London Film Festival

REVIEW: Letters from Baghdad (2016)

letters-from-baghdadA documentary about Gertrude Bell, the most powerful woman in the British Empire who helped shape the destiny of Iraq after World War One.

Letters from Baghdad is an interesting blend of archive footage and letters from Bell and first-hand accounts from her friends and colleagues. Bell’s letters are a voice over from Tilda Swinton while the letters and accounts from other people are from actors, playing the part of the real historical figures as if they were being interviewed. It’s an interesting setup that takes a little while to get used to but having all these first-hand account soon pulls you into the rich history of Iraq and Gertrude Bell. Also Bell’s letters helps you feel more connected to her as she not only writes about her day to day life in Iraq but her opinions on the people she meets and how she does miss her family, her father especially.

Gertrude Bell is a woman I had never heard of before seeing this film. Bell travelled across Arabia, sometimes being accused of being a spy, working in archaeological digs and ended up being recruited by the British Government to draw the borders of Iraq. She knew T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and Winston Churchill, she socialised with Muslim, British and German women alike and Iraqi royalty. It is a shame that she has been all but written out of history. She did a lot for Iraq including setting up the National Museum of Iraq practically single handed.

Letters from Baghdad is not only a historical documentary, it does shine a light on how British and American involvement in the Middle East has both aided and hindered the region throughout history, but it also looks at the attitudes of the time towards women in positions of power and who have independence, and how some of those attitudes have still not changed a lot.

If you want to learn more about Iraq’s history and a remarkable woman that has almost been forgotten from history, then do check out Letters from Baghdad. 4/5.

Letters From Baghdad – Official Trailer from Letters from Baghdad on Vimeo.

REVIEW: An Insignificant Man (2016)

an-insignificant-manA political documentary following Arvind Kejriwal an activist who wants to end political corruption but soon realises that the only way to do that is with politics and so newest political force in India is born – The Common Man’s Party (AAP).

An Insignificant Man is fascinating, well-structured look at India’s political landscape, especially the campaigning leading up to the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections. It follows Kejriwal and his party as they struggle to make themselves a formidable force against The Congress, Mahatma Gandhi’s party and the party that’s ruled India for the majority of the years since India’s independence, and he opposition party BJP.

Other notable people featured in the documentary are Yogendra Yadav, an academic and co-founder of the AAP. Yadav was often the most pragmatic person in the party having studied politics for so many years. He is the kind of person who knew you could only pick certain battles and not go promising everything to everyone. His and Kejriwal’s relationship was interesting as Kejriwal was often stubborn and make big promises to do with free water and energy bills that many people, Yadva included, thought were too extreme. Santosh Koli was another interesting AAP candidate, she was a formidable woman and while her story was cut short (it’s a documentary so you can google her if you like) I really liked what you saw of her in An Insignificant Man and wished she could have had the opportunity to make a bigger political impact.

I knew nothing of Arvind Kejriwal, the AAP and the political landscape in India in general before watching An Insignificant Man but this film did a great job of showing who the man is, both the good and the bad, and what he and his party stands for. It made this recent piece of political history exciting and almost thrilling at times while also still showed the farcical side of politics. There are indeed laugh out loud moments in this, for instance when one politician is told to stop shouting over other campaigners in an interview and he said “I’m not shouting, I have a loud voice.” An Insignificant Man really shows how politics is just as absurd and flawed in India as it is anywhere else in the world.

An Insignificant Man is an interesting documentary about a group of people who do almost the unthinkable of starting a new political party. It feels honest and does not try to judge Kejriwal or AAP, it simply follows them through the ups and downs of campaigning, showing the successes and the failures. It really is a fascinating film. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Salvation

salvation_xlgThe Salvation can be summed up in four words: Mads Mikkelsen revenge Western. It’s all you need to know really and if that sounds like your sort of thing then don’t bother reading on, go and buy your ticket now!

It’s 1871 in America and Danish soldier Jon (Mads Mikkelsen) has been eagerly waiting for his wife and son’s arrival from Denmark but no sooner that they arrive they encounter a drunk outlaw and events escalate. Jon’s actions draw the attention of the local tyrant Delarue (Jefferey Dean Morgan) who demands that amends must be paid with lives.

Mads Mikkelsen is a fantastic lead as the reluctant hero, bringing to mind Clint Eastwood in Spaghetti Westerns as he is a man of few words but you can tell what he is feeling by he’s eyes. The Salvation also stars Mikael Persbrandt as Jon’s brother who is loyal to his brother and just as much the strong and silent type. Eva Green plays a woman who is in Delarue’s “protection”, she had her tongue cut out as a child so doesn’t say a word but you can tell how intelligent and conniving she is by her actions and emotions in her eyes which is a sight to behold.

The Salvation is a beautifully shot movie and the colours burst from the screen. There’s moments of suspense as well as humour and it’s not afraid to let moments play out longer than you’d perhaps expect.

The Salvation doesn’t bring anything new to the Western genre and doesn’t have any real morally grey characters like some classic Westerns do but that doesn’t mean that it is bad for being more of a simple good guys vs bad guys film.

The Salvation is a Danish film, shot in South Africa and edited in the UK – it’s a great film in terms of international team work and because it has Danish roots it feels different to previous Westerns. That being said it still pays homage to the previous films that defined the genre.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Western and The Salvation is a nice addition to the genre. 4/5.

There’s still time to catch The Salvation at the London Film Festival – tickets can be bought here.

Road to London Film Festival

Today is my first day at this year’s London Film Festival. After two separate days of crazy ticket buying I’m now seeing six films at this year’s festival.

So it all began in September when the LFF program was released and I spent some time looking through it online and picking out what films I’d like to see. My first list came to fourteen films. There was no way that I could see that many films in just twelve days even if I didn’t have such things as lectures and work (never mind being able to afford it) so I did narrow it down a bit to seven films.

20th September was when tickets went on sale for the general public and it was indeed a bit of a mad rush. Unsurprisingly a lot of the films with major buzz such as Gravity and 12 Years A Slave had already sold out when it was just the BFI Members buying tickets earlier in the month. However, I did get tickets for two films which were ones that I was interested in but not the top of my list – Drinking Buddies and Kill Your Darlings. I was quite happy with this as I was determined to see some films at this year’s LFF as while I had lived in “Greater London” for the past three years, I had never attended LFF and I was determined that this year would be different.

Then on 3rd October some tickets were rereleased – these were the tickets from sponsors or businesses that hadn’t been used. They went on sale at 9:30am and I had a 10am lecture so thought I’d better be quick in seeing if there was anything that I wanted available. The morning was successful and I got tickets for two more films – The Double and Only Lovers Left Alive. I happily went off to my lecture (and then indeed to town to do some shopping) and when I got back in the early afternoon I thought “Oh, I’ll have another look and see if there’s anything I like available.” Amazingly there was! I bought a ticket for Under The Skin and then I thought I’d have a look and see if there were any tickets available for the Surprise Film (like I had done for Gravity and 12 Years A Slave but had ultimately been unsurprised when there wasn’t) and there was! In fact there was one seat remaining in the second screening (it starts just 15 minutes after the previous one so no fear of spoilers) I was so amazed! I very quickly clicked on that seat, added it to my basket and did a happy dance in my chair.

So the six films I’m seeing at this year’s London Film Festival are (in the order that I’m seeing them):

–          The Double

–          Under The Skin

–          The Surprise Film

–          Drinking Buddies

–          Kill Your Darlings

–          Only Lovers Left Alive

The films that were on my original list of seven but I missed out on were:

–          Gravity

–          12 Years A Slave

–          Inside Llewyn Davis

–          Half of a Yellow Sun

I’m not too upset by that. I’m not sure about Half of a Yellow Sun but I do know that the other three will be out here in the UK in the next few months. It’s really not that long to wait really.

I’m definitely looking forward to all the films I’m seeing in the Festival and am enjoying speculating about what the Surprise Film might be (my current guess is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) I just hope that whatever it is I enjoy it.