LFF 2018 – Lizzie, Asako I & II

I’m currently attending the BFI London Film Festival, so will be popping in with reviews of everything I get the chance to see…

Kristen Stewart plays a taciturn housemaid in twisted period drama Lizzie
Kristen Stewart plays a taciturn housemaid in twisted period drama Lizzie

Lizzie

The true 19th century crime story of Lizzie Borden is brought to some sort of life in the new movie from Craig William Macneill. Chloë Sevigny plays Borden as a sharp-tongued woman fighting back against the patriarchal forces – represented by Jamey Sheridan as her permanently angry creep of a father – seeking to keep her in her place. There’s definitely legs in this approach, but Macneill’s movie doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in its skin and is unsure how best to use the tools for success it possesses.

At the epicentre of this movie’s missed opportunities is the undeniable chemistry that passes between Sevigny and Kristen Stewart, as the Irish housemaid Bridget. Their initially cordial relationship quickly becomes romantic in a way that the two actors convey with a largely wordless intimacy. A scene in which they come tantalisingly close to sharing their first kiss is portrayed in a sort of ballet of silence, played with real subtlety by both women.

Unfortunately, the movie never really allows this relationship to take centre stage. It’s left to unfold on the periphery of the narrative, which instead focuses on mysterious threatening notes and tedious wranglings over the fate of the family estate. Much like its LFF bedfellow Assassination Nation, it’s a movie written and directed by a man that tries to take swipes at patriarchal, male-dominated society, but misses the mark.

There’s an intriguing tension between the genuinely gruesome sequences of quasi-slasher bloodshed and the buttoned-up trappings of the period drama setting. Macneill, however, spends much of the movie depicting inert scenes of tedious wandering around the halls of the house, while the passion of the deepening connection between Sevigny and Stewart appears to be taking place just outside of the audience’s grasp.

Even when Lizzie pulls out all of its lurid tricks for a gore-soaked finale, it’s somehow still a rather listless, inert and ultimately unenjoyable experience.

(Dir: Craig William Macneill, 105 mins, UK Release: December 14)

Erika Karata and Masahiro Higashide are the stars of Asako I & II
Erika Karata and Masahiro Higashide are the stars of Asako I & II

Asako I & II

The prospect of an epic romantic tale involving possible body doubles and mistaken identity sounds like an interesting one, and it serves as the central conceit for Asako I & II. The movie follows Erika Karata‘s title character as she navigates a relationship first with attractive young guy Baku (Masahiro Higashide) and then, when he sods off, she meets his spitting image in Tokyo exec Ryôhei (Higashide again).

On paper, it’s an intriguing story about a character desperate to replicate the passion and intensity of a first love. In practice, though, the movie is an incredibly tedious and unbearably overlong watch that is only occasionally punctuated by flourishes of comedy. It does, however, benefit from Higashide’s brilliant and likeable double performance, as well as a peppy and energetic supporting turn from Sairi Itô as Asako’s friend Haruyo, who lights up the screen whenever she appears.

Charitably, some of the emotional heart of Asako I & II might be lost in translation. That doesn’t excuse the movie, though, from a lack of storytelling economy that completely cripples its attempts at romance. The final scene pulls together the central idea about imperfect love very nicely but, by then, it’s at least an hour too late.

(Dir: Ryusuke Hamamguchi, 119 mins, UK Release: n/a)

BFI London Film Festival 2018
BFI London Film Festival 2018

Are you excited to see any of the above films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and make sure you keep coming back for the next few weeks for reviews of all of the best movies from the BFI London Film Festival 2018.

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