My weekend at the London Film Festival – part 1

I haven’t written anything on Jacobthehobnob since March of this year; please do feel at liberty to conclude that I am the worst blogger in the world. As the growing difficulty of my schoolwork and the pressure of university application took their toll over this summer, I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the world of film and to interact with it through writing. However, having finally sent off my application to read History at several UK universities, I feel that there is really no excuse not to contribute at least something to one of my most anticipated events of the year  – the BFI London Film Festival.

This is my second year attending, and if any of the five universities I’ve applied to go against their better judgement and offer me a place, it may be the last until I finish my degree. Last year I gained a very powerful impression of the atmosphere of a festival that is quite often absent from the general cinema visit. Every audience member, no matter the screening, cares deeply about film – most of them even more than I do. Much of this is evidenced in the general audience behaviour (mostly impeccable – no mobile phones). But it is also seen in the excited film discussions that reverberate around cinema walls before starting time, and in the frequent rounds of applause following the end credits. It is truly unique and only adds to the thrill of seeing new pieces of cinema before they are put on general release.

Computer Chess 11/10/13

Computer chess
Computer Chess

My weekend at the festival kicked off with a small independent film called Computer Chess that I saw at the ICA. Described affectionately by its director Andrew Bujalski as a  ‘period piece’, it takes place in the 1980s at a small tournament for chess software programmers. Over the course of a weekend the physically unremarkable contestants play their software against each other, chat philosophically about the future of computers, and possibly find love. Computer Chess is a real oddity, a film that straddles the genres of comedy, romance, mumblecore, and existential drama. One of its most impressive aspects is its quasi-documentary aesthetic; the film was shot on a clunky Sony camera that actually came from the period, giving a hazy, amateurish, televisual feel to the whole thing. It truly feels like a product of the time in which it is set. While not consistently comedic, I thought the film certainly had its moments, partly thanks to the performance of Patrick Riester as an introverted, expressionless young programmer. Riester comes into contact with the only girl in the competition and yet is unable to convey any feelings towards her; elsewhere, his encounter with a sexually indulgent older couple in the same hotel he is staying in is hilarious beyond recognition. Yet amongst the comedy there is a very experimental intention. The cinematography is the most obvious demonstration of this, with the picture inexplicably morphing into colour for a particular scene. But the director’s refusal make the viewing experience easy or conventional – there are plenty of open ends and unexplained phenomena – is incredibly bold and yet another example of what makes independent film so liberating and exciting.

Patrick Riester in Computer Chess
Patrick Riester in Computer Chess

The film’s producer Alex Lipschultz, who took part in a post-film Q+A, revealed that for the most part non-professional actors were employed, and that much of the dialogue was improvised. Indeed, there is a lingering casualness to the whole thing, and I found spending my afternoon with a group of socially challenged programmers not boring in the slightest; Computer Chess is extremely entertaining, funny, bold and inventive, and I cannot wait for my next viewing.


Like Father, Like Son 12/10/13

Like Father Like Son
Like Father Like Son

Last year 75% of the films I saw at the London Film Festival were Japanese. Admittedly I saw very few films, and only improved on the number this year by one. But that percentage is no accident. I have found that Japanese drama is some of the best produced anywhere in the world. Whether as an example you take Yôjirô Takita’s Departures (2008), or even Takeshi Kitano’s Hana-Bi (1997), there is a warmth and humanity to much of Japan’s cinematic output that strikes me every time I witness it. Such is the case with Like Father, Like Son, Hirokazu Koreeda’s meditation on what it means to be a father. I saw the film at the Odeon West End cinema and the director was present for a few brief questions. Listening to his discussion about his work, which was aided by an interpreter, my faith in the profundity of Japanese film increased exponentially.

The winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes this year, Like Father, Like Son is the story of a successful businessman called Ryota who fathers his young boy, Keita, with great discipline. It soon emerges, however, that the hospital in which Keita was born six years ago made a fatal error; Keita is in fact the biological son of a different set of parents, who themselves have fathered Ryota’s real son. The film chronicles the efforts of these two sets of parents to decide on the upbringing of the young boys – specifically whether or not they should switch them – and more importantly follows the journey of Ryota in learning to be more affectionate to a child, no matter his background. I thought that the film on a thematic level was extremely well balanced and rather brilliant. In playing out on-screen the worst nightmare of every parent, Koreeda addresses issues that are very inherent in Japanese society, particularly the importance of the family patriarch and of blood lines. Ryota clearly feels it is important to bring up his biological child, and his parents encourage him on that front. But he comes into conflict with his wife, who has different feelings on the matter, and is far kinder and more forward-looking than her husband.

Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota
Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota

In terms of its characters, Like Father, Like Son isn’t particularly original. The two fathers in the film are fairly conventional types: the upper-class workaholic who can’t connect with his child versus the working-class father who is rapturously received by his offspring. But the note-perfect performances of the Japanese actors – both young and old – was striking, and I left the cinema with a deep smile across my face, optimistic for the future of the two families in the film.


So, that was the first two thirds of my London Film Festival weekend. Join me soon when I’ll be discussing Jonathan Glazer’s new film Under The Skin, something that left me deeply affected and moved, and was by far the best thing I’ve seen at the festival so far.


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