!


Matt Damon put on two stone, and "had little things stuck in [his] gums to push [his] cheeks out" (thanks, productions notes!) in order to play biochemist/businessman/pathological liar Mark Whitacre. Jeopardising his successful career at agri-industry giant Archer Daniels Midland, Whitacre turns whistleblower on his company's price-fixing scheme to the FBI, and turns spy for them. However, remember that bit about the lying? Yeah, he does that a lot. It isn't very helpful.

Based on a true story - the real Mark Whitacre's website is right here, but do tread carefully - Whitacre ended up getting a longer jail sentence than the price-fixing crew. Stephen Soderbergh's film takes a comic approach to the story, complete with jaunty, zingy score; a host of comedians playing it straight, then letting the horror wash over their faces as Whitacre's lies mount up; and Whitacre's disarmingly digressive inner monologue roaming over various scenes, always at odds with what is actually happening. It'll amuse you - Whitacre's idea of keeping schtum is speaking to the Wall Street Journal - and then interest you in a what was actually a very big, and serious, crime.

Paper Heart


This mockumentary carries within it its own making-of, as well as sardonic commentary upon the difference between documentary and fiction (clue: not much). That's a lot of meta to wade your way through, but if you like that sort of thing - I do - you'll be charmed.

Charlyne Yi has never been in love and so, along with her director friend Nick Jasenovec (played in the film by Jake Johnson, but the real Nick is a friend of Charlyne's and did co-write with her as well as direct), she sets out to make a documentary about love, as she's afraid that she's incapable of it. The film includes some interviews with long-married couples, whose stories are played out in Michel Gondry-esque little scenes with Yi moving paper puppets along. These interludes have divided viewers, but I did find them sweet and an interesting alternative to the usual taking-heads docu thing.

There has been confusion over whether Yi and Michael Cera - who plays the guy who becomes her boyfriend in the film - actually were or are a couple. Go on, see if you can work it out. Well? Without a doubt, this are-they-aren't-they? helped the film's publicity along, and their relationship in the movie seems more like mid-teens puppy love than your average early-20s couple. Still, you do find yourself rooting for them. The best bit, though, is when Yi questions some kids in a playground about love. One little girl who is clearly destined for great things says that love is "taking them to Applebee's to give them wings!" Comedy aside, their answers drive home the point that kids are forcefed ideas of perfect romantic love from an early age, and perhaps that makes recognising it in real life all the harder.

The London Film Festival begins tomorrow. Click here for more information.