On LFF’s ninth day we caught Ben Wheatley’s latest genre experiment, a screen talk with the philosophical German director Werner Herzog, and an organ donor drama of considerable value.
Another day, another heady mix of differing genres and themes: LFF pleasingly continues to bestow hundreds of thousands of film lovers with something that will stir their emotions and provoke thought. Although today’s films didn’t fully prove themselves to me, they were still confident and accomplished examples of their specific style.
In a career spanning less than a decade, Ben Wheatley has already proved himself as one of most prolific directors working today, with multiple TV and music projects alongside his catalogue of films covering a wealth of subgenres – from psychological crime-horror Kill List, psychedelic 17th Century thriller A Field In England, or dystopian class war drama High-Rise – and with Free Fire (B+), he finally tries his hand at an all-out shoot-‘em-up. Right from the tributary opening titles to classic 1970s chamber pieces, Wheatley and regular co-writer Amy Jump have established their tone with this stylish and entertaining single-location actioner. Thanks to their script, the verbal and physical altercations throughout are both regularly funny and acutely analogous to their characters: Armie Hammer’s smarmy Ord exchanging age-based barbs with Michael Smiley’s austere Frank, or Sharlto Copley’s irate Vernon (who gets the film’s best lines) yelling at anyone and everyone that bothers him. The consistent wit is of great importance when the film essentially boils down to repetitive, messy gun battles in a single room: the humour keeping things fresh and punchy whilst the characters run, hop, and crawl between debris and rubble. Another hugely impressive aspect of Free Fire is its sound design: the gunfire, the ricocheting bullets, and the bellowing echoes of the characters is fully immersive: not only are these warring criminals in the warehouse, with ample surround-sound, you’re with them. It’s unquestionably a film that will be best seen and heard with the largest sound system possible. The biggest setback, however, was the addition of further characters bringing in an extraneous arc of double-crossing and betrayal. It’s these moments of muddied allegiances that slow the film down, and though it doesn’t handicap the fun too much, the primitive catalyst of the gunfight was far more authentic and satisfying than the additional, convoluted plot. Easily Wheatley’s most accessible film, Free Fire was an energetically boisterous piece of action cinema that will hopefully find itself an adoring audience, because the more people pay to make these, the more we’ll get.
The second screen-talk of the week (after the terrific Paul Verhoeven talk) was with German director and enfant terrible Werner Herzog, who was on hand to relay anecdotes about past controversies from the set of Fitzcarraldo, or Aguirre, Wrath of God, in which he told about the futile practicalities (“Do the doable”) of getting 400 pigs to sway and collapse off a cliff in unison, or riling up a similar number of monkeys on a splintering water raft (the former was “impractical” and never filmed, and the latter can be seen here). Many stories over his career were delivered with his purposefully profound timbre, but perhaps the most interesting story was of his relationship with Timothy Treadwell, the tragic figure at the centre of the exceptional documentary Grizzly Man. Treadwell, having died prior to filming, was a complete enigma to Herzog. Misunderstanding and not fully sympathising with him, the director had to search through hundreds of hours of video in order to get enough footage for the documentary, and remains one of the only people to have ever heard the audio from the fatal bear attack that claimed Treadwell’s life. His recognition of this troubled man (as well as his animosity toward a person whose comprehension of nature neglected its inherent brutality ) was thoroughly engrossing, despite most of it being a repetition of the narration in the film. I could listen to Werner Herzog talk for hours and hours, and thanks to LFF, I was able to do so for these 90 fascinating minutes.
The final part of Day Eight was purely on impulse, and though Heal The Living (B) didn’t wring emotion from me as much as it did the audience, it still managed to be a vital story of a legitimate truth. After a superbly staged and deliberately shot prologue, a young teen ends up braindead from a catastrophic accident, but with all organs intact. His story not only affects his immediate family, but also the surgeons in charge, and a separate family whose need for a new heart becomes the propellant for complicated decision. The reason it’s more of an important drama that a tremendous one was that it shows a legitimacy to the importance of blood and organ donation. Katell Quillévéré’s intentionally leisurely screenplay shows the medical hierarchy, being informative while never indulgent; the patient’s parents acting as the decision makers, followed by the departmental efforts of the doctors and surgeons to search for a suitable donor, then the family with which the organ will give literal life to. It’s a necessarily gentle film, allowing each of these three lives to get a full examination in this unconscionable situation. If there’s any part that’s a little too syrupy, it’s the final section with Anne Dorval’s mother patiently waiting for a heart transplant: struggling with everyday progress and the pending discussion with her youngest son. In essence, it’s the loveliest story of the three, and also the most crucial to bring the emphasis home, and though Dorval gives it everything with expected supremacy, it comes across as a bit too exaggerated in a story that mostly goes for the subdued, educated approach. Hesitation aside, as a PSA for the importance of organ donation, it’s one of the most vital.
So whilst today wasn’t full of positivity in all its animated glory, it still wasn’t a let-down in comparison to yesterday‘s unjustly soaring expectations. Only two days left of the 60th LFF, so if all goes well, today’s quality (or better) will continue to the end!
It only takes 2 minutes to register as an organ donor.
Understand what it can mean for you here.
Free Fire illustration header by cal.con.
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