I’m currently attending the BFI London Film Festival, so will be popping in with reviews of everything I get the chance to see. Today, it’s delightfully crowd-pleasing country music, nail-biting online tension and a pretentious arthouse epic…
As a lover of British underdog movies and country music, I was perhaps predisposed to like Wild Rose, in which Jessie Buckley – breakout star of Beast – plays troubled Glaswegian Rose-Lynn, desperate to get on a flight to Nashville so she can pursue her career as a country rocker. The trouble for her is that she has a lot tying her down. She’s released from prison with an electronic tag and a 7pm curfew, putting gigs out of the question, and there’s also the small matter of her two young children, who have been living with their grandmother (Julie Walters) during her jail time.
Buckley is simply terrific as Rose-Lynn, managing to find charm in a character who makes decisions that are at best a little irresponsible and, at worst, downright unpleasant. There’s a constant push and pull between her relationship with her kids and her Stateside dreams, which becomes even more important when opportunity knocks after Buckley finds work as a cleaner for well-connected English woman Susannah (Sophie Okonedo). Soon, she’s on the train down to London for a big meeting with a radio icon and struggling with how to reconcile her responsibilities as a parent with the fact her talent may be on the verge of shooting her into the musical stratosphere.
For a while, it feels as if Wild Rose is set to follow the standard template of the multiple versions of A Star is Born, but it’s a movie that consistently transforms and reshapes itself as driven by the characters. Buckley’s Rose-Lynn has the country maxim of “three chords and the truth” tattooed on her arm and it’s a statement of simplicity that she wishes applied to her existence, even as complications mount and mount.
She’s an effervescent and massively engaging character, exploding into life in the performance scenes, with Buckley attacks with all of the relish and brio of someone working hard to make their name. It’s a story about balance and about the cognitive dissonance of having to be two people at once, which Buckley is able to play with just as many shades as her complex character in Beast. If there’s any justice, this will be a real star-making performance for her, as she effortlessly holds the screen while making a relatively unsympathetic character entirely likeable and dragging the audience across to her point of view, even when an upset child is screaming hate into her face.
There’s a terrific supporting turn from Walters, too, who gets a rare chance to step outside of her recent comedy world to really flex her dramatic muscles. But the highlight here is Buckley and her whirlwind energy, as well as the songbook of original tracks and country classics. This is a movie that makes you want to button up a check shirt, lace up some cowboy boots and twang the life out of a guitar. My toes will still be tapping in a few days’ time.
Dir: Tom Harper, 101 mins, UK Release: February 8, 2019)
Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov has been the head honcho of the ‘Screen Life’ sub-genre for a number of years, with producer roles on movies like Unfriended and this year’s fantastic Searching. He himself has stepped behind the (web)camera for Profile, which follows the pulse-pounding, tense travails of undercover British journalist Amy (Valene Kane) who forms a bond with an ISIS recruiter (Shazad Latif) in an attempt to uncover the insidious tactics used to lure British teenagers abroad.
Adapted from the true story of a French journalist who did much of this for real, the movie imprisons the audience within Amy’s computer as she chats to friends, co-workers and dons a hijab and heavy make-up to portray Melody – her newly converted, Islamic alter ego – in Skype calls with her jihadi beau. Soon, he’s making plans to guide her into Syria, as Amy’s editor (Christine Adams) pushes to get the story out into the wider world as quickly as possible.
Like many of these movies, Profile finds considerable tension in locking the audience in place as powerless voyeurs, with the ringing of a Skype call transpiring to be every bit as tense as any horror movie sequence. The necessary emotional twists and turns, especially in the third act, are utterly ridiculous and stretch credibility more than slightly. However, Bekmambetov ekes so much tension from his premise and uses the gimmick with such invention that it’s impossible not to be gripped.
(Dir: Timur Bekmambetov, 105 mins, UK Release: n/a)
László Nemes made quite the impact with his debut feature Son of Saul a few years ago and he’s now back on the festival circuit with another claustrophobic, epic drama. This time, it’s prewar Budapest where the action is set, following a young woman (Juli Jakab) as she attempts to find work at the hat shop owned by her late parents, in an effort to untangle the mysteries around their lives. Meanwhile, there’s a suggestion that she might not be the last living member of her family.
The movie is exactly as interesting as all of that sounds – i.e. not even slightly. It’s told via the same point of view style that Nemes deployed in his first film, but leading lady Jakab lacks the flair of Géza Röhrig, whose slightly pained, impassive thousand yard stare filled in all of the gaps of the atrocity that was largely playing out off screen. Jakab, meanwhile, does nothing to help the audience through a story that never comes alive and sees an entire roster of characters speak slowly and quietly in riddles.
Things don’t get a lot more exciting when the violence starts, lacking in the prior audience knowledge that turned Son of Saul into such an exercise in dread. Nemes certainly has an aesthetic, but it’s one that doesn’t work in this context. When one character yells to another that “there’s nothing to see”, it’s tough to disagree with him too much.
Dir: László Nemes, 142 mins, UK Release: n/a)
Are you excited to see these movies? 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.