My first week at London Film Festival was full of a cracking variety of international films. The second (and final week) notches up the excitement with Tangerine (2015) director Sean Baker’s high-profile follow-up The Florida Project, as well as some Cantonese and Mandarin fire. Read on to find out more about the cream of this year’s Chinese, American and German crop.
Our Time Will Come (Ann Hui, 2017)
It’s 1940s Hong Kong and the Imperial Japanese occupation is well underway. Luckily, smooth-talking, sharp-shooting, communist-sympathising guerilla leader Blackie Lau (aka Liu Heizai) is out on the streets, ready to evacuate local intellectuals to the countryside. Plus, he’s looking for new recruits to wage anti-colonial urban warfare. Schoolteacher and poetry aficionado Fang Lan quickly becomes involved after escorting some notable writers to safety. Thus begins the story of how a number of remarkable leftist women resisted Japanese occupation during World War 2. Our Time Will Come has it all. Thrillingly realistic street-fighting sequences, nuanced exploration of how guerilla resistance takes its toll on family, friends and love, and a compelling Joe Hisaishi score. Most refreshingly, it places women at the forefront of a movement that they historically led. As far as I’m aware, the Hong Kong resistance movement is largely unknown in the west. This is a spectacular film that doubles as a neat arthouse history lesson.
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)
The first thing that strikes you about The Florida Project is how hilarious its troupe of child actors are. Not “oh darn, aren’t they cute?” hilarity, but “oh shit, these kids’ mouths are really fucking colourful”. In fact, the colour of Moonee and pals’ language is only matched by the film’s bright garish palette, expertly painted by cinematographer Alexis Zabe. The plot follows a few single-parent families who have been placed in a Florida motel in the absence of available social housing. Naturally, the home of Disneyworld is the epitome of childhood dreams, the irony of which isn’t lost on these local residents living well below the breadline. There are obvious politics to this film, although Sean Baker does an excellent job at simply presenting situations without didactic judgement. Whether it’s sassy weed-smoking mum Halley or hard-faced motel manager cum compassionate community mediator Bobby, each character gets a fair stab at being their honest, complex self. This is without a doubt the most accomplished film I saw at the festival and probably one of Willem Dafoe’s finest performances.
Wrath of Silence (Xin Yukun, 2017)
Wrath of Silence opens in the deep underground of a Chinese mine. A group of masked men anonymously get down to gritty work in the moody subterranean shaft light. Then, a sudden spontaneous act of violence pierces the screen and abruptly ends the shot. This is as good a way as any to set the scene for this bleak, tension-racketing Western, where social inequity is ubiquitous and vengeance reigns supreme. The film follows Zhang Baomin, a mute miner from the initial scene who returns to his native village when he discovers that his young son Lei has gone missing in the mountains. Baomin finds himself surrounded by the usual vices – alcohol, gluttony and corruption – all of which find themselves personified in local mining kingpin Chang Wannian. Indeed, Wannian is the perfect villain, the kind of man who invites a Buddhist business associate to a meat-filled banquet and warns him with cold restraint that lambs share the same vegetarian diet. Across a thrilling two hours, Baomin determinedly grapples his way to the top in a bid to find out his son’s fate. But silence isn’t only reserved for our mute hero and its wrath might just obscure justice.
Tiger Girl (Jakob Lass, 2017)
Tiger is a badass woman who smashes up lecherous Berlin men for fun. Vanilla is a failed police recruit who is….pretty vanilla. After Tiger rescues Vanilla from an all too real encounter with street harrassment, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. There’s some sort of plot in Tiger Girl. On the surface, Vanilla is training to be a security guard and Tiger is trying to resolve various personal issues in her carefree don’t-give-a-fuck lifestyle. However, the film works best as a series of glorious vignettes in which two inspired women punch, kick and steal their way through the patriarchy, accompanied by Golo Schultz’s bass-heavy original soundtrack. The film lost me a bit with one character’s alleged moral stance. But if you’re up for 90 minutes of stylised violence, where you really feel the thud of a boot in the face of German society, check this one out.